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Issue #1909      March 30, 2020


Today the most potent factor for women’s progress, is war production, emphasising and demonstrating that “the emancipation of women will only be possible when women can take part in production on a large social scale and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.” (Engels – “Origin of Family”). New opportunities for equality have opened up, which are undermining the material foundation of women’s inequality, undermining centuries-old restrictions and prejudices.

Thousands of women have been drawn out of the backwaters of social life into the mainstream of historical development, coming in the only way such a fundamental advance can come, by way of industry, transforming them from a relative inertness into an active force in the working class movement. The continued and increasing demands for woman power are hastening this process. Communists must ensure that this advance continues and endures. We must see that this new force in society becomes an active vital force. The most urgent problems of women in industry today are wages, the care of children, housing difficulties, sympathetic adjustment of hours to allow for the necessary duties in maintaining a home and so on. These problems open up many avenues for us to approach, interest and educate.

Indicative of the changing conditions governing the employment of women have been the advancements made by many trade unions, particularly the metal unions in securing for large numbers of their members eighty, ninety and 100 per cent of the male rates of pay. Approximately 60,000 women have been affected by the operation of the Women’s Employment Board, which determines the rates for those women who are engaged on work not done by women prior to the war.

It has now become necessary to transfer large numbers of these women into lower paid wage groups, such as clothing, textiles, boots, and rubber. This has resulted in widespread resentment which in the case of clothing and textiles has been met, to some extent, by the introduction of special awards. These awards give a weekly increase of approximately 10/- and brings the rates closer to those fixed by the Arbitration Court for the metal trades. Here reaction shows how it hopes to ensure that after the war women will be again relegated to the lower wage rates, when such improved wages are “for the duration of the war and six months thereafter.”

In these lower paid industries there is much to be done. It will not be simple, but it can be done. The transference of large numbers of women accustomed to strong union organisation is bound to have some effect. Women members of heavy industrial unions have had considerable experience of discussing the problems of the job or factory on terms of equality on their shop committees and in their unions. They are now going into shops where the union, if known at all, is often an object of derision and contempt, where women have joined the union only because it was an imposed qualification for the job and an item on the expense sheet which brought them very little. The experiences of those women who have been affected by operations of the Women’s Employment Board, by the improvements gained by their trade union, must in turn result in interest in working class organisation.

We should remember Comrade Miles’ words in Work Among Women when he says “We seize on the main demands of the moment. [...] basing everything on our attitude to the war, having in mind the aim of unity for victory, having in mind our proletarian viewpoint.” Communist trade union organisers have given numerous instances of how they are able to discuss politically with their women members the day-to-day problems facing them. While we struggle for this and that demand, we learn to speak to them about Socialism, here we remember always as Lenin so ably puts it “The struggle wins us the confidence of the masses of women who feel themselves exploited, enslaved, sup pressed, by the domination of the man, by the power of the employer, by the whole of bourgeois society [...] The working women will recognise that they must fight together with us.”

The increasing numbers of compassionate releases from industry, the high rate of absenteeism among women indicate two main problems. The first, the necessity for relief of the strain of the double burden of home and job. We recall Palme Dutt’s description of the working woman, “Capitalism extracts from her the labour of two persons; and at the same time the whole family and home life, which the capitalists affect to worship with such holy piety, is broken up and destroyed, the care of children neglected [...] and the younger generation has to grow up under conditions destructive of health or of the possibility of development.”

One of the results of the influx of many married women into industry is a keen interest in the problem of child care and education. Barriers are crumbling and the mothers’ fear of entrusting their children to others is being dissipated. Our program includes the practical solution to this problem and we note reaction’s refusal to progress, in the recent agitation for the removal from industry of women with children under school age.

The second point which demands special methods of agitation adapted to the specific needs is where women earning good money deliberately absent themselves from work. Many women do not feel any responsibility towards the war effort, let alone the solving of problems arising from working conditions and further, do not want to be bothered with them. Here we have an immediate task. If we are to ensure the continuance and endurance of the advances made as a result of the war period, we must endeavour to make women really conscious of their role in the war and in the peace.

International Women’s Day this year should be used extensively to show ever larger numbers of women how the real road to emancipation lies through Socialism. Men and women in some factories are already planning to discuss, on this day, progress achieved over the past year and to plan for new achievements.

8th March, focusses our attention on Work among Women, which in the words of Lenin is “a half of general Party work.” We have seen how the status of women is improving. It is our duty to utilise all International Women’s Day celebrations to develop to an even higher degree, the strongest antifascist sentiments, the determination for victory among women, everywhere; we must express our unity with our sisters in the Allied countries, in occupied Europe, in China and particularly the heroic women of the Soviet Union.

This article originally appeared in Communist Review February, 1944.


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