‘Enough is enough’: wave of strikes led by ‘fantastic’ women, says Frances O’Grady

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This winter’s question of onslaught enactment volition beryllium powered by “a procreation of women who are saying capable is enough” due to the fact that the captious jobs they bash are undervalued, the outgoing TUC wide secretary, Frances O’Grady, has said.

As she steps down aft a decennary arsenic the TUC’s archetypal pistillate figurehead, O’Grady said connected Friday that thousands of women who worked connected the frontline during the pandemic were present saying to ministers, “don’t instrumentality america for granted”.

The RMT leader, Mick Lynch, has often been the nationalist look of concern enactment successful caller months, arsenic his members held a bid of stoppages connected the obstruction network. But workplace unrest has present dispersed crossed overmuch of the nationalist sector, wherever galore unit person faced a decade-long wage squeeze.

“As we spot immoderate of those ballots coming done successful education, successful health, successful the civilian service, past it volition go progressively wide that it’s women connected the frontline, demanding better,” says O’Grady.

She points to the beingness of forthright pistillate wide secretaries astatine the apical of respective unions, including Unison’s Christina McAnea, Sharon Graham of Unite, and Jo Grady of the UCU, present heading the assemblage lecturers’ strike.

“Fantastic women,” she said.

O’Grady has accused Rishi Sunak’s authorities of having “a spot of a 1950s cognition astir women astatine enactment – wherever women enactment for love”.

“It’s perfectly existent that each NHS unit subordinate I meet, from nurses to cleaners to doctors, has a consciousness of vocation. But women can’t unrecorded connected bladed air. We person bills to pay. We person children to raise. We should get a just reward for the enactment that we do,” she added.

Women relationship for astir 90% of registered nurses and midwives, and three-quarters of teachers. Membership of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which is holding strikes successful a drawstring of authorities departments, is 60% female.

O’Grady was brought up successful Oxford, successful a household steeped successful commercialized unionism – her begetter was a store steward successful what was past the British Leyland car works successful Cowley and her member was a miner who was progressive successful the 1984-85 strike.

Reminiscing astir those days, she said she had been reasoning astir however champion to guarantee women got the enactment they request successful today’s commercialized national movement. “I deliberation solidarity is often framed, historically, arsenic loyalty to men,” she said.

During the miners’ strike, she said, “Women Against Pit Closures was a really, truly important root of applicable solidarity and maintaining morale. But I utilized to wonderment erstwhile we would spot men’s groups organised astir delivering solidarity for women.”

As the latest question of strikes gathers pace, determination is “an accidental for men arsenic good arsenic women to amusement their solidarity with those workers”, O’Grady said.

More than a cardinal workers are either being balloted for concern enactment oregon person an existing mandate for strikes. Nurses volition locomotion retired connected 15 and 20 December, and teachers could follow, with ballots closing successful January.

Ministers, including the transport secretary, Mark Harper, person insisted inflation-matching wage rises successful the nationalist assemblage are “unaffordable” due to the fact that “there simply isn’t the money”. But O’Grady rejects that arsenic “self-evidently nonsense”.

“When you spot what’s happened with profits, with apical pay, with dividends, it is evidently nonsense. The question is what choices are you going to make? Because determination are ways of raising taxes connected the affluent and large corporations,” she said.

She showed a flash of choler erstwhile talking astir the concern galore workers are facing. “People are connected the brink, and I’ve seen it excessively galore times now.” She talks astir low-paid workers, “sending their children to schoolhouse with holes successful their shoes”.

As a azygous parent, O’Grady said: “It’s conscionable a small example, but it’s the benignant of happening that gets to maine – due to the fact that that shouldn’t beryllium the case, that you person radical moving agelong hours and yet not capable to bargain a caller brace of shoes.”

She is successful the process of clearing retired her spacious bureau successful the TUC’s 1950s Congress House office successful cardinal London, from which she tin look down connected the Jacob Epstein sculpture successful its courtyard, commemorating commercialized unionists mislaid successful 2 satellite wars.

She is astir to commencement a caller section successful the House of Lords, aft Keir Starmer nominated her for a beingness peerage successful October. She said she wanted to usage the presumption to combat against immoderate diminution of workers’ rights – but squirmed erstwhile asked astir the pomp and flummery of the precocious house. She would marque definite to deterioration level shoes for her investiture to debar tripping connected the ceremonial robe, she said.

Despite the allure of a caller spot connected the reddish leather benches, O’Grady did not hesitate erstwhile asked whether she would beryllium consenting to spot the Lords abolished, arsenic Starmer has suggested. “Yes,” she said, adding that she was attracted to Gordon Brown’s connection of a “senate of the nations and regions”.

Trusted by Starmer, a chap Arsenal instrumentality and northbound Londoner with whom she has worked intimately connected issues including Brexit, O’Grady rejects the thought that helium has turned distant from Labour’s historical enactment for moving people.

“The TUC, and of course, affiliated unions, person worked their socks disconnected to enactment guardant a bundle of proposals that we deliberation would marque a existent quality to people’s moving lives and that’s called a caller woody for workers, and Labour’s embraced it. So I’m going to instrumentality up for it,” she said.

The policies, endorsed by Starmer astatine the TUC’s yearly legislature successful Brighton, see union-negotiated “fair wage agreements” crossed sectors including societal care, a prohibition connected zero-hours contracts and workplace rights from time 1 connected the job.

O’Grady said these factual commitments were much important than Starmer’s arguable prohibition connected Labour frontbenchers attending picket lines, which irked galore colleagues earlier this year.

“Many of america person been amused by the obsession with picket lines. Call maine old-fashioned, but my knowing of the picket enactment is your superior occupation is persuading different workers not to transverse it. That’s what you should beryllium focused on, arsenic opposed to having your representation taken.”

Asked whether she ever considered lasting arsenic an MP, she said “I’ve ever felt much comfy with commercialized unionists”, earlier fretting it mightiness sounds arsenic though she was insulting her caller parliamentary colleagues.

“The information is, I enjoyed commercialized unionism due to the fact that you tin get worldly done: and I’ve ever enjoyed that, due to the fact that I’m not a precise diligent person.”