International motions on women’s rights and Palestine passed at NDC

Delegates heard impassioned speeches on international women’s rights and the importance of resisting apartheid in Palestine

Rosa Pavanelli

Chaired by Libby Nolan, the third morning of UNISON’s 2023 national delegate conference saw declarations of international solidarity, particularly on women’s rights and Palestine.

The conference session began with a one minute silence to pay respects to Alan Jinkinson, UNISON’s first general secretary who died last year.

Delegates then heard two impassioned speeches from trade union leader Gonul Erden and Rosa Pavanelli (pictured), the general secretary of Public Services International, the global union federation for public sector trade unions.

Ms Erden, only recently released from prison in Turkey, addressed UNISON members over video message: “My main strength in overcoming this difficult period comes from solidarity from comrades like you.”

Rosa Pavanelli’s speech, calling for global solidarity to defeat the rise in “far right populism”, was met with a standing ovation.

Women’s rights

The first motion passed was on ‘defending and improving women’s rights internationally’. Introduced by the national women’s committee, the motion invited powerful speeches from numerous activists. 

Speaking as chair of the international committee, Liz Wheatley said: “We live in a world where women are treated as second-class citizens, it’s true here, and it’s true around the world.”

Ms Wheatley also called for solidarity with Carla Foster, the mum of three who received a prison sentence this week for ending her pregnancy. Ms Wheatley said: “UNISON has a proud history of defending abortion rights”

Another speaker articulated how intertwined the struggles for labour rights and women’s rights are: “All of these issues are interlinked. If you want to fight sexual harassment at work, you need secure employment. If you want to flee an abusive relationship, you need the money to do it. Economic independence is crucial. All of these things go together.”

The motion calls on the union’s commitment to:

  • continue to work internationally to defend abortion rights;
  • continue to work with the International Committee and the National Women’s Committee to provide solidarity with women who are on the frontline in demanding trade union rights, peace and social justice, specifically in Colombia and Turkey;
  • work with the National Women’s Committee to show solidarity with women in Iran and explore ways to help them fight oppression and discrimination.


The second motion passed was on trade union solidarity with Palestine. 

The motion calls on the national executive council to:

  • encourage distribution of and discussion on the new guide for UNISON activists: ‘Talking about Palestinian rights’;
  • support Amnesty International’s call on the International Criminal Court to consider the crime of apartheid;
  • support branches to campaign for local government pension funds to engage with the companies they invest in and to demand they end their involvement in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the violation of Palestinian human rights;
  • defend the right of public bodies to purchase, procure and invest ethically, including by using BDS in support of Palestinian rights.

The motion was amended to include a commitment to “work with Labour Link to secure a commitment from the next Labour government to recognise Palestine as an independent state”. 

Proposing the amendment, Glenn Williams from the North West region reminded delegates that 72% of the 193 UN member states recognise Palestine as a state.