This is what separates Labour from the rest in Europe – and what makes me so proud

March 9, 2009 3:12 pm

By Glenis WillmottAnne Fairweather

From my perspective as Labour’s third woman Leader in the European Parliament, following in the footsteps of the legendary Barbara Castle, International Women’s Day should be about looking back on what Britain’s membership of the European Union has achieved for women, and looking forward to the real choices facing women voters in June’s European elections.

Equal pay for women workers was enshrined in the founding Treaty of the European Community, way back in 1957. The British Conservative government at the time wasn’t willing to sign up to the Treaty and certainly wasn’t willing to introduce a statutory requirement for equal pay. It took over 13 years and a Labour government for that to happen in Britain.

Since then the European Union, propelled by successive Labour governments and MEPs, has been at the cutting edge of progressive policies which have greatly benefitted women workers in all walks of life. Our proud record includes achievements such as equal rights for part time workers (over half of women workers are part time), an entitlement to maternity rights from day one (instead of the two years it used to be) and the right to return to work with no loss of pay or status after pregnancy.

More recently the highly successful EU ‘Daphne’ programmes have funded action to combat all types of violence against women in Europe including violence in the family, violence in schools and other establishments, violence at work, commercial sexual exploitation, genital mutilation, trafficking and so on. The current programme, championed by Labour MEPs, runs until 2013 and has a budget of €116 million.

But that is the past. What about now?

Well, we are less than 3 months away from what will be important European elections on June 4. The choice for women’s rights and women-friendly policies is a clear one. Many people say it doesn’t matter who you vote for in the European Parliament. I say this is wrong. The dividing lines are clear and the choice is one between progressive women-friendly policies and the old male-dominated misogynistic Tories.

David Cameron’s Conservatives may be working overtime to present a caring and compassionate façade nationally, but scratch beneath the surface and what you find are the same old male-orientated attitudes. This applies nowhere more so than in the European Parliament. Out of the 27 Tory MEPs just one is a woman, and even she is stepping down at the June election, fed up with her 26 male colleagues. She protests that for too long the Tory European right has been allowed to fester in the European Parliament.

This did not surprise me one iota. Looking at the Tory voting record in the European Parliament, they have consistently followed their Neanderthal instincts. They refused to give their support to a report on combating violence against women. The report called for a zero-tolerance policy as regards all forms of violence against women, including within marriage. They failed to vote to make rape within marriage a criminal offence or to end so-called ‘crimes of honour’ or female genital mutilation. Tory MEPs also voted against a key report that would combat any form of discrimination in the provision of goods and services, including on the grounds of gender. They are not just an embarrassment to Caroline Jackson, they are embarrassment to David Cameron and an embarrassment to Britain.

I am proud of the fact that I lead a Labour Party in the European Parliament made up of over 40% women, all of whom work tirelessly and are a credit to Labour values and our country as a whole. We will continue to push for women-friendly policies in Europe, from the protection of women in the workplace, the continued fight for equality in all walks of life, to the defence in the developing world of what we in Europe now take for granted as the most fundamental of rights.

This is what separates us from the rest. It is why, just like we need progressive Labour representation in our local councils and in national government, we need to ensure we return Labour MEPs to fight for what we believe in and uphold our values in Europe.

Whatever your views on the European Union, it is an important forum where key decisions affecting our everyday life are made and we cannot afford to have those decisions dominated by the unreformed Tory right or the extremist rabble of UKIP, the BNP and their ilk.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • News Scotland Bookies say Murphy is the odds-on favourite for Scottish Labour leader

    Bookies say Murphy is the odds-on favourite for Scottish Labour leader

    The contest for Scottish Labour Leader officially begins today, as candidate nominations open (they close on Thursday). We’re not expecting any further candidates to announce now, so the field is likely to be made up of Sarah Boyack, Neil Findlay and Jim Murphy. Ladbrokes have announced their odds for the contest and make Murphy an odds-on favourite, with Findlay in second place and Boyack as a long shot: Jim Murphy 1/2 Neil Findlay 2/1 Sarah Boyack 8/1 After the poor […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Afghanistan was a waste of life and money. Our politics won’t recover until we recognise that

    Afghanistan was a waste of life and money. Our politics won’t recover until we recognise that

    It’s happened many times before. The union flag is pulled down surrounded by anxious British soldiers. They hope the ‘natives’ they’ve handed power to will hold on to a British-friendly kind of order, but are desperate most of all to get home safely. The plaques recording the lives and deaths of fallen comrades are unscrewed and packed up, and a patch of desert goes back to dust. The British military say they have confidence in the Afghan army to hold […]

    Read more →
  • News Government must pay £1.7 Billion sum to EU, say LabourList readers

    Government must pay £1.7 Billion sum to EU, say LabourList readers

    Last Friday, news broke that the EU had recalculated the UK’s contributions to the supra-national organisation – and many people did not react well to discovering we owe another £1.7 billion. It was an “unnacceptable cash grab”, according to Mark Ferguson and new Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden voiced his displeasure at how the EU had gone about presenting the bill. Katharina Klebba, meanwhile, said that although this resembled a “bull-in-a-china shop mentality”, it was up to Labour to do […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Remploy – a year after the last closure

    Remploy – a year after the last closure

    A year ago today the last Remploy factory officially shut its doors. That was a sad day for me and thousands of other working people across the country. Since I left school at 16 I’d worked at Remploy Sheffield, starting out work as a welder and in recent years representing fellow workers as a GMB trade union convenor. For a lot of us at Remploy, the factories offered secure employment, the dignity of work and a workplace that understood our […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Miliband tells Scottish Labour: “We face a tough fight but no tougher than the fights we have faced in the past.”

    Miliband tells Scottish Labour: “We face a tough fight but no tougher than the fights we have faced in the past.”

    Ed Miliband is at the Scottish Labour Gala Dinner this evening. The atmosphere in the Scottish party is understandably tense following the resignation of Johann Lamont this week, and a poll today which shows the party are 29 points behind the SNP.  Miliband was speaking after Anas Sarwar – who used this evening’s Gala Dinner to announce that he’s standing down as Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour, triggering a Deputy Leadership election. The Labour leader was seeking to rally the […]

    Read more →