First Published: The Forge, Vol. 6, No. 31, September 18, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The Workers Communist Party (WCP) held its first conference on the woman question at the end of August. Twenty-five comrades from across the country participated. Myriam reports on the conference.
The Women’s Committee of the WCP convened the conference with the goal of coordinating the different aspects of the party’s work with women across the country. The agenda included an analysis of the women’s movement in Canada, a report of the party’s work in this field, a program of union action submitted by the Women’s Committee, and a discussion on the development of female members of the party.
Participants included Diane, active in Saskatchewan Working Women (SWW), Nancy who participated in the Toronto March 8 Coalition, Jocelyne of the Status of Women Committee of the Montreal Labour Council, Suzanne of SOS Daycare in Quebec and Diane who is active in community work in Montreal.Another comrade present had experience in work among rape victims and single mothers.
Trade union activists like Julie, a Montreal hospital worker, also participated.
The first subject on the agenda was an analysis of the different tendencies within the women’s movement. This helped to clarify what “bourgeois feminism” is and to identify this as the dominant trend in the movement at the present time.
Too many women still trust women like Laura Sabia, Lise Payette and Pauline Jewett. While there are differences between them, these politicians all try to make women believe their emancipation lies in attacking “male power” rather than the power of the capitalists.
Nancy pointed out, “Identifying this tendency as the most dangerous within the women’s movement is crucial for our work. How can we win women over to our revolutionary orientation if we cannot show them what a dead-end the reformist orientation advocated by these misleaders is?”
Participants also identified a petty-bourgeois feminist current with which the party has certain demands and tactics in common, but with which it also has major disagreements, such as the source of women’s oppression and the solution to it.
The WCP Women’s Committee then gave a sum-up of the party’s work on this question. From the first days of the League – the founding group of the WCP – the political program had a section on women and recognized the importance of doing political work among women.
Since then, the party has contributed to the development of the daycare movement in Quebec, and has been involved in many places where women are concentrated: the clothing industry, hospitals and the public sector, and in community work.
The WCP has always given preferential treatment to women in order to encourage their political development. As a result, close to 50 per cent of the party’s members are women, and women direct the party’s work in several Canadian cities. In the last Quebec provincial elections, 16 of the WCP’s 33 candidates were women.
The report also examined the shortcomings in the party’s work on the woman question. The WCP’s work was marked by serious weaknesses during a two-year period, starting just before the founding of the party. There has been a lack of internal education among members and sympathizers on the question. Moreover, the party has not always taken into account all aspects of the women’s movement, thus neglecting certain issues such as violence against women.
Ian Anderson, WCP vice-chairman, emphasized that the task of developing work around the woman question does not fail exclusively on the shoulders of the party’s women members. “The whole party, as a political party, must take this crucial question in hand. It is the duty of all male leaders of the party to read what is published on the subject and follow developments in the women’s movement.
In the afternoon, the participants had a lively debate around the union action program for women. Demands that are sure to take on increasing importance, such as equal pay for work of equal value and affirmative action programs, were discussed in depth.
Women’s jobs are being threatened by government cutbacks and technological change. In the context of the economic crisis, the battle for affirmative action programs – access to all types of jobs, particularly in heavy industry – is taking on more importance. “We must force the bosses to hire women, making sure that they are not hired as cheap labour,” said Julie.
Participants stressed that male chauvinism on the part of certain union leaders was the major obstacle to working women’s demands being taken up by the labour movement, and that it should be therefore unconditionally denounced.
A WCP union organizer remarked that “The party’s news-paper The Forge sometimes criticizes CLC President Dennis McDermott on this question. But in labour councils and union locals, party members have not criticized male chauvinism enough as an aspect of these union leaders’ collaboration with the bosses.”
On the second day of the conference, the richest debate focused on the political development of female party members.
Participants pointed out that centuries of oppression and women’s isolation from political and social life explain why many women lack self-confidence and experience, and find political work more difficult than men. Our society not only imposes the double workday on women but also pressures them into only seeing themselves as wives and mothers.
“To get involved in revolutionary political action, we must meet an enormous challenge, that of refusing the stereotypical role that society tries to force on us and fighting daily against the consequences oppression has on our own development,” said Diane.
“We must educate our male comrades about their chauvinism which leads them to underestimate the importance of the woman question or the struggle to improve their personal and family relationships.”
“I realized at the conference,” said Margaret from Vancouver, “that the woman question enters all aspects of our work – whether its with BC wood workers, in union conventions or the education we do from day to day.”
At the same time, participants at the conference saw that there was an enormous amount of work to he done.
Therefore priorities in the work were established. First, all Party members will study the woman question before the year’s end so as to increase their understanding of the question.
The party is also planning to publish a union action program for women and get more involved in certain key struggles such as the fight against the dangers of microtechnology for women workers. Finally in-depth articles analyzing controversial ’subjects, like the origin of women’s oppression, are also planned.
The party will also concretize how women will benefit from socialism in Canada, since the situation of women in an industrialized country like Canada is very different from the socialist experience in the USSR and China.