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
When I was hired in 1976, there was literally only a handful of
women who were production workers in auto assembly plants.
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
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
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
As revolutionaries, we welcome these bold, confident,
demanding women workers who today are challenging the status quo.
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.
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.
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.
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
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