•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

Women workers and capitalism

Published Mar 2, 2005 2:51 PM

From a talk given at the Nov. 13-14, 2004, National Fightback Conference.

It's an honor for me to speak to this gathering of progressive and revolutionary activists and thinkers who want to fight back against war, racism and poverty; who want to build a socialist world, a workers' world.

The organizers asked that I make some comments on the role of women workers in the class struggle and suggested that I draw on the tremendous strikes that have rocked California over the last 12 months or so--the hard-fought battle by grocery workers in southern California and the hotel workers strike centered in San Francisco.

In both cases women workers, many of whom are the sole heads of their households and often are immigrants or come from communities of color, represent a significant majority of the workforce. They voted to strike against their very powerful and wealthy bosses. They fill out the picket lines, carry out organizational tasks, speak at rallies, are media spokespeople and negotiate contracts.

So in defiance of the false characterization that women workers are passive, docile and willing to accept less, these women, along with their co-workers, have taken to the streets in defense of their health-care benefits, working conditions and wages, and for dignity on the job.

I am an autoworker. For more than 28 years I have worked on the assembly lines for General Motors building cars, trucks and vans.

When I was hired in 1976, there was literally only a handful of women who were production workers in auto assembly plants.

Under pressure from affirmative action lawsuits, GM was forced to hire women and African American workers in large numbers.

Today, my plant in Atlanta reflects the changes that have occurred in the U.S. working class in the last 30 or so years.

As you walk the plant floor, there is a diverse workforce--multinational, women, men, multi-generational, gay and straight.

So if it is so obvious that women workers make up a significant part of the total workforce, why would the organizers of this panel want to focus a talk on this? What is the big deal?

Break the chains

The study of Marxist theory teaches us that modern society is divided into classes. The owning and exploiting class--the capitalists, or bourgeoisie--and the laboring and exploited class--the workers, or proletariat.

Marxism shows that the conflict between these two classes is inevitable because in order to continually increase profit, the wages and working conditions of labor are continually under attack.

The spread of capitalist relationships throughout the globe has swept millions, even billions of people into collective labor in plants and factories, shops and offices. In doing so, capitalism has created its own grave-diggers. This working class alone has the ability to re-organize society on the basis of equality and justice. It is the revolutionary class.

Women, in particular, have been brought out of the solitary and unpaid labor of the home and become part of the working class where we find opportunities to lead, to learn, to teach, to decide, to act.

A line in the working-class revolutionary anthem, the International, goes, "No more tradition's chains shall bind us."

This speaks to the powerful truth that real liberation for women is rooted in the destruction of class society, the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism with all its cruel inequities, racism and discrimination, born of the patriarchy but fostered by class exploitation and oppression.

As revolutionaries, we welcome these bold, confident, demanding women workers who today are challenging the status quo.

This is a conference that wants to prepare for and to help lead a fightback against not just the current right-wing policies of the Bush government and its big-business agenda, but to ready the working class for its revolutionary future.

We are here to think about and strategize, to propose what issues, what campaigns can ignite a mass resistance to the war in Iraq, to union-busting, wage cuts and the loss of social services, to racism and all forms of bigotry.

And I think that is why the organizers of this panel wanted to focus on this exciting expansion of the working class.

Because as the class becomes more inclusive of those oppressed by racism, sexism and homophobia, the issues that can motivate class struggle become more comprehensive.

In reality, the working-class struggle is not just about wages and pensions and benefits--important as those are. It is about imperialist war, immigration rights, reproductive health care, a clean environment, childcare, domestic violence and all the issues for which the profit system has no answers.

In just a few words, "What is the role of women workers in the class struggle?" Our sisters answer: It is to lose our chains, to unleash our demands, to create our future.