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Labor Action, 2 December 1946


The Role of Women in Modern Society

The Editors Comment on One Aspect


From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 48, 2 December 1946, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In our November 18 [1] issue we published an article by our staff writer, Susan Green, critically analyzing an article by Mrs. Ethel Goldwater on certain aspects of the “woman’s question” written for the magazine, Politics. In printing below a reply by Mrs. Goldwater, and a rebuttal by Susan Green, we wish to invite other readers to contribute to this discussion.

The editors of Labor Action hope to participate in this discussion themselves, notably on the relation between the struggle for minimum demands and the complete emancipation of women which, in our opinion, is possible only under socialism. For the present, we wish to make a single comment on the argument by Mrs. Goldwater that such demands as $5,000 minimum family income are not achievable, and that if they were they would do little to better the situation of women or men.

Nobody can guarantee the achievement of any single or series of demands under capitalism. However, the entire history of the labor movement, and of the struggle for human freedom more generally, is filled with precisely such achievements of “unattainable” goals. Demands which as recently as ten-twenty years ago appeared to be totally unrealizable, except by a few “visionaries” like ourselves, are now commonplace. Unemployment insurance, for example. Or, who would have expected, some years ago, that the miners would get a welfare fund? We recall a small illustration out of our own immediate history. As the beginning of the war crisis, we raised the slogan of $60 base pay for soldiers, then receiving $21. We were criticized for raising slogans that “sound good” but are meaningless. Shortly afterwards, base pay was raised, no, not to $60, but to $50. Admitted that is not on the same level as $5,000 minimum family income, and that many factors conspired in the result. Nevertheless, it is a fact.

Or, approached from the point of view of enlisting broader circles in our “unimaginative” ideas. Several years we were the only ones to raise the demand. Open the Books. Last winter it became the principal demand of what was then the largest union in the world. And there was certainly no action in the labor movement for years that so captured the imagination as the General Motors Strike.

We do not say the attainment of these demands will fundamentally solve these problems. No, that can only be done by eradicating the social injustice of class rule, and replacing it by a socialist society. It is a fact that prices have been eating up wage increases. Yet, it is poor economics that says that is the inevitable result. We leave elaboration of that point to a more extensive article, in order to make the simpler point that the labor movement, cooperating with housewives and others, can prevent it. The General Motors strikers, for example, called for a wage increase without a price increase. The CIO is doing the same now. In addition, various things can be done to keep prices in line. But it takes DOING.

The standard of living of the great mass of people in this country today is higher than it was a hundred years ago. The rights of women, by no means yet adequate in any real, social sense, are more extensive. How was it achieved? By advocating demands that “can’t be won ... (and) wouldn’t help much if won.” The eight-hour day helped. The closed shop helped. Woman’s suffrage helped. Equal pay for women, achieved so far only where the labor movement is strongest, helped. Educational opportunities, first promoted by the early union organizations of the American working class, helped.

By themselves they do not solve the problem. But, as Comrade Susan says, the struggle for them advances us each time toward the achievement of our great goals. Many things that we demand will not be realized under capitalism. Obviously. They can’t be – a Workers’ Government, by illustration, and virtually by definition.

But it is precisely because they correspond to the logic of the people’s needs, men and women, that they are “imaginative.” Insofar as they are achievable under capitalism, they unite the people in a struggle which will proceed from one stage to the next to the completion of our aims. Insofar as they are not achievable under capitalism, the fact becomes demonstrated in the process of the struggle, and leads to its success through posing the necessity of a basic revision of society. All these problems are resolved in the struggle between the classes, and depend on the strength of the only progressive class in society, the working class.

In failing to see this connection lies, in our opinion, the principal weakness of Mrs. Goldwater’s approach to the woman’s question. There is absolutely no denying that Mrs. Goldwater is a socialist, and sincerely so. It is, however, necessary to stand for more than socialism, namely, the methods of day in and day out struggle for “narrow” objectives that lead to socialism. The woman’s question is an integral part of this struggle. Failing to make the link, reduces the issue to secondary matters of individual problem, and personal adjustment. – The editors.


Note by ETOL

1. In printed version incorrectly given as “11 November&rdquo.

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