How Can the Working Class Women Strengthen Their Struggle in the Trade Unions?

Intervention by Dorte Grenaa, chairman of the Workers' Communist Party of Denmark (APK), at the 7th International Meeting of Trade Unionists, June 22-24, 2001, in Bourges, France.

How can the working class women strengthen their struggle in the trade unions?
There is not just one easy answer to what you all know is a complex and difficult question.
I would like to tell you about the experience of the Danish working class women.
On March 5 this year, the only entirely female trade union, the Women Workers' Union in Denmark (KAD), organizing many unskilled women workers, held its 100th anniversary.
When the KAD was founded, it was a great victory for the women workers. Within the trade unions and workers' movement of that time, it was an out-spread attitude that the working class women "stole " the workplaces from the male workers and therefore should go home to the kitchen.
But, just as it is a fact today, the kitchen pots are empty if the women do not work.

What are the main experiences that the thousands of unskilled female trade unionists have passed on to us?

- The women workers must by strongly organized in the trade unions.

- We, the women workers, are the ones, who must stand up against the double oppression, the double work, and the discrimination of the working women in all fields. We must demand the solidarity of the male workers on these issues and stand side by side in the joint class struggle.

- In order to mobilize and set free the great forces of the working women, the demands of the trade unions must not be reduced to specific "questions on work" or "women's issues". Today, too, we have to raise the struggle for equal pay, for a six-hours working day, but also for social demands concerning childcare, family-situations, education, health and medical care and questions like the fight against the EU, against fascism, against the imperialist wars and exploitation and the strengthening of the workers' international solidarity.
We fight for a whole life as women and for the future of the working class.

- There is no such thing as the "sweet, holy sisterhood" in the trade union or in the class struggle. What really counts is your class position. The 100-year history of the Danish female trade union movement is the history of the struggle between the militant line of class struggle, which today still inspires us, and the reformist line of class cooperation, fraud, disillusion and despair. It is up to us to seize the time and win that battle.

Right now, the radicalisation of the women workers is developing faster than among the male workers in our country. Why? Because the women constitute the vast majority of the unskilled workers, and because women workers every single day experience that the gap between upholding a decent and dignified life for themselves, their children and families and the reality and its prospects is growing deeper.
In Denmark, women have every legal, democratic right. For decades, it has been against numerous laws to discriminate women. We even have a minister for equal rights in the government. But still, the working class women are being discriminated every day. A few cases end in court, and then business goes on as usual.
One of the main questions that the top leadership of the trade unions put forward today is equal rights for female leaders in society. The basic questions of the women workers can only be raised though class struggle and only find their final solution in socialism.

- In order to mobilize and organize the working class women, not only a clear-cut line of class struggle is required as regards the policy and our demands, this line must be found in the organizational forms and methods as well.
Women workers do not attend meetings or actions, where they are put down, talked down to, harassed or made feel stupid. We have wasted enough time on that. We demand respect, and trade union work must be organized in such a way that it is possible for women to participate alongside taking care of children, making dinner and washing dirty socks - having a family life.

This is not an individual problem, but a collective one and must be solved as such.
In Denmark, we have a saying: "it takes a strong soap to clean a dirty neck".
We must wipe out the bureaucratic, male chauvinist methods of reformism, because they stand in our way as very bad tasting left-overs from the last century.

- Today, the KAD only counts around 80,000 members, mainly working in the private industry, compared to the 271,000 women workers organized in the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (HK), and the Danish Trade Union of Public Employees (FOA) with 200,000 members, mostly women.

We do not fight for separate female unions any longer, but for the fundamental right to organize exactly the way we want.

Just two weeks ago, the EU passed a directive saying that it is illegal to form female trade unions because this would discriminate men!
Of course, this directive could make problems for the KAD, so the Danish government received an exemption making it possible for the KAD to continue. But if there exist other female trade unions, they are illegal by EU standards.
It is absolutely not the business of the EU to meddle in how the workers organize. It has no right whatsoever to do that.

- In order to strengthen the struggle of the working class women in the trade unions, we have to organize special forums for the militant women, reaching across the borders of trade union membership, branches and workplaces - not conflicting with the building of the class line opposition, but in connection with this.

We need the inspiration, the courage and the wisdom of our fellow women workers. Today, the young generation is brought up to think that all this is way past history and to believe that every boy or girl have the same opportunities of becoming whatever they want and live happily ever after, if they are smart, clever and hardworking enough! Success is entirely up to you.

The young women's frustration, hatred and outrage against this fraud can only be channelled into the struggle of the militant trade unionists and workers if we understand and fulfil our task. Once again, we, the working class women, find ourselves as the link between the precious experiences won by blood, sweat and tears, and the future of our children.
So let us not be the missing link!