Speech given at the 27th National Convention of the CPUSA
Our goal in this brief report is to lay
bare the relationship between the fight for women’s equality and the struggle
of the working class, to highlight why the ultra right targets women,
and, lastly, to challenge the Party to recast its understanding of the
new reality of the importance of the Woman Question in light of the significant
emergence of women as members of the paid work force as well as unpaid
caregivers to and caretakers of working-class families. To restate our
new reality, we can no longer speak of the worker and his wife. We now
must speak of the worker who is husband and the worker who is wife!
Our goal in this brief report is to lay
Years ago, Karl Marx argued that we have to be aware
of and concerned about the depth of impoverishment to which any segment
of the working class is allowed to sink. That depth of impoverishment
affects the standard of living and quality of life of every other segment
of the working class. If what Karl Marx said is true, then the low wages
of women workers and the elimination of the inadequate welfare system
as an insufficient safety net mainly affecting children bring down the
wages and quality of life of all workers. Therefore, it is in the interest
of the whole of the working class to fight against the impoverishment
of women as members of the working class, be they employed or unemployed.
Welfare mothers, we have to remember, are basically women who are mothers
who are unemployed. And welfare reform, as Liz Armstrong argues, has not
only led to the further impoverishment of women and children, but also
to the criminalization of women.
The ultra right seeks to convince us that it is the fault
of women and their demand to be free and equal that the family is falling
apart, the educational system is failing, crime is increasing, and our
standard of living and quality of life are deteriorating. If women stopped
working and went back into the home, then many of the most devastating
social problems would disappear, the ultra right argues. Never mind that
it was the reality that our families could not live off of one paycheck
any longer that pushed the masses of women into work outside of the home
in the first place or the reality that for many of us our families never
could live off of one paycheck, so, historically, many women, particularly
Black and other nationally oppressed women, always worked outside of their
The Woman Question in the 21st century is so different
that it is not an exaggeration to say that it is completely different
from years prior. In the past, we talked about the worker and his wife
and family. If we used that model today we would miss the important reality
that the wife is a member of the working class not only because of her
association with her husband and father but because of her own relationship
to the process of production. As a result, the organic and intrinsic relationship
of the question of women’s equality to the working-class movement has
qualitatively changed over time. Today, almost 40 percent of organized
labor is female and almost 49 percent of all workers in the U.S. are women.
This is a new development the aspects of which will continue to increase,
and we have to determine the significance of these new developments to
the challenges faced not only by the women’s movement but the working-class
movement as well. We must force ourselves again and again to come back
to the need to address the underlying factors and elements which will
promote real unity within the working class based on the fight against
male supremacy –an alien ideology–and the fight for equality.
The ultra right targets women, as it targets the labor
and nationally oppressed movements, to shield capitalism– to provide
cover for capitalism–from being exposed as an inadequate, outdated, archaic
system which has already reduced much of the world to a quality of life
and standard of living unfit for human beings. The influx of women into
the workforce did not do that. Exploitation, oppression, and the drive
for profits, which today takes the form of capitalism, did that.
Women are a major segment of humanity that is fighting
to be free and equal. The only forces which should be afraid of the angry
might of women are ruling classes. Against ruling classes, the real source
of their oppression, domination, and exploitation, women are madder than
four rabid dogs. Female infants come out of the womb having a sense of
the oppression, domination, and exploitation they will face in the various
phases of their lives, and they become angry enough to take action. But
the working class need not fear. As they mature into young women, adult
women, and senior women through their real life experiences, they become
more and more dissatisfied with what life offers them as women.
It is our responsibility to explain that capitalism today
is the culprit and socialism is the way out! We have to understand that
for women the fight for healthcare with choice, the fight for quality
public education, the fight for jobs and other social programs have an
importance and urgency which becomes a powerful motivating force.
The women’s movement fought like mighty warriors in the
2000 election battle. Together, the labor, nationally oppressed, and women’s
movements won that election. Together, as the core around which a powerful
all peoples movement can be built, they together will lead the march toward
social progress and for democracy in our country. The working class has
nothing to fear; in fact, it has everything to gain! To talk the talk
of women’s equality is easy, to walk the walk of women’s equality is a
little harder, and we can not afford to falter. The influx of working-class
women into the movement for women’s equality will make this movement even
more powerful and poised to win. The working class need not fear.
For the working-class movement, the challenge includes
- As a major aspect of the fight against the impoverishment
of women, we need to increase the drive to organize women workers.
- We need to make the fights for quality public childcare
and paid parental leave central demands of the whole working class movement.
- We need to strengthen the ideological battle around
the societal responsibility for caretaking and caregiving.
- We need to carefully, but no less assuredly, wage
the struggle to win the whole of the working-class movement to the side
of reproductive freedom as a basic and fundamental health care issue.
- We need to broaden and strengthen the political leadership
of women in the labor movement, the movements of the nationally oppressed,
and even in our own Party.
The working class has nothing to fear. The relationship
between class exploitation and women’s oppression is becoming inextricably
intertwined and the working class has nothing to fear. In fact, the working
class should reveal in the glory of the uncompromising demand of women
to be free and equal.
As a matter of fact, the working-class movement in embracing
the demand of women to be free and equal–in cultivating and nourishing
their ability to fight back and win–cultivates and nourishes a powerful
ally. Whereas the ultra right justifiably fears the unleashed power of
the movement of women to be free and equal, whereas the ultra right trembles
at the very thought of poor women and nationally oppressed women and working-class
women with other women standing united and demanding to be free and equal
and all which is required to achieve that freedom and equality in its
most specific and concrete forms, the working class, on the other hand,
simply needs to get the hell out of the way of the line of fire while
doing everything it can to help that movement advance.
Suffice it to say that the influence of male supremacy,
like racism, has the effect of making one stupid if one is not an owner
of private property. We have an historic mission to accomplish; we do
not have time to be burdened with the utter stupidity of racism and male
supremacy within our ranks. We have to examine and explore thoroughly
not only how male supremacy oppresses women, but also how it dominates
and destroys men.
Our Party has women and men who understand this question
of women on a higher level than we ever imagined, but in some instances
they flounder because the path to unity becomes hazy. The path to unity
is the fight for equality and against male supremacy, not the accommodation
What is the action that is called for at this moment
in history? This moment calls on the working class to rise up and stand
with women to rebuff the assault by the ultra right and ultimately to
shut them down forever. The action called for today is to help the movement
for women’s equality to advance by helping women from the urban slums
and the barrios and the reservations and the sweatshops and the factories
to rise up and fight back. The action that is called for is to embrace
these women and help then to win so that we can all claim victory.
Don’t curse me; curse capitalism! Don’t strike out against
me; strike out against capitalism! Don’t silence me; stop the drive of
the ultra right and ultimately silence capitalism by allowing it to exist
only in the history books!