Reports and Campaigns
Reports and campaigns:
International Women's Day 2016: Should women support Hillary Clinton?
Sarah Wrack, Editor, the Socialist
Confusion, soul-searching and outright horror. These words could accurately describe the response of the establishment press and political figures, world over, to the growing support for Bernie Sanders.
The self-proclaimed socialist has bulldozed through what most thought would be a breezy stroll to the Whitehouse for Hillary Clinton, his rival in the race for the Democratic Party nomination for US president.
In particular, and of most distaste to the Clinton camp, Sanders has won huge support from young women. In the New Hampshire primary, where Sanders won the nomination with 60% of the overall vote, he stormed ahead of Clinton in this demographic - 82% of women under 30 voted for him.
How can this be, ponder many 'feminists' (from both the right and the self-declared left). Surely women should want to fight for Clinton as potentially the first woman president? Especially women who've grown up in the 1990s and 2000s - the era of 'smashing the glass ceiling,' and of the idea that women in the boardrooms and parliaments are 'doing it for us all'.
This isn't just a US phenomenon. Some in Britain have been similarly aghast to see thousands of young women flock to rallies for Jeremy Corbyn during his campaign for the Labour leadership. How can these old, white men be winning such vibrant support from people who should on first glance identify much more with Hillary Clinton or Labour's Yvette Cooper?
But the majority of young women seem to agree more with actress Susan Sarandon who, after backing Sanders and boldly criticising Clinton for her corporate backing and her votes for war, said: "I don't vote with my vagina."
We should fight for more women representatives. But the patronising idea that women should be concerned only with gender has no place in 21st century politics.
This is a generation of US women who occupied Zuccotti Park against the rule of the super-rich 1% - which funds the Clinton campaign. A generation who are fighting for and winning a $15 an hour minimum wage - which Clinton doesn't support. A generation who are leading militant trade union struggles like those of the Chicago teachers.
Does this mean that the majority of young women are not concerned with women's issues?
The Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, certainly thinks so. When asked why she thought Clinton was losing ground to Sanders among young women she blamed, "a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v Wade [legalising abortion] was decided."
Yet this doesn't correspond to recent history in the US when there have been big movements for reproductive rights and against sexism and violence against women. In reality it's not the case that the younger generation of women are less feminist than their mothers.
Their views may be more summed up by US nurses' union leader RoseAnn DeMoro who wrote in the Guardian: "In my mind there has never been a better feminist than Bernie Sanders in a serious run for the White House, even if he's not the female candidate."
Some think back to the enthusiasm there was from many black Americans for electing Barak Obama in 2008. And therein lies the answer to these confusions. Just look at the huge let down felt by many of those who took part in that campaign. Because during the term of the first black president of the United States, they have seen a proliferation of mass incarceration and police killings of black youth and an increase in wealth inequality between black and white.
Hillary Clinton's policies will advance nothing for the majority of women. The same was shown through the bitter experience of workers in Britain during the tenure of the first woman prime minister, Tory Margaret Thatcher. She carried out policies which devastated the lives of millions of working class women.
Clinton has supported cuts to welfare, privatisation in education, policies that contribute to mass imprisonment, and imperialist intervention and war.
The fact that there is even a question that this would be a candidate worthy of support from the women's movement is indicative of the dominance of 'identity politics.'
It is also a sign of how the victories won by movements of workers and of women in the past are now being distorted. The right wing has been forced, on the surface at least, to accept this progress to a degree but it appropriates the ideas of feminism for its own ends.
When a talk show host commented that everyone is looking for an 'outsider' in this election, Clinton - the epitome of an establishment candidate - replied: "I cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president."
She hopes that being a woman can help get her to the White House and allow her to continue the work of her predecessors of waging war against the poor at home and against regimes that don't toe the line of US imperialism abroad.
Feminism has also been used as a hypocritical smokescreen by those organising against Jeremy Corbyn and those fighting to make his stand a success. Blairite Labour MP Jess Phillips, one of those inside the party desperately trying to undermine his leadership, accused Corbyn of "low level non-violent misogyny" on the basis that the 'top jobs' in the shadow cabinet are all filled by men.
When 66 Labour MPs shamefully voted against Corbyn for the bombing of Syria, a movement of opposition erupted both inside and outside the Labour Party. Many joined the Socialist Party in calling for mandatory reselection of MPs to enable rank-and-file Labour members to hold their representatives to account.
There was an attempt by some women MPs to subtly link this to a tiny minority who had sent abusive or sexist messages. In this way they hoped to use 'feminism' to brush under the carpet the huge mood against the war in Syria as well as calls for accountable democracy inside the Labour Party.
To counter these distortions, socialists must take a lead in asserting what is needed to advance things for the majority of women. There is still a long way to go. In Britain, one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in her life. Women workers earn on average 19.7% less than men.
Women are more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be the main carers for children or disabled or elderly relatives - meaning austerity hits women harder. The House of Commons Library estimates that 85% of the money taken from working class people since 2010 through benefit cuts and tax changes has come from women.
Similar statistics, if not worse, could be given from most countries. And the lack of an independent working class political voice for the 99% has been a major factor in holding back progress for women to this extent. A mass socialist party would have helped fight back and prevent the development of a situation where one in three American women is either in poverty or on the brink of it.
That's why Sanders' programme, if implemented, would represent a material step forward for women and all working class people. He supports a $15 an hour minimum wage, single payer NHS-style healthcare, free higher education and the end of mass imprisonment.
In explaining why her (majority women members) union was the first to back Sanders, RoseAnn DeMoro said: "Nurses recognised Sanders as one of their own as soon as he got into the race, because they, like he, believe that all people should be treated equally - especially when it comes to healthcare - regardless of race, gender or ability to pay."
Women are backing Sanders because he unashamedly challenges the establishment neoliberal consensus and advances causes and policies that speak to the experiences of working class people. For this same reason, despite the limitations of his programme and his mistaken approach of seeking the Democratic Party nomination rather than standing independently, Socialist Alternative (US co-thinkers of the Socialist Party) is backing him too.
Socialist Alternative has initiated #Movement4Bernie campaigns around the country which are attracting thousands to rallies where Socialist Alternative members put forward a strategy of what would be necessary to achieve Sanders' programme - including fighting for a new, independent political party for the working class.
Through this kind of movement, party and programme, candidates that represent the 99%, including many many fighting working class women, will be thrust into elected positions in the future.
Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant was elected to Seattle City Council in 2013 and reelected in 2015. She has been a staunch fighter for all working class people in Seattle and beyond.
She played a leading role in the successful fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage in the city which has lifted thousands of low paid workers, a majority women, out of poverty.
But as Kshama has written: "My being a woman and a person of colour was not unimportant, but my emphasis was then and is now, as one of the only elected US socialists, on the political ideas I advocate for in the interests of working people and all the oppressed."
The Socialist Party and Socialist Alternative think working class people, including women, need more than representation in capitalist political institutions; more than equal (low) pay; more than an end to cuts to domestic violence services.
We fight for a socialist alternative to the capitalist system which propagates the oppression of women. If the working class collectively owned and democratically controlled the banks and biggest corporations, we could plan resources and production to meet the needs of the majority rather than produce profit for the few.
This would ensure all material needs could be met and would begin to undermine the basis for sexist ideas and the oppression of women as a whole.
- For more on identity politics, see 'Unpacking the rucksack: Identity politics and the struggle against oppression' by Hannah Sell at www.socialismtoday.org/192/identity.html
International Women's Day
International Women's Day takes place on 8 March. The Socialist fights to end the oppression of women, and the root cause of all oppression: capitalism.
We stand in the tradition of International Women's Day's originators. Militant women textile workers in the United States marched for the vote and an end to child labour in 1908. They struck against sweatshop conditions in 1909 to 1910. Coordinated, escalating strike action, and a political alternative to the establishment's sexist, anti-worker programme, are just as necessary today.