Eighty percent of low paid workers in Britain are women. They are the cleaners, cooks and hairdressers forced to work in poor conditions with no legal minimum wage. In the public sector, low pay is rife. Women’s wages have fallen back so far that the gap between men and women’s wages has widened for the first time in 10 years. At this rate it would take 43 years to achieve equal pay!

International Women’s Day. Report from Britain.

Campaigning for a decent wage

So the establishment of a decent minimum wage is very important for women workers. When the New Labour government announced that it would introduce a legal minimum, many women expected an end to poverty wages. Some hope!

The minimum wage is to be set at such a low level - £3.60 an hour - that most will still be trapped in poverty, dependent on state benefits to survive. Young workers will receive an even lower rate - £3 an hour - and those under 18 years will not be covered by any legal minimum at all. Young hairdressers can receive as little as £1 an hour, working 40 hours a week!

If they get their way, the bosses will be able to continue super-exploiting workers, making huge profits at their expense. The bosses say they cannot afford a higher minimum rate of pay, but the president of the Confederation of British Industry - the bosses’own club - gets £7 a minute!

All we are demanding is £7 an hour - the European ’decency rate’! Not much to ask for as we enter the new millennium.

Women workers are fighting back.

In Tameside, Manchester, care-workers have been on strike for over a year. The boss of their privatised company wanted to lower their wages down to the proposed legal minimum. Some women faced losing as much as £2 an hour. They said, "Enough is enough!" and walked out on strike.

The biggest trade union in Britain is UNISON which organises 1.3 million public sector workers. 70% of these are women. At the union’s national conference, socialists moved a resolution demanding a national demonstration to force the government to increase the level of the minimum wage.

Now over 20 national unions are supporting the demonstration in Newcastle on April 10th. It will be the first national protest organised by unions in opposition to the openly pro-big business New Labour government.

This demonstration could act as a focus for all the anger that is building up from below against a government that is privatising public services, attacking welfare and undermining workers’ jobs and conditions. Women are worst affected by all these attacks and we will be on the demonstration in our thousands demanding a decent living wage.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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