I02 Essen Gender Meets class - Women in Syndicalist Organizations

Monday 16 July 2007, by FAUD

Material given by FAUD

Gender Meets class - Women in Syndicalist Organizations

Dear Friends and Comrades, I cordially welcome you to our conference, and I would especially like to greet as well the women who are not here, because they are not part of the anarchosyndicalist movement.

These women will be represented by black cardboard figures during this session. You will find them here and there in the halls and walkways, and sitting among you. Every one of these figures has something to tell you. You are particularly invited to converse with them.

Why are there so few women in the anarchosyndicalist movement? Why are there so few women in the FAU?

These questions were themes of a week long seminar, that took place in Mallorca in 2001. A result of this seminar was the formation, in the winter of this year, of the work group “FAU seeks the woman”, which is the source of this article.

During last summer’s conference we formulated demands which were directed to the orientation of the union work of the FAU and to the quality of cooperation. The demands arose from our experience in the FAU. We determined that women simply do not find the FAU attractive. Specific womens’ issues were hardly represented in the FAU’s practical work, issues such as discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, maternity leave and the debate over domestic and family work [reproduktionsarbeit]. The fact our reality as women in this society is hardly, or not at all, represented in the FAU, is certainly a reason why few of us can identify with the organization. It does not seem to be ’our’ organization. What we demanded was the recognition of the existence of different living situations. Space must be created for womens’ reality, in which mens’ reality is no longer posited as the normal case.

Our next action, which we undertook as a regular work group, was a questionnaire in which we collected information about gender relations in the FAU, and encouraged discussions about them. The results of the questionnaires confirmed our assumptions. Women make up less than 20% of the membership of the FAU. Interestingly, the proportion among FAU sympathisers is more balanced. Gender specific or feminist issues have until now hardly been considered. In many local groups, the questionnaire provided the impetus for the first discussion of such subjects and of patriarchal structures within their organization.

We believe that we do not find ourselves alone in this situation, that the reality in other a-s unions does not appear much different. At the same time we are convinced, that these situations can be, and must be changed. We believe that a-s organizing is especially meaningful for women. An a-s union, that takes itself seriously must analyze the interrelated issues of class, gender and ethnic identity. It must internally sweep away patriarchal and racist structures, and make an issue of gender specific and racist division of labor.

Naturally we have higher expectations of the anarchosyndicalist movement than of rest of society. We are not content with the present state of affairs, but intend and hope to change these relationships. We think that we have that right, and that the course of the FAU and other anarchosyndicalist organizations is different from that of society at large. If not here, then where?

The possibilities for resistance in the times of neoliberal globalization is the subject of this conference. When we say that class conflict is intensified by globalization, we must not forget that globalization is also a gender specific process.

Gender - the separation of men and women and the establishment of hierarchy between them - affects the entire society, and therefore has an impact within classes. Male dominance expresses itself for instance in the organization and division of labor. Globalization exploits that fact. It is based on the inequality and utilizes existing ideologies of inequality such as patriarchy and racism.

In order to implement the deregulation of work relations it needs groups that can be forced into such jobs. Women are one such group, because they are already in a disadvantaged position in the society. The have always received less pay for the same work. They have always been excluded from highly qualified and well paying jobs.

If today jobs are coming more and more insecure, it is primarily women who work in these jobs. If there are jobs that pay less and less, it is women again who principally work in them. In addition, the work of home and family is mostly left to women. This is exacerbated by the dismantling of society.

Today around the world, more women than ever work in paid employment, but 80-90% of them work in the lowest paid and most dangerous deregulated jobs. In Germany, for instance, 70% of the new hires in call centers are women and women make up 89% of the part-time workers in Germany It’s even worse for migrant women. These women find in Germany almost always only underpaid work in the service sector, maintenance or sex work. Poverty is more and more feminine. Since they are underpaid and demand fewer qualifications, many of these jobs qualify as ’womens work’. And women are specifically recruited for these jobs. They are unattractive for men. Various investigations show that men would be hard pressed to apply for such positions. They would prefer to remain unemployed longer, and to search far longer for better offers. This division into “male” and “female” work is consistent with the still obligatory concepts of femininity and masculinity. These concepts cause women to be seen as secondary earners, who merely wish to increase the family income with their earnings, while man are seen as the primary provider for the family.

In neoliberal globalization women are used strategically to implement deregulation. Work relationships appropriate to this goal have been established which men follow.

There are various forms of control which are interrelated here. Patriarchy, racism, and the separation into classes. This interrelationship permits neoliberal globalization to function well. Our resistance must therefore attack all forms of control simultaneously. In order to do that, we must make ourselves aware and we must understand the interrelationship. We must develop strategies to eliminate all of them.

In order to prevent the deregulation of jobs, we must prevent women being placed in a social situation in which they must accept them.

What does not move us forward is the ignorance of the differing interests of women and men, and thus to act as though there were no contradictions, or even to play these interests against each other. The question “Class Struggle” or “Gender Struggle” is not before us. We can only progress if we prosecute the class struggle and the struggle against racism and patriarchy!

Class membership and class consciousness means something different to men and women, on the basis of differing experience. Women have, beyond work, the additional gender specific roles of home and family.

The experience of women also includes the fact that male dominated unions have usually had little sensibility or little readiness to fight against the introduction of gender relations into work, or for womens’ issues. Even today many unions are oriented to a normal work relationship that shows a masculine character, socially and legally secured full time employment. For women, this has never applied, and now has become even more rare for both men and women.

Class was in the main a masculine concept. Women had to struggle to acquire class. They had to struggle with their reality as well, in order to be recognized as a part of the class. The conflicts around gender and class often lead in the past to syndicalist women forming their own groups outside the syndicalist unions. On example, certainly known to all is the Mujeres Libres of the 30s in Spain. The Syndicalistische Frauenbund was likewise a women’s group in the FAU-D.

We, however wish to organize ourselves within our union,

because an anarchosyndicalist union should form the opposite pole to the reformist unions on the gender question as well.

Because an a-s union fights not only for men with life-long full-time jobs guaranteed by contract, but also for the unemployed, for housewives, for the precariously employed!

Because an a-s union seaks to change society as a whole and its struggle does not end in raising wages!

Because anarchosyndicalists want to organize not only on the production front, but on the domestic front as well!

Because with the general struggle against gender specific division of labor we want to disturb the modernisation and globalisation of capitalism!

Because only with direct action we can defend ourselves consciously and independently against discrimination and sexual harrassment in the workplace. Unlike the reformist unions we do not pass responsibility to women’s representatives and the bourgeois courts.

And finally, because a-s unions are entitled to be profeminist and antipatriarchal.

Unfortunately, our experience has shown, that this entitlement is not being very successfully translated into reality. The main cause of this is that the struggle against patriarchy has been left to women.

But we say: it is not the struggle of women, but of all revolutionaries!

Both sides carry this responsibility for change: Those oppressed by the hierarchy, and those who benefit from it.

We don’t want men to engage the enemy for our emancipation. They should emancipate themselves. We want to emancipate ourselves together!

The society in which we live has decided which role we as woman or man should play. The person who wishes to change something, who wants a free society, must at the same time change himself/herself and free herself/himself from his role. It’s all the same, whether man or woman.

Our goal is not to set the rights of women equal to the rights of men. Rather it is together to create something new. We don’t want a patriarchy of equal right, we want no patriarchy.

We are all against capitalism and repression. Those with power in capitalism use racist and sexist suppression and profit by it. The struggle against racism and sexism is part of the struggle against capitalism.

To do away with the distorted relationships, one must recognize them. The suppression of women exists. Whoever opens his eyes, sees this, everyday, at the workplace and in the organization. It’s not enough to say that one is against the suppression of women. It is necessary to identify it and attack it concretely.

What we want is a union without masters.

What we want is nothing else but a conscious union movement free of masters, in which there are no gender blind spots. A union that fights against gender specific division of labor, and also against the strategic use of underpaid women’s work within neoliberal globalization.

So, comrades, rise up! We don’t want to lead this struggle as your representative - we all are challenged to the struggle!

What we are here calling for is nothing trivial. If we cannot succeed in working together in our movement, what will the revolution look like?