What women are fighting for

International Women’s Day is a good time to examine some crucial struggles for women, including pay equity and livable wages.

This topic arose starkly at the Feb. 22 Academy Awards when a well-known actor, Patricia Arquette, stressed in her award acceptance speech that it’s time for women in the U.S. to have wage equality and equal rights. True.

After the ceremony, the actor talked backstage of ageism in Hollywood, where female actors’ salaries shrink substantially as they get older. But she added that it was time for “all the gay people and the people of color that we’ve fought for to fight for us now.”

This set up an “us vs. them” scenario, implicitly leaving women of color and those in the lesbian, bisexual, transgender communities out of the “we” category. It put the onus on those who are most oppressed, discriminated against – and among the lowest paid — to fight for highly paid celebrities.

Immediately, social media was atwitter with objections to these remarks by African-American women, Latinas and LGBTQ people. These communities have been strongly fighting for decent jobs, pay equity, as well as an end to bigotry and discrimination.

The “Black Lives Matter” protests against racist police killings, as well as brutality against LGBTQ individuals, show starkly that deep oppression continues. It is every progressive person’s duty to support such struggles wholeheartedly – in words and in deeds. Opposing police brutality IS a women’s issue!

As for pay equity, women overall earn 78 cents for each dollar men make in the U.S. However, African-American women earn 64 percent of white male workers’ salaries; for Native women it’s 59 percent and Latinas 54 percent.

Women make up two-thirds of those earning minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) or less, and often involuntarily work part-time jobs with no benefits. Thirty percent of single mothers, 35 percent of Native women, 25 percent of African-American women and Latinas, and 20 percent of women immigrants live under the ­poverty level.

Who benefit from paying women lower wages, doubly exploiting women of color? The capitalist owners of corporations, banks and property. Their CEOs do very well, too. The bosses rake in megaprofits from all workers’ labor and pay them only a fraction of the value they produce.

That’s the basis of the for-profit capitalist system and how multimillionaires are made. While the net worth of the richest 400 individuals in the U.S. in 2014 was $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from the year before, says Forbes, working people are losing real income.

If all 72 million women in the workforce were paid the same rate as the highest-paid male workers, that would total hundreds of billions of dollars. If all workers were paid the full value of what they produce, it would amount to trillions. But these corporate parasites will underpay every employee, going as low as they can — unless there is a struggle to wrench higher wages from them.

Look at Walmart: 500,000 workers just won an immediate wage hike to $9 per hour, going to $10 next year, through strong, brave protests, with community and union support. Yet even with these raises, can single mothers, many only assigned part-time work, pay rent and cover their children’s needs?

Walmart is owned by the Walton family. Four of its members, worth a total of $158 billion, are in Forbes’ top 10 list of the U.S.’s wealthiest people. Their riches come from exploiting their workers, especially women. In 2011, 1.5 million women sued Walmart for wage and other discrimination, but the pro-corporate Supreme Court refused to back them.

Congress blocks equal rights, pay hikes

What is wrong with this picture? There is not even an Equal Rights Amendment on the books, a simple law stating women’s equality, because right-wing millionaires mounted a campaign to defeat it. Their politicians in Congress have also obstructed the Paycheck Fairness Act because it would give women more legal tools to fight wage discrimination. They refuse to raise the federal minimum wage to $10, which would help all low-wage workers, although it still wouldn’t pay today’s bills.

Reactionary bosses have fought every measure that would help women gain equal rights and pay equity, while trying to erase women’s reproductive and other health care. Their cronies in 22 state legislatures refuse to expand Medicaid for low-income people, including single mothers.

On this International Women’s Day, in the spirit of sisterhood, let us all join in the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage, full-time jobs, expanded social programs and an end to all forms of discrimination. This is time for women to unite and fight for real equality, to stand in solidarity with our most oppressed sisters — and oppose this racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic system.

That is what International Women’s Day stands for and what its socialist founders intended it to be. Fighting women’s hardships, poverty and oppression is a cornerstone of the struggle to end this vicious capitalist system.