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How do we get rid of oppression?

This article is over 10 years, 2 months old
In the final part of our series Jo Cardwell argues that united working class struggle is the key to winning women’s liberation
Issue 2293

Some feminists and academics see class as just another inequality.

But for Marxists class division is not only the root of oppression, it also opens up the possibility of ending oppression.

Class is an economic and social relationship.

Under capitalism class is defined by profit and commodity production.

Capitalism can’t exist without bosses and workers, and bosses can’t make profit unless they exploit workers.

But the revolutionary Karl Marx argued that the working class has the power to bring down the system. So capitalism creates its own gravedigger.

This is why divide and rule is a central element of capitalism.

If workers can be encouraged to blame each other for their conditions instead of the bosses, the capitalist class can better maintain its rule.

Women’s oppression is rooted in the structure of the family that developed as classes emerged. This structure became essential to the maintenance of society.

It ensured that the next generation of workers would be produced.

The family today is often far from the nuclear model we are all supposed to aspire to. But it still plays a vital role in maintaining capitalism.

If you see the family as an economic unit, it saves the state billions. Women care for children, and sick and older relatives, for free.

When David Cameron bangs on about family values he has an agenda.

He wants families to carry the burden created from his slashing of public services—and will blame their lack of “morals” if they don’t.

And right wingers use the family as a social and ideological tool to discipline the working class as a whole. They blame parents for the problems of society and single out certain family structures, such as one-parent families or gay relationships, for attack.

Oppression affects all women, but the experience is vastly different depending on class.

The families of the ruling class are nothing like most people’s.

Nannies raise the children of the rich and their parents send them to boarding schools. They don’t face the same economic pressures as the rest of us.

That’s why Marxists question the idea of fighting for equality on gender terms.

Previous women’s liberation movements have secured important changes for women. But just fighting for equality can never be enough for working class women.

For middle and upper class women, earning the same as a man means earning a significant wage. For working class women, wage equality would still mean poor wages.

And women’s lives and life chances have changed most dramatically when collective class struggle has been at its height.

For example, the turning point in the fight to defend abortion rights came when trade unions mobilised and men marched alongside women.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 transformed women’s lives. For the first time women had access to abortion and divorce on demand.

And socialised childcare and kitchens made caring for children and feeding a family the responsibility of society, not individual women.

Today it’s easy to see that working class women are most likely to improve their lives by fighting alongside working class men.

Most of those who struck on 30 November last year were women. Women are at the heart of the working class. This means they are central to the single force in society that has the potential to overthrow the system.

The influx of women into the workforce over the last few decades has challenged ideas about women’s role in society.

But it’s when workers fight back that they can overcome the ideas that divide us.

Workers have to organise collectively to defend their rights and fight to get more out of the system.

When workers organise together their ideas change. Struggle exposes how the ruling class has a real interest in maintaining divisions—and who the real enemy is.

Working class people—men and women—have the collective power to transform the system economically. And in doing so, they can end oppression for good.

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