Antoinette F. Konikow, M.D.

Employment of Women in Industry
and What it Means for the Working Class

(29 July 1944)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. VIII No. 31, 29 July 1944.
Transcribed by Marty Goodman.
Marked up by David Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The First World War gave American women the right to vote. Waving aside militant struggles for voting rights, politicians said suffrage was granted to woman for her sacrifices and good work during the war. There is reason also to believe that this so-called gracious gift was presented to woman so that she might become a bulwark against revolutionary tendencies. The great revolutionary movement had started in Russia in 1917, crossed over to Germany, spread in England, and rumblings were heard in our own country. The reactionary leaders hoped that women, having neither political nor industrialexperience, could be counted upon to support the old way of living.

Great Expectations

Suffragists expected great changes from the woman’s vote. For years suffragists in their ardent struggle for women’s political rights had claimed that woman’s suffrage by itself would bring a saner, better, and juster world. Man’s incompetence, they claimed, was responsible for all the social evils of the day. This corrupt world is a man’s world, they said, and woman will rebuild it on just, humane foundations.

Socialists even then made fun of these claims.

The troubles of this world, we Socialists have always assured the Workers, are not due to any conflict between the sexes – to a man’s world or a woman’s world. Poverty, disease, corruption, war, unemployment are due to economic causes; to the division of humanity into two classes: the boss class and the working class. Women, like men, belong to both classes, the possessing class and the dispossessed. Women of the rich class are generally satisfied with this world which gives them wealth, leisure and security.

Women of the working class, the lower middle class and the farm group know the horrors of unemployment and disease. They are craving for a change in this world. But there is something they must learn: To change this world, one has to grasp the cause of evil, which is bossism, or capitalism. Women and men workers have to fight together for a new system of living. Both must help to organize a Labor Party to combat exploitation by Big Business on the industrial and political fields.

Woman’s suffrage has been a great disappointment to these progressive elements. The twenty or more years of woman’s suffrage has proved that the suffragists’interpretation of the world’s evil was incorrect. Woman’s influence in political life has too been hardly felt as a corrective – indeed, it has too often fulfilled the expectations of reactionary political leaders, instead.

In many instances, woman’s suffrage has turned into a farce. Soon after suffrage was established in Texas, Governor Ferguson’s corruption became so evil-smelling that even his own crew did not dare put up “Pa” Ferguson as a candidate for re-election. But they could nominate “Ma” Ferguson – and she got the job, to cover up for “Pa.” This procedure became popular. Look up the records of many women in Congress and you will find that they were nominated to replace their husbands, who were either dead or politically discredited.

This use of woman’s suffrage has become a boon for capitalist politicians – because it was much easier to use the same name, already well advertised.

Politically Backward

A few prominent women like Mrs. Astor in England or Claire Luce in our country, belong to the possessing classes and have proved arch-reactionary. In Europe, where the labor movement before the advent of Fascism was quite advanced, the Soialists had many is brilliant women representatives. However, here in the United States, women’s votes helped to defeat socialist candidates in Milwaukee; unquestionably prohibition was supported by women’s vote, and recently Catholic womaen assisted in Massachusetts in defeating the progressive demands of the Birth Control advocates.

Women have been more backward politically than men because until lately women’s work was confined for the most part to the home. Housework chains a woman to the most discouraging, soul-and-mind-killing, long-hour day!

Housework drudgery keeps her away from the great experiences of industrial life, keeps her mind centered on petty personal matters, hides from her the real causes of life’s problems.

Housework is a stigma of poverty or near poverty. The poorer the family, the bigger the task of the wife and mother, since better wages for the husband gives her a chance to send out the laundry, to buy labor-saving devices, to indulge occasionally in a restaurant meal. No wonder that Hitler, who tried his best to keep women backward, proclaimed that church, kitchen and children are the woman’s sphere! But under the economy of war, even Hitler could not keep women at home.

Great Changes

War forces women into industry. For many yeafs women had entered gainful occupations, but they had shunned industrial work. Now ten million women in the United States alone are working in industry. This means a revolution in women’s lives. Factory work taught man the divergency between his own interests and the interests of the bosses; it made a union man of him, for the union was his best protector against exploitation. From his local union he learned the importance of having his industry organized, and from there the next step was to earn that he was only a part of the working class fighting for its rights. Industrial work made men class-conscious.

Industrial work will awaken in woman the dame understanding of her class interests. At home she thought she was working for herself, for her children, for her husband. In her narrow view, she often blamed her husband for his lack of money. It may take time until women learn that even at home they are actually working for their husband’s boss, because by saving and skimping women enable men to work for less wages.

Work in the factory opens the woman’s eyes. She knows now that her boss makes big profits out of her labor. She learns the lessons of the class struggle and learns them in a shorter time than did her husband and other men workers. Woman had to go through this same industrial schooling by which men learned, in order to understand the present system of living. Suffrage alone was not enough to educate her.

The Second World War has drawn millions of women into industry and made them potential factors in the class struggle. After the war is over, women will again be told that their real place is in the home. True, many women will be glad to return to their home duties simply because during the war, they had to combine their industrial work with housework and child-care, and thus had a double burden to carry.

However, women who have spent many years in industry will be different persons from the women who had previously worked “only for the family.” The bigger aspects of the industrial world will be clearer to them.

Organized labor must do its utmost to get these women into unions while they are in industry. If the unions lose this opportunity, many industrially-trained and misled women may become strikebeakers in the future. Today, the working woman has an open mind. She may reach the right conclusions by herself, but to safeguard the future of the working class, this cannot be left to chance. The value of trade-unionism must be taught to her.

Capitalism created the working class, which is historically bound to overthrow capitalism in turn.

In the Second World War, capitalism has brought forth an army of women wage earners, who previously had been far away from the battlefield of labor. Now, women work side by side with men, women have joined the industrial army, women are due to become fighting members of the working class.

Last updated: 14 July 2018