An important step to renew working class feminism
Between 4 and 6 October, the first gathering of the Women in struggle movement (MML) took place. MML is a movement of working class women which came about in 2010 and then affiliated itself with the left trade union federation CSP-Conlutas. In 2013 organized its first national meeting, with aim of establishing itself throughout Brazil.
In the current conjuncture, characterised by a return of mass struggle, this meeting showed the potential which exists among working class women to organise the struggle against sexism and capitalism linked to the fight for a socialist society.
The figures point to the setback we have suffered; the struggles show us the way forward
Figures released in September showed that on average in Brazil, women receive 72.9% less than men, a gap which has grown in recent years. According to the Minister for women’s policy, Eleonora Menicucci, a woman suffers violence in Brazil every 12 seconds and in the last 5 years, rapes have increased by 168%! It is enough to remember that all of this has taken place under the shadow of the so-called anti sexist violence ’Maria da Penha law’ and the regime of ’Lulaism’.
In the mass protests of June, women made up 60% of the demonstrators. We are a majority among education workers, struggling in the streets of Rio, and we will be protagonists of the coming struggles which, against the "mega-events", for health and education. We are, after all, without doubt those hardest hit by the policies of privatisation and attacks on social rights.
At this conjuncture, we should prepare to spread the movement and strengthen our struggle. We must create local groups, rank and file assemblies, which genuinely function and are engaged in dialogue with working class women, the social movements, and sectors of the feminist left.
In fact, this meeting represented a big victory for the working class women’s movement. The ’World Women’s March", a platform linked to the government, held an international meeting in September in Sao Paolo which 1,300 women attended. MML gathered 2,300 women in a city far from the big population centres, without the support structures which the pro-government movement enjoys!
The opening table reflected the plural nature of the movement and the left, with feminist health movements, campaigns for the legalisation of abortion, "slut walk" activists, social movements, trade unions and women activists from Brazil’s main left parties, PSOL and the PSTU.
LSR (CWI) activists were present, representing PSOL in the opening of the gathering, as well as intervening in the debates and helping to organize the event. There were 2 days of intense discussion and debate. At the end of the gathering, we left with the task of organizing a national campaign against violence against women, re-organising the MML, intervening in broad fronts and participate in movements against the government in the next period.
A national executive of 15 people was elected, which includes LSR members Jane Barros and Katia Sales as full members and Mariana Cristina and Maria Clara as supplement members.
Main debates in the MML
The gathering was dominated by members of the PSTU (LIT), despite the majority attending not being members of this party. Apart from the CWI, other groups – LER-QI, MRS, Espaco socialista (splits from the PSTU) and regional women’s groups. These organisations put together represented a small minority of the meeting.
The event must be described as a success, despite the fact that PSTU members more or less turned it into a mere forum for agitation and propaganda, relegating political debate to a secondary status, justifying this on grounds that those in attendance were not capable of understanding the debates! They thus proceeded to go over the heads of the meeting, blocking the possibility of discussion on perspectives and organisation from the floor following the main speeches.
In the debate on the national situation, there was a general agreement on how to characterise the Dilma government, the importance of the June movement and the perspective of an upturn in struggle in 2014, especially in the capital cities around the World Cup. The main debates at the meeting were over the questions of how to organise the women’s movement, the special police stations set up to combat violence against women, and on the current situation in Syria.
Despite a general agreement on the question of the Dilma government, there are disagreements on our conception of the women’s movement, especially with the PSTU. For LSR, the working class feminist movement has the task of fighting for the leadership of the entire women’s movement, under our banner of struggle. We therefore emphasise the need for interventions in broad feminist fronts with the aim of winning over sections of the movement to socialist feminism.
We advocate that women must have room for self-organisation and defended that in the gathering. For us, the Brazilian section of the CWI, the full emancipation of women can only be achieved by overthrowing capitalism, in a united struggle of the working class: a step forward for women is never a step backwards for men. However, for such a struggle to develop, working class women must become conscious, and develop themselves as fighters in the anti-capitalist struggle. There is much sexism in the left, which can often serve to hold back working class women from building the struggle.
On the question of the special "police stations for women", we defend their maintenance and extension. These special stations currently almost do not exist because of cuts, despite having been approved by law.
In the debate about Syria, we were accused, by a Syrian activist, of being out of touch with the class struggle and the revolutionary situation in Syria today. Lenin was used to paint us as ultra-lefts. We responded to this opposing the LIT’s characterisation of the current Syrian process as a revolution, and that therefore arms should to be sent to the rebels.
We responded to these attacks in a plenary session, explaining the danger of making mistaken characterisations of revolutionary processes. The development of a sectarian civil war points to the necessity of workers’ self-organisation. Many in the plenary abstained from voting on this question, which shows the complexity of the issue. However, this position of the LIT could not just have been approved without discussion, as discussing revolutionary methods is key to the anti-capitalist movement.
This meeting was one of the best organised and most representative national events in which we have participated. Our intervention was also very well organised, with all comrades taking up tasks and drawing up rotas. We had daily meetings before and after the event’s activities.
The speeches our comrades made in sessions on the current situation and on organization were important to raise our profile and distinguish ourselves from other positions. We presents ourselves both as of PSOL and of LSR, helped us to attract a number of contacts.
It was important, at the beginning of the meeting to clarify that PSOL’s women’s caucus is opposed to the “Jean Willys project” (to regulate prostitution). This gave us credibility in the debate. We organised a meeting on the Saturday night under the banner of PSOL women, to which new contacts came. We also made contact with a number of women trade unionists in struggle in various important cities.
Over the weekend, we distributed 1,700 leaflets and many people stopped us to pass comment on our speeches and discuss with us about the politics of the women’s movement. We raised 2,560 reais on our stall.
A step forward for women is not a backwards step for men!
As Alexandra Kolontai pointed out, the advancement of women is a condition for the emancipation of the working class, which of course is not thinkable on the basis of capitalism. In this way, the struggle for socialism is also a condition. Working class women must be at the heart and in the leadership of this struggle. And thus, it is necessary for women’s self-organisation, in order to guarantee that the agenda of the working class feminist movement, which is not secondary to the class struggle, is incorporated in the workers’ movement as a whole.
This first meeting of the MML is very significant, as it shows that working class women are willing to build the struggle and decide its path. The MML has been able to prove that a space exists for working class feminism, which is not divisive, but is combative. This follows the last years of experience of the pro-government women’s movements, with many drawing the conclusion that these did not represent them.
The task is now to return to the rank and file and build and consolidate the MML, in the states and regions, to dialogue with working class women and strengthen the bonds between them to prepare for the class struggle. We left the meeting content, with dozens of contacts from all over the country, and determined to continue with the necessary tasks and build the working class feminist movement. As the meeting agreed, we will take the fight against violence against women to the streets as the next step!