Women’s Equality Conference March 24, 2001 Opening Report

BY:Dee Miles| October 9, 2001

Opening to the National Women’s Equality Conference

Before we
get started, I want to give you an idea of what we are going to try to
do in this report. We want to very briefly review the foundation from
which we start by considering the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on
the question of women’s equality. We want to take a look at the most
current statistical data available on working class
and poor women in the United States today. We want to take a brief look
at the work of the party the in the area of women. We want to discuss
immediate improvements we can consider to make our Party more of political
home for women in general and working class and poor women in particular.
And finally we want to explore future possibilities related to this process
of retooling ourselves so we can make an even
better and stronger contribution to the fight for women’s rights
and equality in the context of today’s fight against the ultra right.

Let me start
off by saying that we are just beginning the process of retooling ourselves
relative to this question and this report represents simply an opening
which will be added to by the general discussion and the prepared reports
of others.

As preparation
for this retooling, we need to reconsider the classic
writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin as well as others, and we need to
examine the real experience of women in socialist societies past and
present. Doris Marquit will talk more about women and socialism later
this afternoon. One of the few pleasures in the world is to read the
words of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on bourgeois society and the
oppression of women. Though we are open to new discoveries by social
scientists, we know of nothing which fundamentally challenges the
views on women’s domination and oppression as developed by Marx
and elaborated by Engels in Origin of the Family, Private Property, and
the State, and we see those ideas as being fundamentally sound. Engels
argues that though biology was the basis for the initial division of labor,
and that the initial division of labor was between male and female,
biology and the division of labor in social production between male and
female did not cause or lead to the oppression and domination of
women. We do not agree that women have always and in every society
been oppressed. We locate the oppression of women with the evolution
of individual private ownership of the means of production and class
domination and exploitation.

This point
is important for us because it is from this theoretical
foundation that we argue that women will be freed with the freeing of
the working class. In fact it was Lenin who said “Down with this
contemptible fraud! There cannot be, nor is there or will there ever be
equality between the oppressed and the oppressors, between the
exploited and the exploiters. There cannot be, nor is there or will there
ever be real freedom as long as there is no freedom for women from the
privileges which the law grants to men, as long as there is no freedom
for the workers from the yoke of capital, and no freedom for the toiling
peasants from the yoke of the capitalists, landlords and merchants. (p.
58-59) He then goes on to say, and we need to become as acquainted
with this phrase as we are with any other, “The proletariat cannot
achieve complete freedom, unless it achieves complete freedom for
women.” (p. 62)

Though we
do not call ourselves feminists, we call ourselves
communists, the fight for women’s rights and equality is a part of
heritage; it is a part of the legacy of the great communists of the past.
Our relationship to the fight for women’s rights and equality is
simply an allegiance to the fight of another. For us, especially in the
reality of today’s context, women’s rights and equality have
become an
organically integrated aspect within the context of the struggle of the
working class as a whole. We may not have as great an appreciation of
that reality as we should, we may not be as conscious of this reality
we need to be, but as the data prove women occupy a position relative
the working class which is unprecedented. In addition, the movement of
women for equality, which includes women from various class
backgrounds, has emerged as one of the major pillars of the force for
social change in our country. Various forces within the women’s
movement have organized some of the largest mass demonstrations of
the past period, fought to elect more people vs business oriented
candidates including women to public office, and generally upped the
ante and pushed forward dialog on major social questions including the
question of child poverty. Therefore, we must see the fight for women’s
rights and equality not as our support for the fight of another but as
fight for ourselves. We must see the fight for women’s equality in
ways: one, as an organically integrated aspect of the working class
movement and two, as a special question, meaning we must understand
that women regardless of class are subjects of oppression and
domination and therefore will and should unite across class lines in
opposition to that domination and oppression.

feminism, of the past, had a certain hostility toward the
working class movement; some branches of crystallized feminism may
still be hostile to the working class movement today. But, the reality
need to come to grips with is that many women who call themselves
feminists do not have a hostility toward the working class movement and
this is a major point for us to digest.

Many women
who call themselves feminists have stood and will
continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the working class in the
battles for the advancement of our standard of living and quality of life,
quality universal childcare, quality universal health care, quality public
education, paid parental leave, an end to gender job segregation,
affirmative action, and an end to poverty. In addition, we must also
stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the fight to end the glass ceiling
in employment for women, the fight for quality equitable education for
women, the fight for women as small business persons, and the fight for
women to be elected to political office. Let us remember and not forget
how gallantly the women’s movement stood and fought like mighty
warriors during the battle for the 2000 election. Now that the
presidential election has been stolen, and all three branches of
government are controlled by the political right, the women’s movement
along with the civil rights and labor movements are under attack and our
job is crystal clear. We must help to build even broader and even deeper
unity, and we must engage in the most multifaceted fight back that we
can muster. We must never be too tired or too weary, and we must leave
no stone unturned. We must win against the ultra right; failure is not

Though it
is important that we clarify how our views differ from
those of crystallized feminism, it is also important that we clarify that
women, even crystallized feminists, are not the enemy and our
differences with them would not be classified as irreconcilable. We do
not share in the idea of the fundamental contradiction being that between
men and women. We see the fundamental contradiction as being that between
those who privately own property, which is utilized in the production
social wealth–and as a result these private owners of productive means
can horde social wealth–and those who must labor to live, and as a result,
actually produce social wealth.

Today, this
contradiction is expressed as being the battle between capital and labor,
. We see the oppression and domination of women as part and parcel of
the process of the subordination of human labor to production instead
of the subordination of production to human labor. To quote the words
of Marx, “However terrible and
disgusting the dissolution, under the capitalist system, of the old family
ties may appear, nevertheless modern industry, by assigning as it does
important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere,
to women…, creates a new economical foundation for a higher form of
the family and of the relations between the sexes….it is obvious that
fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of
both sexes and all ages, must necessarily, under suitable conditions,
become a source of humane development; although in its spontaneously
developed, brutal, capitalistic form, where the laborer exists for the
process of production, and not the process of production for the laborer,
that fact is a pestiferous (meaning poisonous) source of corruption and
slavery.” (p. 31)

We will continue
to raise our own voice in the demand for
women’s rights and women’s equality but we must understand that
voice must be the voice calling for united action voice must be the voice
calling for united action to defend what has been won and to defeat the
drive of the ultra right. We will raise our voice even louder calling
for the inclusion of race and class matters and working class and poor
women and their concerns within the women’s
movement, and we will do so as part and parcel of the call for even
greater, broader, and deeper unity in action to defeat the ultra right.

where we stand on questions of the family, gender roles,
and how new developments in social science shed light on the earlier
ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin is beyond the scope of this report.
Suffice it to say, that though we defend the working class family, we
not defend the imposition and the penetration of bourgeois family mores
within the context of the working class family. Based in the very
foundation of our theory and ideology is our allegiance to the demands
for economic equality, reproductive freedom, and social rather than
private and individual responsibility for care giving to children, the
disabled, the elderly, and the household. The clarity we must provide
stands in direct opposition to the political right’s notions of family
values and male and female gender roles. Suffice it to say, we do not
agree with a thing the political right has to say on the matter. But,
will have to find time to explore these issues more at a later date. In
fact, I propose that we make the time to explore these questions through
seminars, meetings, and forums toward the production of a book on
Women’s Inequality Today in recognition of the 120th anniversary
Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State which
be in 2004.

We have to
note that the status of women today is significantly
different from what it was during the times of Marx, Engels, and even
Lenin. In the past we could have said that the fight for women’s
equality was an adjunct to the fight of the working class. Such an idea
applied to the present moment misses the point that women have become
more than an integral part of the working class as workers and as care

In the AFL-CIO fact sheet on working women, it is stated that:

number of working women has grown from 5.3 million in
1900 to 18.4 million in 1950 and to 63 million in 1997. Women
made up 18.3 percent of the labor force in 1900, 29.6 percent in
1950, and 46.2 percent in 1997.” (p. 1)

Today, based
on the most current data, as members of the labor force
women are almost 1/2 of the whole. Women workers are now 48% of
the workforce. Women workers are about 40% of organized workers.
About 40 % of workers in unions are women. Interestingly enough,
20.5% of Black male workers are organized, 15.7% of white male
workers, 14.4% of Black female workers, 13% of Latino male workers
are organized, 10.9% of white female workers are organized, and 10.4%
of Latino female workers are organized into unions.

When workers
are organized into unions, across the board their
median weekly earnings are higher, but Black and Latino women suffer
the most if they are not organized into unions: Latino non union women
earn only 67 % of what Latino union women earn and Black non union
women earn only 70 % of what Black union women earn. When you
compare the union earnings to non union earnings, women fare worse,
meaning if a male worker is not organized he earns a greater percentage
of the pay of his organized counterpart than do women and their
organized counterparts.

The median
income for white male workers is $27, 646 for white
females, $14, 617, for Black males $19, 321, for Black females $13, 137
for Latino males $ 17, 257 and Latino females $10, 862. As we know,
the poverty rates of children are highest: 14.4 % for white children,
% for Black children, and 33. 6% for Latino children. The poverty rates
of women are: 10.9 % for white women compared to 8.7% for white
men, 26.6 % for Black women compared to 20.2 % for Black men, and
25.4% for Latino women compared to 20.1 % for Latino men.
Somewhere I read that the poverty rate for African Americans and
American Indians is about the same. Data for American Indian women
were not available in the sources used.

The point
of all of this is to bring attention to the fact that women
workers today are about 1/2 of the labor force and 40% of the trade
union membership. The AFL-CIO says that in this context the wage gap
between men and women creates a loss of about $200 billion for
working families. So billions of dollars in extra profits are made from
the oppression, domination, and exploitation of women workers and that
does not include the unpaid labor for child, home, and elder care. And
as the data show, if you add racism and national oppression to the equation
then the wage gap between women and men and between women is quite alarming.

Given the
real status and conditions of existence of working class
women, it is understandable that even for the AFL-CIO’s Working
Women’s Department, the main demands are equal pay, quality child
care, and paid family leave. Though the latest printed data in studies
indicate women workers earn 73 or 74 cents, depending on what you’re
reading, for every dollar earned by male workers, the most current data
announced is that the figure is 72 cents for every dollar. That amounts
to more than $148 less each week and for women of color it’s more
$210 less each week. Quoting from the AFL-CIO’s Equal Pay for
Working Families document: “If single working mothers earned as much
as comparable men, their family incomes would increase by nearly 17%,
and their
poverty rates would be cut in half, from 25.3% to 12.6 %.” (p. 2)

Though the
data indicate that the gender wage gap has closed some
what over the years, analysis of the data reveals that the lessening of
gap is due more to the falling wages of men rather than the rising wages
of women. The women’s department of the AFL-CIO says,
“There are three clear routes to ensuring that women receive equal
pay: vigorous enforcement of current equal pay laws, passage of
stronger and better equal pay laws and greater protections for
workers’s right to organize together into unions.”

Alice Bush
will talk more about organizing women workers into unions
later on this evening.

in the minimum wage, benefit especially women
workers. 58% of women workers were affected by the last minimum
wage increase. With the threatened economic downturn, the fight for a
public works jobs program at union wages to rebuild our cities with
special provisions for the inclusion of working class and poor women
can become an important campaign for the standard of living of women
workers. The fight for the living wage and, even more the housing wage,
directly affects the quality of life of the masses of women workers in
particular, but all workers in general. The relegation of women workers
to low wage jobs and the gender wage gap are major concerns which
Katie Jordan will talk more about this afternoon.

The issue
of reproductive rights is on the front burner. Almost like
fanatical bats out of hell the political right is positioning itself,
through its control of all three branches of government, to make it harder
women to obtain safe and legal abortions. The political right is going
after RU 487, the day after pill, and the National Organization for
Women, in their legislative update, reveals the various antiabortion
legislation which is being introduced. The most advanced position on
this question is that which says the right of choice is a health care
The question becomes are there steps we can take and help initiate to
build working class support for women’s right of choice. Yes, there
steps we can take. We can support and promote support for the April 22
Demonstration in Defense of Women’s Lives and for Reproductive

the issue of welfare and welfare reform is a major
concern. We would argue it is more than just a major concern:
understanding the issue of welfare and welfare reform is of pivotal
importance to the working class. The question becomes what can we do
to help make breakthroughs in the understanding of the masses of
people on this issue. The issues of welfare and welfare reform are
directly related to how we as the working class understand the concept
of the reserve army of labor and unemployment, racism, the needs of
working class women, and poverty. If we understood fully the
relationship between the quality of life of unemployed women on
welfare and the quality of life of the working class overall, we would
outraged and moved into action. We must remember Marx’s warning
that the lower we allow the quality of life of any segment of the working
class to sink will bring down the quality of life of all workers. The
question becomes how can we promote a frontal assault on poverty in
this country and in that context explain and spread the truth about
welfare and welfare reform. Members of the Welfare Warriors from
Wisconsin will talk more about this issue this afternoon and later on

We need to
engage in a formal examination of the work of the
party in the area of women. The Party has been directly involved in the
women’s movement through the long years of work of many of our
members. Some of these women are here as a part of this conference,
but many of the key players could not be with us this weekend. Suffice
it to say, we need to assess our work and see where we need to make
improvements. One thing we know already is that as the Party we need
to establish direct and formal ties with all of the women’s organizations
which are major contingents in the fight against the ultra right and for
the rights and equality of women.

The role
that the women’s movement played during the election
battle and the role they continue to play now has brought a new respect
for the women’s movement: their tenacity, resolve, and fortitude.
question becomes what can we do to promote the deepening of the
relationship between the major forces for social change in our country
which the women’s movement is one.

Beyond the
women’s movement, we need to reorient ourselves in
terms of our responsibility to working class, poor, and nationally
oppressed women. Poor women are members of the working class.
Their needs and concerns are our needs and concerns, and we have to
make that crystal clear. The question becomes how can our
commissions, districts, and clubs represent, respond and relate to the
needs and concerns of working class, poor, and nationally oppressed
women within each of their areas of work. It will take that kind of
attention to lay the basis for making our Party even more of a political
home for these women. These women deserve the training and
experience in struggle that comes with working in the Party. We have to
take concrete steps toward removing any and all obstacles.

Though more
thought should be given to this matter than time here
allows, I’d like to offer a few other considerations which I think
are key.
We need to refresh our understanding of the concept of collectivity. We
need to identify the styles and methods of work which strengthen
collective work and promote the healthy development of activists and
fighters. For example, racism, paternalism, and male supremacy obstruct
the ability of collectives to function. We need to take concrete steps
toward removing their influences on our collectives. Whatever we do to
create a more effective environment for working class, poor, and
nationally oppressed women, will result in a healthier more productive
more effective environment for all of our members be they male or

One other
factor I’d like to quickly mention is the concept of being
totally immersed in working class life and the battles of the working
class for a decent quality of life and standard of living. In addition
economic concerns other questions emerge like how do we promote a
higher understanding of domestic violence as an extension and
expression of male supremacy. Katie Jordan will also talk more about
domestic violence this afternoon.

In other
words, how do we escalate within our ranks the exposure
of and fight against bourgeois culture and its woman hating offspring.
For example, Vickie Sides will talk later about rape culture and its
relationship to the dominant culture in this society. We have a
responsibility to win working class women and men to struggle against
these poisons in their own interest. It is only through total immersion
the working class, in the daily every day real life and struggles of
ordinary people, that we will uncover the concrete avenues through
which we can effectively advance the cause of women’s equality within
the working class movement.

What do we
want? We want the working class in general and
working class men in particular to be moved into action, an action which
declares that not in my name will you subordinate women, enslave
women, objectify women, or deny women anything less than an equal
condition of existence in any aspect of life. Not in my name will you
beat women, rape women, kill women, psychologically and emotionally
diminish and destroy women. You will not do any of that in my name.
I think we can say without any doubt that today at this very
moment a strategic alliance exists between the labor movement, the
movements of the racially and nationally oppressed peoples, and the
women’s movement. I think we can say, that it is this alliance which
forms the core of the fight for social progress in our country at this
particular time. I think we can say that it is this alliance which is
charged with the responsibility of defending and expanding the fight for
democracy in our country.

We see the
fight for democracy as more than just the right to vote
and have your vote counted. That’s important, but democracy in the
fullest sense is much much more. Real democracy cannot coexist with
poverty. Real democracy cannot coexist with oppression and
domination. Real democracy cannot coexist with exploitation.
Therefore, the realization of real democracy requires the elimination
all of those social ills. It is that for which we as Party live and

What we are
trying to do this weekend is part of the process of
preparing ourselves for the battles ahead. We can build the movement to
defeat the ultra right in this country. We can change the balance of
forces in Congress in 2002, and we can remove Bush from office in

We’ve got
to engage the masses of our class and people in every
aspect of the fight for our very quality of life. They’ve got to come
of any level of despair so we together can build this movement. We have
got to convince them that if you come, we will build it without question
and without doubt. On behalf of the Women’s Working Group of the
Communist Party USA which is just in its embryonic stage, I thank you.


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