EDMONTON - As women go marching on International Women's Day in 1999, the Alberta Federation of Labour will be joining them and reflecting on their progress over the past Century and the challenges they continue to face well into the next Century and the new millennium.
"Looking back over the past 100 years, women have made many gains. But they did not come easy," said Audrey Cormack, AFL President "At the turn of the 20th Century, women in the industrially developing countries were entering paid employment in the textile, manufacturing and domestic service sectors. However, their working conditions were horrid and their wages unacceptably low. Women didn't have the right to vote and their call for "bread and roses" were virtually ignored. It wasn't until they gathered collectively that their voices were heard. And it was that collective voice that moved many women workers into unions," said Cormack.
Today, one in three Canadian working women belongs to a union, and the benefits to these women are considerable. They earn 33% more than non-union women workers, they have more job protection, better health and dental benefits, pensions, paid maternity leave, sick leave, parental leave, flexible work time, workplace child care, and access to same-sex benefits to mention a few. Gains won by the unionized workforce have also benefited women outside the union sector.
"However, in recent years, governments' drive toward privatization has resulted in cuts to well-paid employment for women. The social services, health and education sectors were hardest hit resulting in mass layoffs for workers, most of whom were unionized women," said Cormack.
"The impact of privatization in the health sector alone weighs heavily on the shoulders of Canadian women who are the majority of those employed in those sectors, those who are the recipients of services and those providing care at home. The outcome of privatization has left women bearing the responsibility of providing volunteer work in the community and unpaid care for those released early from hospitals," said Cormack.
"While there has been an increase in employment in the service sector, those benefiting from new jobs are faced with part-time, temporary or casual work with low wages and no benefits. And this trend makes it difficult to organize these workers into unions, although not impossible," said Cormack, citing a recent victory in the unionization of McDonalds's employees in British Columbia, many of whom were young women.
"These trends, however, will not stop women from moving forward. They will not be so easily relocated from the workplace back into the kitchen, nor will they be easily silenced. It only gives them more reason to come together to talk, to share and to strategize," said Cormack, pointing to the World March for Women 2000.
Born out of two Canadian expereinces, the World March for Women 2000 will begin on March 8, 2000 and continue through to October 17, 2000 with actions taking place throughout the world.
Those experiences came out of the 1995 Women's March Against Poverty in Quebec, organized by the Federation des femmes de Quebec and the National Women's March Against Poverty in 1996 organized by the Canadian Labour Congress and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Many of the demands that women made in Quebec were achieved. However, there is still much to be done in Canada and the rest of the world.
"The World March for Women 2000 will provide women with the opportunity to let the decision-makers of the world know that they will not back down and take less; that the road to equality begins with the recognition that women be active participants in the democratic, social and political process."
"The Alberta Federation of Labour has signed on as a participatory group to the World March and will be joining other organizations in Alberta in the next year to plan actions in this province, in Canada, and internationally. We look forward to participating in this world-wide event and the challenges ahead," concluded Cormack.
For more information call:
Audery Cormack, President: 483-3021 (work) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)