Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and the TUC
Oh how the media have enjoyed themselves in their ‘reporting’ of the motion discussed at this weeks Congress on the wearing of high heels in the workplace. Obviously the facts couldn’t be, and weren’t, allowed to get in the way of the chance to have a poke at two of the favourite targets of right wing reporters and ‘commentators’ – unions and perceived over-zealous health and safety rules. The fact that, in their minds at least, this story combined the two must have been the reason why they got particularly excited.
Firstly lets look at what the motion submitted by the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (SCP) actually said. It said that wearing high heels isn’t necessarily good for your feet or legs, something which appears to be no more controversial than saying if you eat too many sweets and don’t brush your teeth you’ll end up needing fillings.
Then the motion pointed out that some employers, as part of their uniform policy, require women to wear the aforementioned sized heels. It then proposed a pretty sensible solution; those employers who do require staff to wear high heels as part of their uniform should check whether these are actually the safest and most comfortable shoes to wear in relation to the job that the workers wearing the shoes actually do.
Nowhere in the motion is there a call for high-heels to be banned – in fact the word does not appear in the motion – and only the most cynical of readers would regard it as a call for women to be banned from wearing high heels anywhere and anytime of their own choosing. See here if you don’t believe me.
I did mention the word cynical so lets turn to how this motion was reported in the press.
Anna Maxted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph headed up her piece with the words “The day I defied the TUC – and wore stilettos after delegates at the Trades Union Congress voted to ban high heels in the workplace” although to be fair she did go on to concede that high heels aren’t terrifically good for your back even though they apparently made her feel great.
The Spectator joined the mass mis-representation by also talking about a ‘ban’ but in saying that union officials were ‘dreaming up new Health and Safety hazzards’also inferred that high heels weren’t really a risk.
In the Evening Standard, Olivia Cole apperaed to have taken the matter particularly personally and after another reference to that none existent call for a ban even enlisted the support of Tory MP Nadine Morris who reassured women that she would not let those nasty unions have their way and ‘defeminise us.’!?
Clearly these people believe it’s utterly inappropriate for health professionals, as represented in this case by the SCP, to point out the potential dangers of high heeled shoes, although you do hope that their apparent hatred of anyone with some specialist knowledge of a health related issue seeking to inform and protect the public doesn’t prevent them from thinking that its OK for doctors to say that smoking is bad for your lungs. Although, perhaps it does.
What these examples also demonstrate is one of the two ways that much of the press prefer to report on trade unions.
We are either health and safety zealots – seeking to suck the joy out of everyday life by doing such dreadful things as making sure that people are properly trained to use machinery they use at work, wear clothing that protects them and don’t fall off ladders that they are called upon to use – or we are undemocratic demagogues and therefore trade union leaders (who are all elected by members) must be referred to as ‘barons’ or ‘bosses’, positions taken by unions on issues regarded as ‘posturing’ and comments on the possible implications of one policy or another always treated as ‘threats’.
Last Saturday’s editorial in the Guardian said that trade unionists were “allowed” into the headlines “mainly to threaten revenge on what they see as an un-friendly government” a rather strange comment from an organisation that actually decides what does or doesn’t become a headline.
There is of course a much broader story to tell of the work of trade unions – of the 6 million plus members (making the TUC Britain’s largest pressure group), of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers (union reps) who work to support their colleagues at work, of the millions of people who receive assistance, support and representation on a range of issues from achieving a better work-life balance to improving access to training and skills – all of which would make worthy headlines if only those that decide what they are cared to look.