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This is an excerpt of a text from a pamphlet issued by the workers’ organization Batay Ouvriye (Workers’ Fight, Haiti) issued on International Women’s Day, 2006. It eloquently asserts that women’s emancipation is part of class struggle, and ultimately only achievable in the context of working class struggle. Most of these drawings are from a project on the global garment industry called “Commodity Chains,” which included interviews with members of Batay Ouvriye. For more information, see StephanieMcMillan.org.

As Women and Workers

Stephanie McMillan

Posté le 13 mars 2014 par PAPDA

All battles for the peoples’ emancipation, for the emancipation of humanity, emerge from the class interests of the working-class. This is also true of the struggle for women’s rights. The working-class’ liberation, in its true, wider, sense, will have to be a total liberation. Otherwise, it won’t exist. The emancipation of the working-class is the only one that demands, indeed commands, concurrently, the emancipation of women... We bear in mind the exploitation that we, women workers, suffer in the factory-prisons, the humiliations owners and managers submit us to on a daily basis, the constant and casual sexual harassment. This capitalist domination that feeds off our dehumanization, treading our human dignity, reminds us, that just like on this historical date of March 8th, capitalism is built over our corpses...

The only permanent and fruitful unity for us is within our own class, in alliance with the entire people - brothers, friends, comrades. Here and only here can we resolve our problems.

March 8th should never serve the purpose of mixing us with bourgeois women who, in their factories or those of their husbands, feed off our blood ! There is no struggle we should carry out with them. Quite the opposite, March 8th should remind us all of the working-class women who fought and gave their lives in 1908 ; March 8th should remind us of all the working-class women presently suffering the same exploitation, domination, repression within the bourgeois’ factories ; March 8th should remind us of all the working women dominated in so many other forms in this present society : petty merchants of all sorts, house-workers, peasant women... All, sisters in struggle. This understanding of March 8th, this understanding of our basic reality calls us to take up our responsibilities ! By no means is this a moment for lamentation !

Women in the Working-Class Today, March 8th, is for us an opportunity to think together a bit more on our own situation as women, working women, women of the working-class. To begin with, we should be clear on a first thing, a first attitude that is key : this is no moment to lament ! It’s a moment to try to understand better how we can advance in our battles, while taking into account, with all the rigor necessary, our specificity as women.

Roles and Responsibilities

In our class, as in all classes, women play an important role in the class’ physical reproduction. We’re the ones who give birth to the future workers and, during the whole period of upraising, we’re the ones who bear the brunt of this responsibility. In the home, we have numerous responsibilities. So, we are extremely important for the class’ reproduction as such, although, purposely, we aren’t given the fundamental place we in fact hold for the entire society. In general, in the society we live in, the role we play is practically summed up by our place in the home. Although this is indeed an important function, studying this more deeply, we’ll see that we have many more roles and responsibilities within our class. It’s important we know them, that we be aware of them, to be able to face them better and better organized.

In countries dominated by imperialism, capitalism’s main orientation is to develop assembly industries. Free trade zones are in full expansion, to the point that authorities in some of these countries are even suggesting changing their whole nations into free trade zones ! With this orientation, while the development of local industries hasn’t yet totally halted, it has become extremely difficult. In free trade zone industries, the main tendency is to employ women workers. Various reasons explain this. To begin with, according to the capitalists involved in this process, women are more submissive and the bosses don’t have to face so many protests and struggles in the factory, which allows them more latitude to impose the unbounded exploitation they desire. Also, they believe women have a superior capacity for certain types of work, especially those, like textile and electronics, demanding greater attention. So, they find us more “efficient”.

Furthermore - and this is as precise as sadistic a calculation - they know that women, once returned home, have so much work to do, they have no time - or, at least, less time than men - to organize. They also know - and perpetuate - that women are often involved in religious activities, which, again, not only leave them little time to organize for the defense of their rights, but also maintain them further yet in the expectation of divine solutions, thus weakening many of our women comrades’ spontaneous spirit of combat. The bosses know too that an additional factor they have in hand is sexual harassment. This type of gender domination, in fact, often walks hand in hand with an economic dependency : if women don’t accept their passes, they risk losing their jobs. Many women thus find themselves permanently trapped in a high level of fear because of this, and consequently are less willing to risk fighting for their rights. Finally, in the society we’re living in, women have much less work opportunities. The factory remains a unique possibility and in order not to lose this rare work chance, there’s enormous pressure on our shoulders, for, at home, the earnings of our mates alone don’t cover the bills - not to mention when the woman is the only head of the household.

As we can see, the bourgeoisie acts in highly thought-out ways. Its only worry is its profits and, with this simple logic, we, working-class women, are always the worst victims. We may ask ourselves if it succeeds in its objectives. Certainly, this permanent scheming yields results - and many ! But we can’t either answer simply that yes, the bourgeoisie is attaining its objectives in this way. Because we’re also sure that this state of affairs is necessarily short-lived. Throughout our struggles as women and men, the most important thing we realize is that, in capitalism, we are all enduring terrible heights of exploitation in our flesh and blood - which in turn creates the firm basis for the bravest and most valiant members of the working-class to progressively assume their responsibilities and engage in the organized struggle to confront this exploitation, even hinting at the possibility of its final total elimination. Capitalism is a school of war in which the working-class constantly learns how to battle better...

Awareness and Courage

It’s important we realize that many women have taken and continue to assume their responsibilities. They, too, have the same household chores, the same prejudices they endure, the same gender domination flooring them. But they’ve been able to understand and realize, first, that their class interest are the only deep and permanent ones, and further, that firm and consequent struggle is the only way to wrestle their rights, and, finally, that gender domination can only be resolved permanently and truly through their own struggle. For this, we have to go beyond the limits society imposes us. We can’t remain dominated by gender prejudices. We have to fight them, firmly ! But also and in permanent articulation with the general struggle for our class interests, within these interests. Many men, whether workers or not, comrades or not, understand this issue quite clearly and are struggling with us in this, without reserve. But we’re the first ones who should give the initial step to sustain and advance our demands.

Concretely, we have several characteristics - precisely as women - that heighten our capacities to carry out these tasks. We’re the ones who organize our homes, so we have practical experience, not only the developed ability of organization as such but, also, the fact of having to face the problems of the lack of services the State should guarantee us : electricity, water, trash collection... and, especially, the decent housing each family should have a right to. Since we’re the ones who take care of our children’s schooling, we, once again, are the one confronting the terrible schooling problems our kids have. Also, since we’re in charge of going to the market, we’re the ones who constantly confront the never-ending increases in the cost of living... Finally, the factory itself, with all its horrors, gives us nevertheless an awareness of the collectiveness of our suffering and the aims to be attained. This is precisely what can help us to develop the class consciousness that is basic for the necessary unity we need, to wage the battle for our rights and, further ahead, for our hegemony as workers.

Logic

Our responsibilities are already tremendous just to improve our immediate work and living conditions. But they don’t stop there - they go much further. Haiti is going through terribly difficult moments. It’s our duty to analyze and understand them ; always, starting from our class interests, articulated with those of the entire people and actively participating towards their resolution. To attain this, not only do we need to define an orientation corresponding to this process, but also we have to organize to make it happen. The mobilization in Haiti today includes legitimate and totally consequent legal demands. Furthermore, it is organized, determined, and with a high capacity of mobilization. Nevertheless, though the mention of salaries is present amongst the demands, it needs to be placed in its determinant place and consequently, reveal the system’s coherence, its intrinsic logic, so we can better fight it...

[T]he imperialists, with local capitalists, come first and foremost to exploit wage labor that, deliberately, they cause to be the cheapest possible in their “third world” The fact is that branches of the economy that, in the United States, didn’t manage, due to their lack of advanced mechanization, to stabilize their benefits according to average rates - particularly, the textile industry, precisely - immediately perceived that they should come to countries like ours to profit of the planned rotting of our local economies and social formations. This rotting has given way, on one hand, to the loss of self-sufficiency, and, on the other, to a wage labor called “free” but that in fact is in quasi- slavery, labeled, in the most shameless way, because of its very low cost attained, a “comparative advantage”, within the capitalist “market”. This is the logic of the maquilas and free trade zones where our futures are callously planned, where we die, dehumanized, humiliated...

This is why it’s urgent we understand quite clearly our importance, as women and workers. Not for the dull reason of “being important” but rather because, due to deep historical and structural reasons, we are, today, in a very specific position of great importance : that of being the main workers of the maquilas and free trade zones, a key and essential element of the entire system. ... we have to diffuse this information, have it understood, interiorized and realized by all our comrades in our homes, work, neighborhoods, just as, with them, we have to attain class unity, along with our allies in the entire People, within our Camp, nationally and internationally. ... we have the opportunity to play the highest role, humanly speaking, to transform this knowledge, this understanding, this awareness... into mobilizing matter and thus attain, through our struggles, the hopes of humanity in its entirety.

FORWARD THE STRUGGLE OF THE WORKING CLASS !

FORWARD THE WORKERS’ COMBATIVE STRUGGLE !

FORWARD THE VALIANT PEOPLES’ STRUGGLE !



 

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