In a recent blogpost, Women’s Strike U.K. revealed that the current economic and political model disproportionately effects women, with 86% of austerity’s burden befalling the female population. It is in this embattled state that we begin 2018’s women’s strike. Here, Women’s Strike organiser Nadine Houghton writes revealingly about feminised labour. Shedding light on the inhumane treatment of outsourced workers and the downward pressure on the wages of female cleaners, care workers and hospital staff.
On the 8th March 2018, women across the world will withdraw their labour from their workplaces and homes and these workers should be at the forefront of our minds when we do so.
The recent collapse of Carillion reaffirmed what many of us already knew; that the system of outsourcing which hands huge, supposedly lucrative public sector contracts over to the lowest private sector bidder is a failed system. It is a system which hands state funds over to private capital at the expense of tax payers and workers. But what many have forgotten is that outsourcing is also a feminist issue.
As public sector budgets are slashed through austerity, the size of the pot available to the often multinational outsourcing providers diminishes and in the face of ever shrinking budget requirements we know all too well how outsourcing providers keep their bids low – continued downward pressure on wages, precarity of labour and poor service delivery.
As is so often the case with austerity and low pay it is often women that suffer the most. It is the traditionally feminised labour – the cleaning, caring, cooking and meal serving which is generally the lowest paid work in the first place and that faces even more pressure when the outsourcer needs to protect their profits. Those women doing the double shift, both unpaid at home and low paid outside of it, bear the brunt of a world of work which not only devalues the work they traditionally do, but also seeks to hyper exploit it in order to prop up a failing system.
The story is the same across the public sector, hospital hostesses contracted out and working in difficult and demanding conditions often surrounded by illness, but expected to go without sick pay should they fall ill themselves. University cleaners watching the students whose mess they clean paying £9,000 a year tuition fees, with Principal’s paid more than the Prime Minister, while their pay languishes below a living wage. Care workers who were employed by the local authority with a pension, sick pay and a wage negotiated collectively by their union now in some cases not even receiving the national minimum wage when their sleep-ins and travel time isn’t counted towards their work hours.
It is these predominantly female workers that keep our society functioning, they do the dirty work with little financial reward while their employer creams what little profit there is to be had off the top of their labour. But chinks of light are appearing and there is reason to have hope that this exploitative system can be challenged and workers can win.
The recent successes of the campaigns led by cleaners at both LSE and SOAS show us that workers can demand and win the right to be brought back in house. The GMB union and Unite are also waging battles against huge outsourcing providers in the NHS and a recent documentary on Channel 4 revealed the impact of outsourcing cleaners on working conditions within the hospitality sector. The collapse of Carillion and now the recent profit warnings issued by Interserve are shining a light on the issue.
On the 8th March (International Women’s Day), the International Women’s Strike is demanding the structural change necessary to win equality by calling for women to withdraw their labour both in and outside the home. We are striking to call for the re-evaluation the work we traditionally do – to give it its correct place in the hierarchy of labour. We are striking to demand an end to the exploitation of our labour both paid and unpaid. We are striking because every worker deserves to have collective bargaining rights and strong union organisation. We are striking to build a movement that every woman can be part of that can eventually defeat the exploitative practices that hold so many women back. We are striking because collectively women have changed the world and we will keep doing so until we have the equality we deserve.
Nadine Houghton is a GMB Organiser Southern Region. She will be striking on 8th March 2018.