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Women and the struggle for socialism


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6. Moving into struggle

Historically women have moved into struggle in many different ways and working-class women, because of the double oppression which they face, are potentially some of the most determined fighters.

In the textile mills, for example, in the 19th century, super-exploited women workers joined together with male workers in the trade unions to fight for their rights.

In some sectors, women were excluded from the trade unions by male workers who feared competition for their jobs and the depression of wages and conditions, or believed that a woman's place was in the home and not in the factory.

Unable to join existing unions, female workers organised their own, while at the same time fighting for unity with men.

Even the most exploited and downtrodden women workers, those who were not organised in unions and were considered 'unorganisable' by the trade union bureaucracy, waged heroic struggles.

It was the 'match girls' in the East End of London, for example, who 'sparked off' the massive wave of struggle known as 'new unionism' at the end of the 19th century in Britain, when tens of thousands of previously unorganised workers formed new, combative trade unions.

These match workers toiled in the most horrendous conditions, working 11 hours a day for a pittance from which draconian fines were deducted for minor offences.

Defying the pessimists, they took strike action and, with the help of socialists, won most of their demands, including the right to organise a trade union.

The period of the 'Great Unrest', from 1910-1911, also drew super-exploited women workers into action, especially in the East End and South London: " Jam and pickle workers, rag-pickers, biscuit makers, bottle-washers, tin-box makers, cocoa makers, distillery workers, all sweated factory workers...... came out on strike for wage increases...... and most were successful."

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