Thursday, February 01, 2007
Two Parts of a Whole. October 1977
Mike Pearn’s blog has recently been publishing historical documents from the history of the International Socialists, (precursor of today's SWP) - for example the important statement on Industrial Work from 1971, and Duncan Hallas’s article from 1977 on electoral work, that is very relevent to today’s debates.
It is a very good idea, and as a contribution to that process here is an article from “Womens Voice” #10, from October 1977.
(by the way, the picture credit for the front cover reads: ""The determination that has kept Grunwick pickets going for over a year. Are the powerful trade unions now ready to help them?" - Grunwick was a long running union recognition dispute, led by Asian women. )
Two Parts of a Whole.
On 1 October women members of the Socialist Workers Party held a conference in Birmingham. Margaret Renn, the womens organiser of the Party, opened the conference. The following is a summary of her speech.
Socialism without womens liberation is a contradiction in words. Socialism would simply not be socialism if women were still oppressed.
It is also true that women cannot be liberated outside of a socialist society. It is not possible to achieve any liberation in a society like ours which depends on the oppression and exploitation of men and women.
Socialism and womens liberation are two parts of a whole. We can’t separate them in the way we work.
Work amongst women is essential to our work as socialists, it’s not an optional extra, something we do when we have time left over from all the other things we do. On the contrary, it’s the most important work we can undertake, because we understand the issues and events that effect women in a way that our male comrades cannot.
Where do we begin? Women at work are ones with power to change society. Look around at all the disputes that women have been involved in the last few weeks: Beechams, Batchelors, Kilwinning, the school cleaners and dinner ladies, women in hospitals. They are the ones fighting to change society. They are the women we are talking to.
But whilst most women work and organise at work, it is also true that most women have families, and are interested in the things that affect them most as mothers. When the woman jumped out of her high rise block there must have been thousands of women living at the top of thousands of high rise tower blocks thinking – that’s me, that could happen here.
Neither group of women are exclusive, but in our party you can count the number of industrial women members we have on the fingers of two hands. That’s the problem we have to face. Our magazine “Womens Voice” brings together al the issues that interest women. Sales are goin very well, and this month we expect to be printing 10000 copies. But it’s not enough on its own. How we use it to organise is what matters.
Womens committees within our branches and districts are a good idea, but we can’t involve the women who read the magazine in them. We need “Womens Voice” groups. Groups that will meet regularly and be ready to respond when things need organising. We should produce “Womens Voice” supporters cards for al those women who want to get involved in our activities. Then we will have the numbers so that next time a woman jumps out of her high rise block we can be putting a local bulletin into all the tower blocks in the area.
We have to be quick off the mark. On abortion, rape, lack of nurseries, we have to be able to stir womens imagination. That’s why our “Womens Voice” organisation is so important. Without it we won’t do anything.
We need to have the same sort of imaginative approach to women who work in factories. Selling “Womens Voice outside factories that employ large number of women, producing special “Womens Voice” bulletins can be deadly – if we see it as a ritual.
But if we are going down to the factories knowing that there will be women there interested in what we have to say, whether its about abortion of £15; if we go prepared to talk, prepared to involve women as quickly as possible in the production of the bulletins then it won’t become a routine.
It’s really very exciting. Think of all the womens factories that have been on strike this year. Then imagine the numbers that weren’t able to strike because they simply didn’t know what to do and no one, certainly not the union officials, was prepared to help them. They’re the women we want to be organising with.
The majority of women at this conference work. How many of you sell “Womens Voice” in your workplace? Do you know how good your maternity leave agreement is? What about the other things that the women you work with are always complaining about?
We are preparing a pamphlet on maternity leave for women in NALGO. We are also writing a pamphlet about women in the TGWU. Using these, and “Womens Voice” will help us build the rank and file movement amongst women workers. They need it most. Womens strikes are always being sold down the river by trade union officials. Unions take least interest in issues that affect their women members the most.
There is a lot for us to do, because we are trying to build something new: a socialist womens organisation that fights at once for womens liberation and socialism.