Report on women's movement activity

Submitted by martin on 19 October, 2010 - 4:20 Author: AWL conference

Adopted by AWL conference 16-17 October 2010

In terms of the politics of women the AWL defines itself Socialist-Feminist. We do so because, while we fight for the politics of women's liberation within the labour and student movement here and now, we recognise that the emancipation of women can only happen with the emancipation of humanity as a whole through the socialist transformation of society via the class struggle.

The building of anti-cuts committees together with the pressure on Labour and TU leaderships to face towards the left, in conjunction with the gradual but increasing radicalisation of youth and students, present us with an opportunity to re-awaken the socialist-feminist ideas and present them to a new audience.

We held a small but very useful women's caucus in London and a larger but much briefer caucus at Ideas for Freedom. We also had a pleasant informal discussion at a picnic in London!

Our plans are:

  • To help organise "Women Against the Cuts" meetings/discussions in London, Sheffield and Liverpool.
  • In London Feminist Fightback is organising "Women at the Cutting Edge" on Saturday 30 October. We should help shape and build the event especially around student activists and campaigns. That event will be an opportunity for Feminist Fightback to turn out to working-class women in struggle, and we should help ensure that happens. We should think about proposals for activities to come out of that conference. Feminist Fightback has already discussed follow up workshops in London. Merseyside TUC has agreed to host a meeting on these lines.
  • To organise regular AWL "low tech" women's educational events. We should organise an event before the end of the year. One suggested focus is examples of struggles where working-class and "community" based campaigns have come together, and how women organised within that.
  • To produce an educational pack focused [at least] on "What is Sexism" defining the roots of sexism and how to tackle it. The pack may include other relevant feminist issues. The idea is to have a "follow on" activity relating to the group discussion on "promoting good behaviour".
  • We will set up a women's commission of women comrades prepared to oversee our work, and organise women's fractions.

To write articles for the paper reflecting the "personal experience"/"everyday life" political issues that affect women.

Other information:

Feminist Fightback in London continues to have a sizeable core of activists though inevitably individuals have dipped in and out of the group and activity has dropped off. However this year FF has organised film showings/meetings, and some campaigning e.g. for nursery provision in Hackney. There is now a positive feeling of wanting to step up activity. Our regular involvement has been patchy but should improve.

There is a small caucus of women activists in the student campaign based in London. This has potential and could work well together with local anti-cuts campaigns and the Feminist Fightback initiative.

Many of our activists are involved in the women's organisation of their unions. And many of our women comrades are involved in struggles, e.g. in schools, that have a dimension of gender politics in them. We should talk about and publicise this work. That could help create positive examples to feminist activists about labour movement and socialist politics and activities.

Our socialist feminism gives us something distinctive and useful to say in local anti cuts campaigns. We can make sure we highlight and explain the different dynamics of women workers' struggles, and this is something that might otherwise get neglected.

Among the feminist activists we know there has been criticism of "male domination" on the left and also dismay about how the left organises. We use our work, our educationals and our publications to explain to and educate a) a layer of women activists about our commitment to building a revolutionary party and b) our own comrades, male and female, about sexism and women's liberation.

For the AWL our socialist-feminist activity will be a) focussed on building a broad, open, labour movement based campaign within which our comrades can intervene with our own politics, and b) the activity of the group as a whole, overseen by the women's commission.

For the AWL "feminist activity" has to be three slightly contradictory things:
self-managed by women activists in the AWL, accountable to the democratic structures of the group, i.e. "fraction" work; but it should also be
a key activity of a core of women activists who are able and feel motivated to put some time and effort into the work (and by extension it won't be for all AWL women);
the activity of the group as a whole. Branches, union fractions should identify opportunities to flag up, discuss and work around e.g. how the cuts affect women, issues for women in the unions etc. even if it is just a matter or writing reports for the paper.

The key goals of our women's "fraction work" should be:

  • educating and building the confidence of our women members (as an integral part of our educational work) so that comrades feel better able to argue our politics, contribute to group discussion, develop contacts and win recruits.
  • improving the AWL's self-presentation as a "socialist feminist" political force (which will involve self-education, writing and organising our own political activities).

The attacks that the working class will be facing in coming months and years will be ferocious as the bosses' government attempts to make workers pay for their crisis. The effects on the lives of working class women will be even more terrible both directly as a result of cuts in jobs and pay as well as indirectly as a result of cuts in social services which will push women back into the role of isolated family providers of health and child care.

It is now more important than ever that we differentiate ourselves politically from radical and reformist bourgeois strands of the feminism which are equally likely to pop up in the coming period.

We have an organised push, overseen by the women's commission, on the recruitment and education of new women comrades to the AWL into our general politics as well as our historical position vis a vis socialist feminism.


The following amendment was remitted:

1st bullet point: delete all after 30 October and replace with: We use this conference to launch a Working Women's Fightback Campaign which will hold another conference in February 2011. To build for this conference the AWL:
women comrades will make it central to their political work for the coming period,
will get all comrades, male and female, to push a model resolution to their unions, trades councils and anti-cuts committees to send delegates.
We use this call for the February conference to test the water to see how ripe the movement is for a resurgence of women's politics.
We re-evaluate its effect in March 2011.

The following amendments were defeated:

2nd bullet: delete "low tech". Delete all after "end of year"

3rd bullet: delete all after "education pack" and insert: focusing on socialist-feminist issues including a section on What Is Sexism.