Last week I addressed an International Women's Day anniversary meeting in the European Parliament. The meeting was called by the United Left group, of which Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins (CWI Ireland) is a member, to discuss how the economic crisis is affecting women and what the left should be doing about it.
The first session focused on the effects of the crisis. The way the whole structure of the economy works to keep women at a financial disadvantage was pointed out. For example productivity bonuses mean many women will inevitably earn less when taking time off during pregnancy. Many of the contributions mentioned class, socialism and capitalism.
The German delegation reported that there is still a 23% pay gap in Germany, supposedly one of the most developed countries in the world.
Women in essence now have two jobs, since they have been brought into the labour market but are also still expected to do the majority of housework. In Italy, for example, women spend an hour and a half more than men every day working, training or doing housework.
The second session centred on solutions to these problems. However, apart from the three members of the CWI who spoke, very few of the politicians present proposed anything concrete. In response to a point about the pensions crisis Joe Higgins argued that if the wealth in society were socialised, there would be plenty of resources to allow all men and women to retire comfortably at 55. Anja from Belgium called for the left to fight for a general strike of all workers to demand full employment and decent conditions.
I spoke on the need for a new electoral alternative in many European countries and spoke about the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Britain. I pointed out that while there are women standing for TUSC, unlike the neoliberal politicians we don't argue that they are good feminists by virtue of being female.
Rather, all those standing for TUSC, men and women, are good feminists by virtue of their policies. They will fight every cut to childcare and the NHS, demand investment into facilities for abused women and use every resource at their disposal to fight for every job and ensure a decent wage for all workers, regardless of part-time hours or temporary contracts.
It is only these sorts of concrete demands that can begin to change the conditions which mean disproportionate suffering for women 100 years after International Women's Day was initiated.