End low pay and exploitation
By Sinead Daly
This celebration on 8 March is rooted in the courageous struggles of working class women in the US in the early 1900s. They demonstrated and struck for better working and living conditions and fought for the right to vote. In 1910, an international women's conference was hosted by the Socialist (Second) International which agreed to mark International Women's Day on this date.
The Russian Revolution was sparked off by tens of thousands of women textile workers in St Petersburg, Russia, who walked out of their factories demanding “bread and peace”. These women marched to other factories and called on workers to join them on strike. Step forward 100 years and women are still struggling against low pay, for better pensions and better living conditions.
Women make up 50% of the work force in Scotland; they make up the majority of the part time/casual workforce and are concentrated in the low paying sectors like local government the services and retail sector. The economic recession that has engulfed the UK economy will spell disaster for hundreds of thousands of working class women.
You only have to walk down the high street in your town and cities to see the impact of the recession. Shops, like Woolworths, Zavvi, The Perfume Shop are now all closed, all of these would have employed mainly women workers. Other companies like Marks and Spencer’s and the banking sector have also announced wholesale job cuts and attacks on wages and conditions.
According to recent government figures women workers will face the brunt of the recession and job losses. In the last quarter alone the number of women in full time employment fell by 53,000 compared with a drop of 36,000 for men. This means that women are losing jobs at twice the rate of men.
These figures only show part of the picture; they don’t show job losses of women who work part-time, agency workers or those on more flexible/casual workers of which women make up a large majority. Some capitalist ‘experts’ have also warned that the financial crisis may have the effect of condemning more older women into poverty. Scottish Widows reckon that the “pensions gender gap” could widen if more women lose their retirement provision along with their jobs. Professor Marilyn Davidson of Manchester Business School stated that, “This impact on women is a very new phenomenon that we haven’t faced in this country before…There is certainly the risk that the progress that women have been made could be thrown into reverse”.
There are some within the feminist movement who are suggesting that this economic recession is quite literally a “man-made disaster, a monster created in the testosterone-drenched environment of Wall Street and the City”…”We now need to get more women at the top in financial institutions to stop this from happening again”. (Ruth Sunderland, Business editor of The Observer) What they seem to forget is that it was a woman, Margaret Thatcher, who in the UK paved the way. It was she who pursued the neo-liberal policies that allowed the “spivs and speculators” to make these obscene amounts of money while at the same time trying to smash working class communities across Scotland and the UK. (It is now 25 years since the heroic miners’ strike in Britain began.)
This International Women’s Day, with the prospects of the worst economic crisis since 1929, it is worth considering the words written in ‘Our Tasks’ in 1917 by Alexandra Kollontai, a leading figure in the Russian Revolution: “All our strength, all our hope, lies in organisation! Now our slogan must be: ‘Comrade women workers! Do not stand in isolation.’ Isolated, we are but straws that any boss can bend to his will, but organised we are a mighty force that no one can break.
“It is only in revolutionary struggle against the capitalists of every country, and only in union with the working women and men of the whole world, that we will achieve a new and brighter future - the socialist brotherhood (and sisterhood) of the workers.”