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Productivity drive will mean more stress for women

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Issue 1754

What socialists say

Productivity drive will mean more stress for women

By Hazel Croft

“WORKING Mothers Are Stressed And Exhausted.” That was just one of the headlines that greeted a new survey of working women by health magazine Top Sant. This probably confirms what many of us already know only too well through trying to work while looking after children when affordable childcare is hard to come by.

But it is a message that has fallen on deaf ears as far as the “family friendly” New Labour government is concerned. Tony Blair’s answer is the mantra of more “flexible working”. When Blair talks of “flexibility” he conjures up an image where women, and men, choose their working hours to fit round their partner and looking after their children.

The very opposite is the case. Look at the pressures working women identified in the Top Sant… survey. Some 93 percent of women frequently felt under stress trying to balance work with childcare. Over 90 percent of mothers who worked full time said life is much harder than they ever imagined. And almost as many said stress causes them to shout frequently at their children. Many suffered with headaches, exhaustion, backache, anxiety and insomnia.

These pressures are precisely the result of the increasing trend to squeeze more profits by demanding more “flexibility” and longer working hours. Blair’s flexibility means bending to suit the often impossible demands of your employer. Bosses often will not agree a schedule that enables you to pick up the children from school. This pressure is particularly acute for women.

Today more women are working outside the home than ever before. Some 12.5 million women now have jobs, nearly a million more than ten years ago. Some 65 percent of mothers work outside the home, as do half of all mothers with children under five. Yet in capitalist society women face a double burden of work and home.

Women are still expected to play the main role in bringing up and looking after children. It suits the capitalists, and the New Labour government in hock to them, for the responsibility for children to be pushed onto individuals, usually women, in the home.

So there is no comprehensive, free childcare service, and a pitiful number of workplaces provide nurseries. Women’s mass entry into the workforce has undoubtedly been a huge step forward, and has heralded a huge change in attitudes about women’s role in society.

The vast majority of people no longer think women should be chained to the kitchen sink, and subservient to the needs of their husbands and children. And in families where women work, their husbands and partners are far more likely to play a role in looking after children and in doing housework.

One survey found in 36 percent of families where both the man and woman worked, it was the father more than any other individual who helped care for the children. But the structure of the capitalist system makes it impossible for women to play a truly equal role in society. Moreover, Blair and New Labour’s mania for deregulation, privatisation and flexibility is making it harder for men and women to play equal roles at home.

Take working hours. Both men’s and women’s working hours have increased dramatically. A third of mothers now work over 40 hours a week while fathers work, on average, 47 hours a week.

Similarly Blair’s quest to privatise more and more areas of the welfare state will mean fewer local authority nurseries, and fewer community facilities for parents and children. It is no wonder that in the Top Sant survey 43 percent of women said they would prefer full time motherhood. This doesn’t mean that women want to turn the clock back to a time when women stayed at home. Rather it reflects a grim picture of the reality of the capitalist marketplace.

The bosses don’t give a damn about the quality of workers’ lives as long as they turn up fit enough to put in a hard day’s, or night’s, labour. What is amazing is how well couples manage to cope when all the odds are stacked against them. New Labour is only too willing to throw the blame back at the parents if children steal or take drugs or fail the many tests at school. But the truth is New Labour is following policies which make family breakdown, crime and despair much more likely.

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