Jobs for the Lads

 

ARE you a 69 per center? If not, you are one of the few women in the country who has a job that gives equal pay to you and your male colleagues for doing the same work. Even in companies that can squeak with fury if you accuse them of bias against women workers - companies that can pull out the ledgers to prove they are 100 per centers - you can bet your bottom dollar the 31 per cent of prejudice is still there; built into things like rung less ladders to promotion.

This and more was highlighted last weekend at the ICTU women's conference in Dun Laoghaire. And you did not even have to go to the shop floors of individual delegates to prove it. The in built prejudice against women is safely nurtured within the pious portals of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. And its patronising cant is handed down like holy grail to every union in the country. For example, off the top of your head, can you name any top female trade unionist? Why is Patricia O'Donovan just one of two assistant general secretaries (the other is a man)? Why is she not, at the very least. Peter Cassell's deputy? Off the top of your head, when was the last time you saw her on television representing the ICTU? Why is there not a creche in ICTU headquarters?

Just in case the Men Who Must Be Obeyed within the trade unions think that O Donovan or anybody else from congress is belly aching, they are not. The few senior women in that organisation are intensely loyal to the philosophy of the tom cats they work for. You do not have to be Kay Scarpetta to figure out that the ICTU is as ardent a lads' club as any other got up by any old group of men.

Are women not total fools then to have anything to do with lads' unions? For God's sake, we even pay them out of our 69 per cent wages - to sit in isolated splendour in Ballsbridge dreaming up new ways for them to play footsy with successive governments, employers and European commissioners. They have been singing the same old Keep The Wages Down duet (triplet?) for so long that it is no wonder that the days of being able to tell the difference between a trade union official and a company man are long gone.

Implicit in keeping the wages down is the determination to keep women earning just enough to keep body and soul together but not enough to give them time to think too much about anything not enough to pay baby sitters so that they can get stuck into trade union business in unsocial hours with a chance of scraping to the top. The 69 per cent is the opium to keep the 51 per cent of the masses in a perpetual miasma of confusion and on the edge.

What really drives you round the bend is when the 69 per cent jingle is repeated over and over. Last weekend, the ICTU's president, John Freeman, upped it to 70 per cent in his speech, but since I, and random women in other unions, have certainly got no 1 per cent raise just for being a woman in the past year for me, the 69 still stands. And there is never, ever, any target date set to get rid of it. It is stressed with such gusto that it has become one of those sad but honest truisms, like the poor will always be with us.

So why do we all belong to unions? I imagine it is a bit the same for other women as for me. I only have experience of the National Union of Journalists, and it was around long before I came to newspapers. Also, it is a closed shop i.e. you have to join the NUJ if you want to work. You get no choice. These are the bits of illogical nonsensities that trade unions have picked up from either feudalism or Attila the Hun-ism or whatever. What they all had in common was their equal desire to keep women in the 69 per cent corral.

And what does the NUJ do for its women members for the £200 odd pay every year? The short answer nothing. Not one damn thing. Nor ha it ever taken.on any crusade to make the working lives of women with child/elderly any easier. None of the Dublin news papers has a creche, for example. Neither has it ever campaigned for workplaces to be accessible to people with disabilities. Everything is struck tried around a generation of lads who lived laddish lives about 20 years age frist got themselves to work and their wives looked after everything else. Being a woman reporter then meant behaving like one of the lads and faking a lot of the time.

From what I see of women in our union now, the position has not changed much. The men have got more house trained and the women wear more suits. But they are all still working to a male agend.

Journalism is going through one of its worst times just now. Each year the clutter of colleges and universities around the country are turning loose at least 100 more wannabe reporters. Most of them haven't a hope of getting a contract let alone a job. The NUJ knows it. What does it do? Apart from exacting dries from these young kids, nothing. At the very least, it should be taking out advertisements telling school leavers that there are no jobs and precious few shifts going instead of taking their money - like swiping candy from babies.

From time to time the NUJ makes a splash by getting involved in bringing some yesteryear ego tripper like Sal man Rushdie to Dublin to hear his latest slushy, seminal maunderings. Perhaps those who arrange these things think it will give us a flavour of a world where people who write are tormented geniuses or even just plain rich. The whole business is trash and nonsense. anything to stop getting creches for the babies their wives/girlfriends take responsibility for.

The only row I remember within the past 15 years or so was when the NUJ, at its annual conference, decided to vote in favour of abortion. Abortion? Yes. Despite the fact they were overwhelmingly male, none wanted male sterilisation or training in the rise of condoms. They were even supported by a fair number of women delegates. Is it any wonder that women are still dancing to the music of menspeak?

Looking at the ICTU in general and people from some of the most prominent unions, you can feel, the conception of a sort of Our Friends In The North soap coming Like other businesses and organisations, most of the people in trade unions are simply - in it for what they can get out of if. But it, and some other unions, include people who were once idealistic, imaginative and rebellious. They thought about the world, about literature and about people - who were not just all white and Irish. They used to say they would not mind travellers living next door to them. But they made do with a few months in the sun and then settled for pseudery and suburbs.

One of the most acute ironies this year is that it is the 20th anniversary of International Women's Day being celebrated in this country. It is the only day in the year that is especially dedicated to women. And it only exists to mark the achievement of low paid women textile workers in the US in getting minimal standards of pay and conditions at the start of this century.

While it will probably mean waiting for Mary Harney to become Taoiseach before we get a properly acknowledged day off to celebrate, March 8th has come to mean a lot with every passing year to increasing numbers of women.

The invitations and details of festivities have been flowing in for a couple of weeks.

That is the vital link between women and trade unions. But to preserve and build on it, it is critical that women union activists and those with union jobs need support as well as continuous prodding from me, you and us.

In the final seconds before you snuff it, when your life flashes before you. I have decided it will not be the glorious highs or the deadly lows that will figure in the kaleidoscope of your life. Rather, it will be all the little grey meddlers who kept turning up and deflating your brilliant dreams.

A lot of them exist in trade unions, feeding off the flourishing bureaucracy. Ignore them or tell them to jump in the nearest Liffey.