Reply to Bob Gould: sexism and the working class

Kim Bullimore k_bullimore at
Sat Nov 23 18:34:17 MST 2002

Once again Bob Gould distorts my contribution to suit his own ends.

In the exchange on sexism and the working class, which took place between
Tom O'Lincoln and myself  I did not make any comments on the issue of the
"labor aristocracy" (the exchange just happened to be posted under a subject
title which included reference to the labor aristocracy, obviously this
enough to confuse Bob to think I was making some profound comment on the
discussion on labor aristocracy, which I wasn't - hopefully my current
subject title will not prove so confusing for Bob).

I had originally responded to a post from Tom,  in which he cited the issues
of sexism and racism in relation to a point he made, by asking him a
question about "privilege".

At no time during the exchange did I imply or even say that I thought, as
Bob puts it, that "the existence of these problems [ie sexism and racism]
destroy the objectively progressive role of the organised working class".

What I pointed out in the exchange was that UNTIL working class men DEVELOP
a class consciousness and "break with sexist ideas they will continue to put
their interests as individual men above that of working class women and
their class".

The point both Bob and Tom chose to ignore was the key phase "until working
class men DEVELOP  a class consciousness". It is economistic to argue that
w/class men (or women for that matter) automatically have a class
consciousness.  As Lenin pointed out in "What is to be done?"…. "working
class consciousness cannot is not genuine political consciousness unless the
workers are trained to respond to all cases, without exception, of tyranny,
oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected".

I was simply arguing here that until w/class men develop a class
consciousness, many of them will put their interests as individual men above
not only working class women, but the class as a whole.

I never implied that, as Bob argues that "the existence of these problems
destroy the objectively progressive role of the organised working class" or
that we should "repudiate the organised workers' movement as a force for
social change".

What I did point out, however, was that the  that working class men receive
a * relative * privilege - although this privilege was far short of the
privileges enjoyed by the capitalist class because of their exploitation of
the working class as a whole and that "working class men, of course have
much more to gain by swapping the meagre privilege they receive for the far
preferable gain of class solidarity.

This * relative * privilege is an institutionalised one, that is, because of
capitalism and sexism, working class men do receive benefits that working
class women don't - for example w/class men receive better wages, better
jobs etc, better education, they don't carry the primary responsibility for
care for the age, the young or the sick or for domestic duties etc.  Women
on the other hand receive lower wages, usually do crappier jobs - such as
cleaning, outwork for garment industry or make up the majority of the
casualised workforce or are part of a work force which is socially
undervalued such as nursing, secretarial work, teaching etc  - all of which
receive lower wages

The question I asked Tom and I will reiterate to Bob, is are you denying
these facts?  The objective and concrete reality is that w/class men do
receive a * relative * privilege as compared to working class women -
w/class men as I said have better wages, better jobs, better education -
w/class women don't.  W/class men do not carrying the primary responsibility
for care for the age, the young, the sick and domestic duties - w/class
women do.

The recognition of these meagre privileges, however, does not mean that I am
endorsing it.  As I said in my other post, in recognising it, all we are
doing is recognising that it exists and means that we have to organise to
patiently explain to male workers or to working class whites that these
meagre material  privileges are just  bread crumbs and are not REAL
privileges  and they have more to win by giving up these meagre privileges.

The DSP or myself have never counterposed this understanding to building a
progressive united working class movement.  As our many women comrades can
attest, we have spent years arguing in the women's liberation movement for a
broader movement which includes working class  men and which takes a stand
in solidarity with the working class.

Bob writes:
"Racism and sexism are no longer dominant in the trade union movement"

Kim writes:
Bob have you been down to a picket line lately or been following the
factional struggle in the AMWU ?  It may not necessarily be as dominant as
it once was, but it still exists.

For example, during the wharf dispute in 1998, I spent several days on the
picket lines (at the time I was living in Canberra but travelled to Sydney
with other comrades to support the MUA).  As Australian comrades will know,
many of the scabs who were employed by Patrick were South Pacific Islanders.
  The amount of racist abuse hurled at these scabs was incredible.

At one point, I went up to one of the MUA organisers and politely pointed
out that while I understand that unionists were pissed off and entitled to
vent their anger at the scabs, that use of  racist and sexist language would
not help their cause, but instead it could have the effect of alienating
many of their supporters.  As an Aboriginal woman, I pointed out that there
indeed many Aboriginals and people of colour who supported the MUA but would
be alienated by racist language and that the same went for women.  The
sexist and racist language died down for about an hour as a result of this
exchange, but soon came to dominant the exchanges with the scabs again.

My partner at the time also spent a considerable amount of time on the docks
  and  she similarly had several long conversations with wharfies about the
sexist language and homophobic language and the use of such words as
"cunts", "fags" etc.

This comrade is now works in a blue-collar industrial job which is dominated
by male workers, many whom are in the union and despite the fact she has won
the respect of many of her fellow workers, she still comes up against sexism
on the job and in her trade union.   Several months ago some of her fellow
union delegates tried to discredit and undermine  her political support for
Craig Johnson and the Workers First team by telling other unionists,
including her current partner, she was only supporting Johnson because she
was supposedly sleeping with him.

In his factional fight with Craig Johnson, the national secretary of the
AMWU, Doug Cameron and his faction used a charge of "gross sexual
misconduct" to try and oust Johnson.    This line of attack  continued to be
pursued, even when the woman signed a declaration saying that the charges
were not true and that she had been pressured into making up the charges
against Johnson.   As one Victorian comrade who is an trade unionist and an
"independent" in the Socialist Alliance pointed out, a woman's  body was
being used as a weapon in a factional fight.   Claims of sexual harassment
and assault are things which are serious and should be taken seriously.  By
"crying wolf" and using false allegations to try and sideline a factionally
opponent, it makes it even harder for women trade unionists, who may bring
case of genuine sexual harrasment and assault, to not only be believed but
also make it more difficult for them to come forward.

Many trade unionists do have a trade union consciousness, but many of them
still do not yet have a class consciousness and this is evident by the fact
that many of them still subscribe to racist and sexist language and have
racist and sexist attitudes (as can be seen by the above examples, and why
so many of them  voted for Pauline Hanson and why they supported John Howard
at the last election).

However, none of this disminishes the fact that the working class is the
class which has revolutionary potential and that the organised working class
is has potential to be a progressive force for change.  In recognising that
sexist and racist ideas are still abscribed to by many  members of the
working class (who have not yet gained or developed a class consciousness),
all we are doing is recognise that we need to, as Lenin argued, "to
patiently explain" that sexism and racism are used to divide the working
class and that we have much more to gain by standing in solidarity with each
other against the common oppressor.

Kim Bullimore

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