Labour reformism a dead end for women workers

IMAGE IS as important to the trade unions as it is to Blair’s modernising Labour Party. In the last 20 years both have worked hard to convince workers that although society may be riddled with sexism and inequality, equal representation for women and black workers is just around the corner.

Equal opportunities and women’s committees may have raised awareness in some areas. They may have even benefited some articulate, middle class, professional women who know how to use them, but they have made no real difference to the plight of women workers in Britain today. They can also divert workers into competing against one another, rather than against the boss.

Harriet Harman, shadow employment secretary, in her new book The century gap may rejoice that there are more women working today than ever before, but the reality of their working lives is a far cry from her vision of women having “shorter shared working hours” tuned into their careers and families. Many working women’s ‘careers’ consist of several part time jobs fitted around childcare and domestic drudgery.

The next Labour government may be able to deliver improved prospects to Ms Harman and other female career politicians who have made their names on the equal opportunities bandwagon, but capitalism cannot deliver a decent life to the hundreds of thousands of women workers who struggle to provide for themselves and their families on poverty wages.

In the Morning Star (November 29) Susan Michie argues that getting rid of clause four will result in a worse deal for women. She correctly identifies the tokenism of equal opportunity committees and the paternalism of trade union bureaucracy, but obviously this ‘hard line communist’ believes that a Labour government could stop the exploitation of workers - and particularly of working women.

The next Labour government - with or without clause four - will not give full rights to part time workers. It will not reverse anti-trade union legislation. It will not provide free 24 hour childcare. It will not provide a minimum income of £250 per week. These measures would do more to ensure ‘women’s empowerment’ than any amount of institutionalised equality replacing bureaucratic men with quotas of bureaucratic women.

Women workers have shown the way on many occasions from Grunwick to Timex. The fight for women’s equality is an important and integral part of the class struggle. Working class women should not be ghettoised by the right or the so called left.

Mary Ward