They challenge the validity of an autonomous women’s movement either directly or (by treating women, a specially exploited section of the class, as marginal) indirectly. For them the “real” working class is white, male and over thirty. Here racism, male supremacy and age supremacy have a common lineage. They effectively want to make us auxiliary to the “general- struggle – as if they represented the generalisation of the struggle; as if there could be a generalised struggle without women, without men joining with women for women’s demands. A major issue on which we have swallowed their orientation and been co-opted to defeat our own movement has been on the question of unionising women. We are told that we must bring women to what is called a “trade union consciousness”. This phrase is Lenin’s and it comes from a pamphlet called “What is to be done.In many ways it is a brilliant pamphlet, but it was written in the early days of the Russian movement, in 1902. Lenin learnt from the workers and peasants of Russia in 1905 and 1917 and repudiated a good deal of what he wrote before these two revolutions. Left people do not speak of Lenin’s labor conclusions, and in my view much of what passes for left theory (and practice) today is pre-1902. In 1972 this is a serious charge, and I think it can be proved. They can read Lenin and quote him. But unlike Lenin, they are not able to learn from the actions that workers take.

Selma James: Women, the Unions, and Work; Or, What is Not to Be Done.

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