“It’s a vulnerable time. We have been told not to speak to anyone”, said a woman picketing at Rawmarsh School in Rotherham on 12 January, on strike against threats of redundancies. Women preparing to fight cuts in Tower Hamlets said the same to Women’s Fightback.
But the instruction from managers not to talk about what is happening to them is likely to make women at the forefront of the cuts even more angry.
“We need to do the exact opposite”, said one woman at a mass meeting of all the trade unions organising council workers in Tower Hamlets. “We need to tell parents, community activists and other local service users what is about to happen to their services because there will be a lot of anger out there when they find out their kid’s youth club, childrens centre, health service, community links are threatened with destruction”.
The order not to speak out is a conscious tactic to keep us isolated. It won’t work. The cuts are an attack on the working-class and women are at the forefront.
And women must be at the forefront of the fightback against the government’s attack, not least the ideological attack.
Cameron’s so-called “Big Society” is ruling-class speak for pushing women back into the home, providing childcare, health care and looking after men.
It is an attack on our class by a government which is made up of millionaires who do not need to use public services. Their philosophy is “If you can’t pay for it you can’t have it”.
We have a better philosophy. It is one of solidarity. We stick up for each other and we fight to protect those essential services, which make society a better place.
Working class women face a three-way attack.
We stand to lose jobs. Twice as many women as men work in the public sector and 40% of all female workers are employed by the state.
We stand to lose benefits. Women are more affected by the cuts in areas like housing benefit, cuts in upratings to the additional pension, public sector pensions or attendance allowances.
Then there are the impact of measures such as the £640 million council tax freeze, the abolition of the child trust fund, indirect taxes such as VAT, the effect of cutting the Health in Pregnancy grant and the Sure Start maternity grant.
And we stand to lose the services, which enable women to take an equal part in public life.
The services which free us from the domestic drudgery which characterised our lives in the nineteenth century before the setting up of the Welfare State.
Women workers cannot and should not wait for the trade union leaderships to get their act together to fight the cuts. The TUC have left it until 26 March to hold a demonstration. By that time most Local Authorities will have set their budgets and will have pushed through the attacks.
We need to organise now. We need to build campaigns that link women workers with women in the community. We also need to take the fight into the unions for a more aggressive defence of our jobs and services.
We must link up our fight with that of students who are fighting to ensure that working-class youth can afford to get an education rather than it being a privilege of the rich.
The Con-Dem government is proving something that many of us argued in the women’s movement back in the 70s and 80s. The gains we fought for and won at that time were very good. But, if we don’t link our demands to that of fighting the class system and of changing society, the gains we won can be taken away. As long as the government rule for the rich and for profit, we will have to continually fight to hang on to those gains.
Let us make the fight against the cuts herald the birth of a working-class women’s movement which will fight for a change in how our society is run: away from Cameron’s rich privilege and towards a socialist society in which women’s emancipation is part and parcel of the emancipation of the emancipation of the whole working class.