First Published: In Struggle! No. 270, November 3, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Sheila Rowbotham, British feminist and author of Beyond the Fragments, gave a conference in Toronto on October 30. This occasion gave members of IN STRUGGLE! from all regions in the country the opportunity to hold the first national women’s caucus.
The day-long caucus started with each woman talking about the situation of women in the organization and the situation of the women’s movement in each region. The first point to come out of this was that the women’s movement is dynamic. In most regions, if not all, women’s groups are the most active mass organizations. In some regions like B.C., the Prairies and the Maritimes, where the women’s movement was marked for a long time by its inwardness and division, a real movement for unity has gotten going in the last while. Women’s groups decided to make a conscious effort at outreach. Unionists are increasingly taking up women’s demands. Women are mainly mobilized right now around two questions: the rise of the Right; and effects of the crisis (ex. housing problems, social service cutbacks, etc.). In Vancouver and Toronto, for example, groups of lesbian women are organizing to struggle against the rise of the Right.
The second point drawn from this discussion was that since last fall a priority for each region has been our interventions on the women’s question, either in our own ranks through women’s caucuses or in the women’s movement itself. The women’s caucus in B.C. sees itself as a fighting squad. Among other things, they mean to intervene where there are reluctant chauvinist militants. Their point of view is that we wouldn’t keep a known racist who refused to change in our ranks, why allow chauvinist militants to stay?
The question of preparation for the congress took up the afternoon. The majority voiced dissatisfaction with the way debates are now occurring. We talked about how different positions are presently only caricatures, how easily we stick on labels (opportunist, reformist, economist, dogmatic, etc.) and finally how many fed it’s difficult to “hang in there” in the present climate. But above all we stressed the fact that such attitudes are neither healthy, nor constructive, and we will have to do our best to ensure the debates are carried on correctly. At stake here is the very outcome of the congress.
The National Women’s Committee evaluated it has spent too much time in meeting within the Organization’s apparatus and not enough time in working with women at the Organization’s base. What the National Women’s Committee means by leading the work isn’t the same thing as what is generally meant in our organization (i.e. presenting thick texts of general orientations, plans of work, etc.)
They want instead to be more closely linked to the practical work of the women’s caucuses, research collectives and women in the organization. With this in mind, it was proposed that each region elect one or more women (each region deciding on the number for itself) to the National Women’s Committee to facilitate leadership over all work on the women’s questions as a collective undertaking.
In the next period the National Women’s Committee should work to re-activate women’s caucuses at the base, many of which haven’t met for months. A certain number of problem areas were identified at a Montreal meeting of women from the base and women who are involved with the women’s question. The caucuses could debate these problems: integrating personal concerns in our political work; the relation between women’s struggles and the rise of the Right (e.g new challenges to gains won on the right to abortion); the relation of women to theory; developing consciousness; other political organizations’ positions on the women’s question; our understanding of differences we have within the organization on the women’s question.
A number of women mentioned that it will be important to take a position at the next congress on putting the women’s struggle on an equal footing with the struggle for socialism. This doesn’t mean interventions among women will necessarily have priority. It means that we must be aware at all times of the struggle against women’s oppression; our whole way of thinking about the organization should take this into account. Some women said it would be extremely important for men in the organization to begin to meet together in order to have a place to exchange ideas and debate problems which women are raising so that everything can get pulled together in the end.
Work for the next period, then, will involve re-activating women’s caucuses in the bases in order to debate the political questions, and preparing for regional women’s conferences which will draw up resolutions for the congress. The women present strongly hoped there will be a meeting of the national women’s caucus at the time of the national public conference to be held around the end of January.