Contribution from Lily Kerr, Workers Party Ireland, to Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Seminar, Athens, 10th November 2016
Comrades and Sisters,
I bring greetings and solidarity from my comrades and sisters in the Workers Party of Ireland to this important Seminar. We believe that only by sharing our experiences, knowledge and solidarity on an international level, can we learn and organise against the real enemy of equality, the capitalist system. But comrades that does not mean that we can afford to, or should wait, until the overthrow of this corrupt system, before we demand real and meaningful rights, equality and social progress for women in the workplace, in education and in the home.
We must champion the cause of young, old, vulnerable and excluded women if we expect them to fully engage in the class struggle. We must place their demands as citizens at the centre of all of our policies; we must also lead by example and ensure that women are represented, and at the forefront of all our party structures.
Comrades and sisters, we know that in the medium to long term only by militant actions and organisation can we hope to achieve and consolidate any real gains and rights for those women who need them the most. We must organise in each of our countries, in the trade unions, in women’s organisations , importantly, engage with those workers and professions that are populated by lone workers, such as those who deliver care at home to the elderly, the sick and those with other forms of disability. This work, these jobs and skills, are predominately jobs carried out by women, and it is all too often unremunerated, underpaid and undervalued. We must engage with the self-employed, with the unemployed, with women in education, those in the home and those in the community, those women who are suffering as a result of the harsh austerity measures demanded by the European Union, and administered without restraint or regard for the impact on the working class, by our national governments, whether right-wing, social democratic or composed of the new social-democrats.
It is the role of the communist and workers’ parties to politicise women, to engage them in all aspects of our work and to raise the class consciousness of all workers in preparation for the struggles ahead. In Northern Ireland where I live we have so called “left wing” parties, women’s organisations, and the majority of trade unions, lamenting the decision to leave the European Union, claiming it will be a major blow to the equality agenda, in particular women’s social, economic and human rights.
We, comrades, must challenge the myth that the European Union and indeed the ruling class conferred workers’ rights on us from any sense of decency, morality, or out of any consideration for social justice. Every gain and achievement, every piece of legislation that granted even limited or modest forms of progress, social or economic rights, was fought for and won by workers themselves through the vigorous struggle of the communist and workers’ parties, militant trade unionists and their progressive organisations.
We must remind our sisters who are not yet engaged in the struggle that equality of the sexes has not yet been delivered, the gender pay gap is increasing, the “sticky floors” and the “glass ceilings” now have been replaced by “super glue” and “reinforced glass”. Maternity leave and rights have been eroded on the grounds of flexibility, affordability and profitability. Women can only get win freedom, independence and equality, when the gender pay gap has been abolished; when we have free child care facilities, health and social services; the right to choose to have or not to have children, and to be trusted with our own reproductive rights; to have access to abortion services free of charge under the health care system; to have free education services at primary , secondary schools and access to university level, and when company profits no longer take precedence over our rights as women and citizens – in a society where exploitation has been ended and the needs of women and all workers have been fulfilled in a society where the means of production have been socialised and where the working people who produce all wealth, own and control it.
Sisters and comrades, organising women in our experience, in particular, the low paid and self-employed and lone workers, presents many challenges to the way trade unions and political parties traditionally structure themselves. It requires a different approach to recruitment and organising methods. We have to rethink our approach to how branch and cadres meetings are managed and how the agenda is set. Timings of meetings to recruit and organise women have to be carefully planned and venues outside the workplaces have to be accessible and have clear time restraints and limits. It must be remembered that women double job, and many have caring responsibilities within the home and wider family circle, and will continue to do so until we can achieve full social and economic liberation through a revolutionary transformation of society.
Where workers bear the burden of the systemic crisis of capitalism, the working class suffers a deterioration in living and working conditions, an attack on public health, education and social security systems and the erosion and elimination of hard-won workers’ rights and social gains and achievements. Poverty and destitution is rife across the world and multi-national corporations and monopolies exploit unemployment levels to sweat an already over-stretched work force and to reduce and weaken terms and conditions of employment. They create divisions amongst workers, stir up racial tensions and women are affected disproportionately by these actions, since it is women who bear the brunt of the austerity agenda driven by the capitalist crisis.
Social welfare reforms have created homelessness to unprecedented levels. Capitalist inspired wars and imperialist intervention have created millions of refugees without homes or homelands, and governments (bourgeois and social democratic alike) scapegoat them for their own ends, while those who armed, bombed and butchered women and children now leave it to those countries like Greece to deliver a humanitarian response. The growth of nationalism, racism, fascism and xenophobia, attacks on migrant workers and refugees, virulent anti-communism and state repression are a constant reality and represent a threat to workers and the unity of workers.
Women are at the forefront in our demands for an end to wars and the demand for peace, but, comrades, we must remind the so called liberal “peace makers” that there is more to peace than the absence of guns, bombs and killing. The US, the EU and NATO cannot be separated from the history of imperialism and war. Increasing imperialist competition and aggression remains a real and urgent threat to the interests of all humanity as we see in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean today. Capitalism is the enemy of peace and social progress. Peace requires social, economic and human rights for all and these conditions can only be met through the construction of a socialist society.
Women, of course, do not stand apart from the class struggle. The oppression of women and the inequality faced by them is a result not merely of legal constraints but arises from the material conditions of life. In those circumstances, women are and must be active participants in the class struggle, organised on every front, recognising that it is only through the abolition of that system which creates and perpetuates our oppression and the construction ,in its place, of a socialist society where the working class is in power, that true equality and the full liberation of women will be attained.