Remarks on Women’s Equality

September 26, 2001

Speech given at the Women’s Equality Conference

I want to
begin by thanking Dee and the other comrades who organized this conference.
Things happen, to put it politely, but conferences don’t fall into that

Anyone who
has organized a conference knows that they take work, organization, planning,
creative thinking, problem solving – not to mention agitation, cajoling,
and tons of patience.

So again
I want to express thanks to Dee and everyone else who made this conference
possible. The entire leadership and membership appreciate this initiative
and the work that went into making it successful.

This is a
wonderful and inspiring conference. Without a trace of exaggeration I
would say that the conference has far surpassed our expectations although
I’m anxious to hear what Dee has to say in this regard in her summary
to the conference.

For myself,
I will leave Chicago with a deeper appreciation of the many-sided role
of our women comrades, renewed pride in our Party and YCL and full of
confidence that we will meet the new challenges ahead.

we have to find ways to bring the outstanding keynote by Dee and the sub-reports
of other comrades to the Party, YCL, PWW readers, and our friends in the
movements in which we are active. And the sooner we do that the better.

We had hoped
that the conference would break some new ground and it has, not that we
answered every theoretical and practical question with regard to the struggle
for women’s equality. What we did do, however, is begin a process of retooling
our concepts and work in this vital arena of struggle.

What prompted
this conference is an interesting question. Some might argue that it is
overdue. And there is a good deal of truth to that claim. It has been
too long since we held an organized discussion on the struggle for women’s

Some others
might argue that the 27th convention of our Party scheduled for July 6-8
in Milwaukee motivated us to call this national meeting. And that argument
has some merit, too. Our upcoming convention and the pre-convention discussion
that accompanies it did figure into our thinking to initiate this national
meeting on women’s equality.

But the main
reason, in my opinion, that we are gathering together this weekend – and
Dee and other speakers yesterday and today said this quite eloquently
– is to be found elsewhere.

Its genesis
is explained by the indisputable fact that tens of millions of women are
found in every – or nearly every – arena of political, economic, and social
life. Its genesis is explained by the indisputable fact that the role
of women in social movements has grown enormously compared with only a
few decades ago. Women are agents of progressive change.

Its genesis
is explained by the indisputable fact that women are profoundly refashioning
the political debate in our nation. New issues and demands arising from
the fact that women combine unpaid labor in the home with underpaid labor
in the workplace are reshaping our political and legislative terrain as
well as mass thinking.

Choice and
reproductive rights, equal pay for comparable work, living wages, parental
leave, quality public education, health care, repetitive motion injuries
and workplace safety, and affirmative action are but a few of the issues
that are traceable to the intervention of women in our nation’s political
and economic life.

the genesis of this conference is explained by the indisputable fact that
the ascendancy of the ultra right and its control of all three main branches
of the federal government pose new, immediate, and far reaching dangers
to women’s equality.


First wave
feminism won women suffrage rights in the early decades of this century.
Second wave feminism broke down the legal structure of discrimination
in the workplace, secured reproductive rights and extended the boundaries
of freedom for women in society. The challenge to third wave feminism
– analogous in many ways to the challenge facing the movements of the
racially and nationally oppressed – is to eliminate institutionalized
inequality in the workplace, home, and society and to secure full and
actual equality.

The immediate
barrier, of course, is the ultra right and its right wing corporate, anti-democratic
agenda. Not for a long time – maybe never – has the women’s movement –
not to mention the working class and broader democratic movements – confronted
such a many-sided assault on its rights and conditions.

The dangers
facing our nation at this moment eclipse the dangers that we faced during
the Reagan years, not so much because Bush is more politically reactionary
than Reagan. I don’t think he is. Both Bush and Reagan are political scoundrels
of the first order. To find either one of them on the political spectrum
you have to gaze far to the right.

What magnifies
the dangers to the democratic rights at this moment compared with 20 years
ago is that the ultra right not only has control of more levers of class
power than when Reagan entered the White House, but is determined to wield
its control to consolidate its position in our country and impose its
reactionary program for the long term.

To make matters
worse, this political putsch and takeover occur in the midst of an economic
crisis that is spreading across the full length of the national and global


The precipitous
fall of the stock market is at once symptomatic and a contributory factor
in this deepening crisis. It is more than a passive reflector of a deteriorating
economic situation. It adds – and greatly adds I would say – to the crisis.
Just as the hyper-inflated, debt driven financial bubble on Wall Street
was a major stimulant to the longest expansion in this century, the bursting
of the bubble will considerably worsen the economy’s slide on the downside
of the economic cycle.

How bad will
economic conditions get? We don’t know exactly, but suffice it to say
that economic projections are getting worse by the day, not only for the
U.S. economy, but for the world economy as well.

A recent
issue of The Economist quotes former Clinton administration Treasury official
and mainstream economist Lawrence Summers saying that the present day
economic cycle will more likely mirror the cyclical patterns of the pre-
rather than the post-WW II world. In other words the downturns will be
longer and steeper.

In fact,
Summers as well as the editors of The Economist make the argument that
the pattern of this cyclical downturn might well be L shaped rather than
V shaped – meaning that the U.S. economy could sink into stagnation much
like Japan did in the early 1990s and remain there rather than bouncing
back quickly.

to say, the unfolding economic crisis combined with the right wing anti-democratic
offensive will bring enormous economic hardship to tens of millions, and
especially working class women, racially and nationally oppressed people,
and immigrant workers. Just as Gingrich, with the able assistance of former
President Clinton, ended "welfare as we know it," Bush along
with Trent Lott, Tom Delay, and other ultra right political pimps, would
like to exploit this crisis to end the "Welfare State" as we
know it.

To rebuff
what comrade Scott Marshall called the interlocking of the ultra right’s
offensive with this deepening economic crisis, the women’s movement must
continue to link its struggles with other social movements with whom it
is objectively allied.

The lesson
of the 2000 election campaign is that the struggle for women’s equality
is inextricably bound up with the broader struggles against the right
wing corporate agenda and for democracy. No movement and no section of
our nation’s people are in a position to go it alone.

By the same
token the labor movement and its allies have to appreciate – first, that
the women’s movement as an independent social force is more than a peripheral
partner and second, that women constitute an active and leading component
of every section of the broader people’s movement, beginning with labor.

Indeed, given
the new role of women arising from the transformation in the U.S. and
global economy and the self-activity of women themselves, women as a social
force, along with the working class and the racially and nationally oppressed
are, to use Dee’s phrase, at the strategic core of class and democratic
struggles in our country.

Indeed, no
fundamental challenge to the ascendancy of the ultra right is conceivable
without the full measure of involvement of women as workers, child bearers,
caregivers, community activists, and as women.

In this regard,
trade union women, and communist trade union women in particular, standing
at the intersection of the working class, racially oppressed, and women’s
movements, have an enormous role to play in the crystallization of a broad
labor-led people’s coalition against the extreme right.

Their multiple
identities bring not only added burdens, but also a broad understanding
of the interconnectedness of life, of class and democratic struggles,
and capitalist exploitation.

To put it
differently, trade union women are less likely to see political struggle
in compartmentalized and non-class ways, thus making them especially attuned
to the issues of unity and coalition building.


The struggle
for women’s equality is an essential aspect of a broader democratic struggle.
And the struggle for women’s equality and democracy is not simply another
way station on the road to progress, but the main and only road to higher
stages of struggle, including the anti-monopoly and socialist stages.

At this moment
the specific task – and no task is more important as I mentioned a moment
ago – is to check the blitzkrieg assault of the right wing gang gathered
in Washington and in corporate suites.

While broad
coalitions around a range of issues are paramount, their success in forestalling
the aims of the ultra right depends in the end on the degree of participation
of the grassroots and rank and file action and initiative. Politics at
this moment particularly begins where there are millions. Congressional
maneuvering and combinations will not slam the door on Bush and his right
wing gang inside the Beltway.

And herein
lies the significance of the April 22 emergency demonstration for the
defense of reproductive rights: the demand is just and the demonstration
accents what is absolutely crucial – that is, militant mass action.

The emerging
struggles against the extreme right and the economic crisis will bring
millions of women and their allies into struggle. Some are entering the
arena of struggle for the first time. Others are veterans and leaders.
In any case, we welcome this development and will do everything to encourage
this process, including creating an atmosphere and conditions in our Party
that at once allow communist women to make their fullest theoretical and
practical contributions to our Party and the broader movements and attract
activist women to our ranks.

It’s a big
chore but this weekend we are taking an important step in that direction.

Thank you.


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