This post provides an introduction to the policies of Unite the union in relation to abortion and the contributions of our Irish members to the pro-choice struggle over the past year.
Unite the Union and Access to Abortion Services
Unite is the only general trade-union in the Republic of Ireland that has an explicitly pro-choice position for free, safe and legal abortion services for all women on our island. This stance is outlined in the Unite Women’s Charter along with a series of political stances on women’s rights. As the Charter puts it;
‘For us the price of progress is eternal vigilance –
We must ensure that women’s demands are heard and acted on‘.
Our pro-choice politics are ingrained throughout the actions of our union and this can be observed in our press statements, conference motions, the training of our equalities reps and the efforts of our activists on the ground. This stance is regularly reaffirmed; this year the Irish Unite Policy Conference passed Motion 24 which recognised the importance of reproductive rights for working women and stated that ‘access to abortion is a trade-union issue’.
In the wider labour movement Unite stands apart from other unions in openly calling for legislated abortion services. This was shown most recently at the recent ICTU Biennial Delegate Conference, an event notable for the fact that none of 55 unions affiliated to Congress raised motions which mentioned access to abortion services. Indeed the issue of abortion would have been completely by-passed if the Unite Equalities Officer had not used the opportunity of a motion on healthcare to raise demands for legislation on abortion.
Unite has for many years supported and campaigned for access to abortion on demand as well as effective, appropriate sexual health services in the UK and Ireland. In the UK we are affiliated to Abortion Rights, which aims to ‘to defend and extend women’s rights and access to safe, legal abortion’ and opposes the criminalisation of sex-selective abortion. In Ireland we are affiliated to the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment. Our Regional Secretary clarified our affiliation in an email to all members before the March for Choice last year:
‘In the Irish Region, this means that we advocate repeal of the Eighth Amendment as a prelude to introducing fit-for-purpose legislation which will protect the rights of women, and ensure that what happened to Savita Halappanavar or Ms Y cannot be repeated.’
2014-2015: Unite Involvement in the Pro-Choice Campaign
The Abortion Rights Campaign’s March for Choice last year marked the first effort to mobilise a significant pro-choice contingent from Unite. We did this to show that while the majority of the trade-union movement remains docile on this issue; Unite is clearly in favour the right to choose and will actively campaign on this issue. On the day; members of the Youth Committee, Women’s Committee and Unite staff officers marched together behind 3 of our union banners in a respectable mobilisation. We intend to improve on this at the upcoming 4th Annual March for Choice but the demonstration sparked a year of pro-choice activism by Unite members which should be re-capped on.
On the 28th October, UY-DAG members were in attendance to welcome the Abortion Pill Train at Connolly Station. Shortly after on November 3rd, UY-DAG reps spoke at the launch of the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment and made it clear that our position is that:
‘Trade-unions should embrace the demands made by women for an equal society. The right to choose is not a moral or personal question which can be avoided; it is one which a democratic community should support in the interests of solidarity regardless of class, ethnicity or gender.’
Unite Regional Equalities Officer, Taryn Trainor, spoke at a press conference by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment on December 16th, and highlighted the economic equality issues around travel for abortion. The following evening, UY-DAG rep Laura Duggan spoke at a protest outside the Dáil in support of a motion by Clare Daly to repeal the 8th and replace it with the right to full bodily autonomy. After the Christmas lull, UY-DAG activists helped organise a fund-raiser for the trade-union repeal campaign which raised €900 in February.
For International Women’s Day on the March 8th, the Unite Women’s Committee produced a leaflet which highlighted the need to legislate for abortion while a UY-DAG rep spoke at a soapbox organised by NWCI. In early May, we supported the Ruth Coppinger bill calling for a referendum on repeal while on May 12th we spoke on behalf of Motion 24 at the Unite policy conference which passed and reaffirmed the union’s pro-choice position. In July, UY-DAG supported the counter rally against the so-called Rally for Life, along with the TU Repeal Campaign.
Join the Unite Bloc at the 4th Annual March for Choice
UY-DAG has been pushing for the mobilisation of a significant Unite Bloc for the upcoming March for Choice and we appeal to all members and supporters to join us on the day. Please click attending on the Facebook event page and share it with any Unite members you know. On the day; we will march as a bloc with Unite banners and flags and make it clear that our union is proudly pro-choice. Join us at the Unite offices on Abbey Street at 1pm on September 26th.
The #UniteForChoice bloc now has the support of the following Unite officers, committees and branches:
Unite Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly
Unite Regional Equalities Officer, Taryn Trainor
Unite Women’s Committee (Irish Region)
Unite Youth Committee (Irish Region)
Unite Youth – Dublin Activist Group (UY-DAG)
Unite Archaeologists Branch
Unite 102 Branch (Dublin General Industrial)
Together we are stronger, march with us on the 26th!