First Published: In Struggle! No. 288, June 22, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Submitted by: Mover – Gillies Malnarich; endorsed by some other comrades from the regions of BC., Quebec, Maritimes, and Ontario. The author of this proposal accepted 3 amendments from Ontario militants.
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Here are the essential points that should become the membership’s common basis of unity, on women:
1)The persistence of women’s oppression characterizes the situation of women the world today. Even if we do not have a full and exact understanding of the origins of women’s oppression, women’s oppression pre-dated capitalism and long-standing practices of male privilege and domination have been built into the very way capitalism works. The system we live under is patriarchal and capitilist.
2) We will not be able to analyse women’s situation in this kind of system unless we say that production and reproduction (including social relations, labour power, child-birth, and child-rearing) are interconnected and the material basis of our society and its organization. The majority of women’s lives – child-birth and child-raising, work in the home, work in the waged labour force – reflects this reality and is far from ’marginal’. The family, in all its forms, is also part of capitalist production and its social relations; for too long we have regarded the family as ’personal and private’ instead of ’political and social’.
3) Within our society, women’s oppression cuts across class lines. Women are denied real human equality. This reality means that there are issues and demands that are common to women of all classes, nationalities, and races. This reality is about: violence against women; no control by women of their own bodies and reproductive functions including sexual rights and sexual preference; inequalities in written legislation; sex-stereotyping through the family, education system, religion, and culture with women defined as ’subordinate’ to men and even ’biologically inferior’ responsibility for domestic life and child-care.
The majority of working women around the world have double and triple (i.e. work outside the home for no pay) workloads and the ’value’ of at least half of this work is ’hidden’.
For women in advanced industrialized societies like ours, the labour force is sex-segregated, job ghettoization is on the increase, and the wage gap between women and men is getting wider. Women’s chances of being poor in a society like Canada – where imperialism is said to show its most ’progressive’ face – are much higher than is the case for men. Poverty is directly related to being a woman (unpaid labour, economic dependence on a man’s wage, low wages), as well as family status. race, and class.
4) Reforms were won by women and for women under capitalism. These reforms meant important gains for women, including working class women. The gains which women won after years were not given to them for free, but they were the result of the struggle for reforms. Women often struggled for much more than they won.
However these victories were often only partial for proletarian women. For example, the right to vote for women was definitely a victory, but only partial, as from what we know of the electorial system under capitalism, it has limited use. As with any other democratic right, it is a necessary step towards our liberation, but we know that democratic rights are applied differently according to the social class you are in. it’s in this way that it is correct to say the reforms often helped proletarian women in a more limited way than petty-bourgeois or bourgeois women (for example, abortion, the push for women in professions, equal pay for equal work in human rights legislation, the changes in property laws...).
Moreover what can be won and kept under capitalism is limited by the system itself and stories according to periods of capitalist expansion or crisis. Examples like equal pay for equal work, technological changes and women at work, the crsis and budget cuts, the role of the State to reinforce the ideology of the family as well as its practical measures illustrate this point.
However these partial victories are each a nail in the coffin of male supremacy and patriarchy. They contribute to bringing about slow changes in the organization of society and people’s ideology. These changes are essential for the abolition of sexual division at work and must begin right now. if we believe that socialism and the control of the State by the working class are essential for these changes; we handicap ourselves enormously.
Therefore not only are the limitations in the struggle for reforms not a justification for not struggling for the liberation of women right row; it is indeed essential to struggle for reforms right now, to build a socialist movement, and eventually a more correct socialist society.
5) Even if it is essential that we see what is common to all women, class is a fundamental factor in shaping women’s work, life experience, and issues that are important to them. Race and nationality are other significant factors. We can also make distinctions between working class family organization and middle class or ruling class family organization.
These differences mean that all women are not oppressed or exploited equally. In brief, there is a range in the economic situations of women, the privileges different women have, the purchasing power and property ownership of the family, and hence some women’s relative stake in maintaining the status quo.
6) Women are at least one-half of the proletariat. Our “definition” of the working class must correspond to this reality and should be corrected to include those who sell their labour power as well as those who are dependent on the sale of labour power (housewives, children, the elderly, the handicapped, the chronically sick, those unemployed and so on).
7) There are also differences among women on how far to take the fight against a system of male dominance. For working class women, especially those racially and nationally oppressed, ’complete equality’ will not be limited to equality with men of their class and race alone, who themselves are exploited and ’unequal’ in the larger system. The challenge to patriarchy is pushed even further when working class women take it up. When a female professional fights for parity with a male professional the issue is equal pay for equal work. When this demand is taken up by women who are doing ’women’s work’ in the wage economy, the social criteria of the ’value of work’ will be challenged. This is the case when a secretary or waitress fights for parity with production workers or labourers in industry. Another implication is that the definition of ’value’ is challenged, where ’value’ is tied to capitalist profits.
When we’re talking about the ’complete emancipation’ of women, we must look at the actual living and working conditions of working class women. Indeed, when working class women – who are the most oppressed and exploited of all – all liberated, this will result in the liberation of all women. This is not possible under capitalism.
8) The fact that middle class and working class women have their own interests does not mean that they cannot and should not unite in action and organization when there is a common struggle to be waged against a common source of oppression.
It is useful to recall the historical experience in this regard – where a basis for unity (and division) are not static. Often a shared committment is not the problem (right to choose around abortion), but what to say and from what perspective is (only call for repeal of the law). There will also be differences among women on how to wage any fight (lobbying, writing briefs, getting ’big name’ supporters versus mass education and mobilisation) and on who to mainly work with (all women, men from the working class, majority from racial and minority groups and so on).
Proletarian women must raise the demands for which they must struggle. They must not refuse to struggle for demands because the women who initiated the struggle were not from the working class, just as they should not allow their fightback to only benefit women from other classes.
In alliances and united fronts that cut across class lines, our objective is to ensure that working class women’s interests or a revolutionary perspective is not sub-ordinated by doing work independently and by supporting working class women playing a leading role.
9) We must be clear that working class men (as well as petty bourgeois and bourgeois men) gain material advantages from women’s oppression.
The organization and activity of working class women is the starting-point for change in this area within the working class, and we should support these initiatives even when they come up against the established interests of men.
A working class women’s perspective on many issues has to be heard and acted on for working class unity.
If chauvinism, male privilege, and other inequalities are not challenged, existing divisions in the working class will weaken and erode any class unity. The kind of unity based on a joint struggle against inequalities, however difficult to achieve, can only strengthen the common struggle of the working class to defend itself and its interests in both the short and long term.
10) These long term interests are building a communist society without class or patriarchy. This must be the aim of the socialist struggle.
While socialism is necessary for women’s liberation, the socialist revolution by itself is not sufficient. The struggle for women’s complete emancipation depends on the struggle for socialism, but it is not sub-ordinate to it. This is the case now, throughout socialist construction and beyond.
Socialization of domestic labour – if it is still only done by women or mainly by women, participation in a sex-segregated labour force, with correspondingly low wages, a double workload – but in another system, will not be liberating. Women’s current experience in our society is enough proof to argue that there must be socialization of domestic labour, women’s full participation in the labour force, and the sexual integration of both. ’Sexual integration’ implies that men take up emotional support for children and others on an ongoing basis, among more obvious things.
Under socialism special measures will be needed to combat patriarchy, but the privileges, prejudices, and divisions left over from capitalism will not disappear overnight.
11) Wherever we (women and men) work, in all movements and milieus, issues and demands related to women’s liberation must be taken up. This implies organized struggles against chauvinism and male privilege, changes in how things are done to take into account the specific conditions of women’s oppression, and policies of affirmative action for women (especially working class women).
Wherever women are fighting for their rights (and the consciously feminist organizations are only one part of this women’s movement), we need to develop an internationalist and working class women’s perspective on the struggle for women’s liberation, to raise broader political issues and how they affect women (and men), and to give our greatest attention In the struggles of working class women. We must also support an autonomous women’s movement.
Wherever we work, we must support women organizing themselves to fight for their rights. This includes women’s caucuses, committees, and collectives within all movements and organizations (including ours).
The view that working class women’s struggle for their complete emancipation will mean the emancipation of all women can remain a stated “belief’, unless we give high priority (and find ways to work among the most oppressed and least privileged people in this society – the majority of whom are women.
12) Within our ranks we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with different ways of organizing so women have a strong voice that will be heard and acted on. We should look at the experience of different mass organizations and socialist organizations like Movimiento Communista.
If views, stands, and actions taken are fed into the larger collective for debate, discussion, and resolution then it will be possible for women and men to continue to work together in the same organization – an organization that is committed in words and practice to the struggle for women’s liberation.