Tag Archives: Women’s Voice

Our History Our Future (Women’s Voice, 1978)

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Our history/our future

International Women’s Day, 8 March, is a tribute to our history and a celebration of our future.

On 8 March 1908, in New York, 15,000 women garment workers marched the streets.  \they were young, mostly under 21, foreign born and speaking many languages.  They were united and militant.  Many were revolutionary socialists.  And they were women.

For ten or twelve hours a day they worked in tiny, dirty, suffocating factories.  The doors and windows were locked from the outside.  There were no toilets or teabreaks and talking was forbidden.  Many would be blind by the age of 25-sewing tiny beads onto the finery of the wealthy.

But they knew hope as well as drudgery.  In their thousands they responded to the Socialist Party call, and marched through New York demanding equal pay, nurseries for working mothers, an end to sweatshop conditions and the right to organise into trade unions.

Their militancy inspired the declaration of ‘Working Women’s Day ‘ on 8 March.  Two years later, Clara Zetkin, revolutionary leader of the German women’s movement, called on all socialists to celebrate that day as International Women’s Day.

The New York garment workers went on to lead the ‘Uprising of the 40,000’-a general strike in the clothing industry in 1912.  Their action paved the way for the founding of one of the first industrial unions in the United States.

Seventy years on from that first march, women round the world are still fighting for freedom and a decent life.  Here is one more chapter in that history.

GEORGIA Ellis lives in Elwood, Indiana, a bleak factory town of about 12,000 people just north of Indianapolis.  She has worked at Essex Wire for over 10 years.  Last April the 220 workers there, members of the United Automobile Workers Union, (UAW) decided to strike.  They wanted more money, better sick pay and a pension.  It was a long and bitter strike.  In the nine months they were out the strikers, mostly women, were beaten up, shot at, and hosed down in some of the bloodiest battles in recent American labor history.  In January, just a few weeks after the settlement, we sat around the wood stove in Georgia’s kitchen and listened to her talk about the strike.

The problem was, we didn’t know how to run a strike.  Older people,  we’ve led a pretty sheltered life in a small town, most of us.  We just went to work and took our pay and came home.

Most of the union branches that supported us heard about it or read about it in the paper and called and volunteered.  But the UAW Regional Office asked them not to get involved, not to send men in, that would cause trouble.

‘In  Elwood, you got people on both sides.  To some people the word strike is dirty.  A lot of our shopkeepers were very much behind us.  They gave us food, they gave us leftovers at the end of the day.

‘But here was also terrible violence, terrible brutality against us.  When the scabs started coming in they would have tyre tools, ball bats and even guns.  At first they just hit a lot of us and if we’d get anywhere near they’d go out of their way to bump us with their cars.  We had one man hit by a lorry.  He was hurt pretty badly.

‘My picket team was four older women and two men.  Once there were just we four women sitting around a fire and suddenly-I thought it was fire crackers-and I started to laugh about it and my friend said, ‘That’s not fire crackers, that’s a gun! And shot thudded into the log.

‘The courts and the police were very much biased against us.  Very much.  Most of our laws, of course, are with the corporations.  We didn’t have any idea of that before.  We thought the policeman’s your friend.  If somebody’s up there roughing up a 60-year-old woman, you call a policeman.  But when the policeman does it you don’t know quite what to do.

‘Early in July we decided that was the end of it, we just determined they were not going to have scab labour.  So we got about 250 people down there, UAW people, townspeople, our people and when one of the cars came out-it was a foreman’s car-we bombarded it.  And then they took all of the scab labour out of the plant and they left 11 people in.

‘One night there were about seven people on the picket line and about 2 o’clock in the morning they heard a disturbance down at the gate.  When they went down to see what was going on the guards turned fire hoses on them and knocked them down.  Then about 30 guys came out of the plant and they had great huge shields made of plexi-glass and big clubs and they fell on these people and they fell on these people and just beat the livin’ daylights out of them.  One man had a heart attack and had to be put in intensive care.  One of our women got hit in the face with a rock.

‘So we call all our people out on 8 hour picket, as many as possible out there to protect our people.  During the next two days, they shot as us almost constantly.  At night they fired rockets up like a battlefield and they would light up the whole area and then shoot at you.  Most of us tried to wear dark clothing and stay back in dark corners so they couldn’t see us.

‘That night they shot at us and the next day their supply helicopter came in and we ran down to the corner of the fence to take a picture of it.  As I aimed the camera, the plant door opened and a guard fired a shotgun directly at us.  We just ran.  Three of our girls were on the railroad and the foreman shot directly at them.  They had to fall down on the track to keep from getting hit.

The next night was when Carol Fry got shot.  She had her back turned toward the factory and they heard two shots in rapid succession.  And Carol screamed she’d been shot and there was blood from the back of her hair clear down over her hips.  There were bullets hitting the bus and her husband crawled under a hail of bullets to call an ambulance.  She was taken to the hospital with a bullet lodged next to her spine, and it’s still there.  Of course the union hasn’t done much for her.  As it is, she could turn the wrong way and that bullet could sever her spine.  She could be paralysed.  The rest of us-we’ll manage, but it could have been any one of us.  Last Friday night a bunch of our members who are back to work contributed a dollar a piece, those of us that had it, to Carol.

I was pretty vocal during the strike and they sent a man out to my home.  He broke in and beat me pretty badly.  As it turned out I had a cracked jaw, a cracked jawbone, and a little nerve damage and I was all black and blue, but I come through pretty good.  When the policeman came he said I was hysterical and he would come back the next day when I got out of the hospital and talk to me.  But he never came back, they never questioned the neighbours and they never took fingerprints.  The county police put out a report that their “investigation” showed it couldn’t have been strike related.

The Union kept trying to get us to accept the company’s offer.  We had several votes and every time we turned it down.  In fact, when the Regional Director came and told us we had to buy it our people just locked arms and sang ‘Solidarity Forever’.  He finally shut up and we just booed him clear off the stage.  It was the only time we actually met him, he never even came down to see about our strike.

The union finally sent seven people down from the headquarters in Detroit.  They simply told us that they had done all they could, they said there was no point wanted to discuss it, and they said there was no point in discussing it.  Well, everybody was crying, we didn’t know what to do.  We were scared and we knew that if we didn’t go back, they were just going to have enough scabs in there that none of us would have a job.  So we went back.

‘The greatest thing we got out of this is being together and helping each other, something we never had in the plant.  We had little cliques, little groups that picked at each other.

‘But yet when we were all out there with the same problem, facing the same enemy with the same finances we were ready to help each other.  And we worked together and it was a beautiful thing.  They brought things from their gardens and shared and they brought clothes for each other’s kids and they were really tremendous, it was great.

The Union’s going to find out it isn’t over, because I don’t intend to let it be over and a number of other people don’t.  Nothing was ever given to the labour movement.  It all had to be bought and it was paid for damn dearly, and I think it’s going to have to be paid for even more.  We’re just going to have to prove we have enough courage to do it.’

by Celia Petty

Womens Voice 10, 15 March 1978

typed by Sarah Piggott

Toys (Women’s Voice 1981)

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Millions of toys will change hands this Christmas. In money terms they will represent about half the £700 million which it is estimated that the British toys and games market is worth. But this year the Christmas offensive by the toy firms will be more desperate than usual.

The British toy form Lesney has announced that it continues to make a loss, while Japanese toy exports are up 96 per cent.

Radical changes are occurring in the kinds of toys which children (and their parents) buy. Traditional toys are being replaced by space age gadgets and electronic games and this has a devastating effect on the British toy industry. Airfix—the firm that makes Meccano and Great Model Railways—has collapsed, to be taken over by the American firm which makes Action Man and Star Wars. And while Lesneys trebled their losses, the American firm Fisher Price announced that it is to treble its factory size in Britain.

Toy imports from Japan and America have been rising steadily ever since 1975. But there is little mileage to be gained from simply seeing this as yet another area in which outmoded British industry is being over taken by the Americans and the Japanese.

What is interesting is to look at the kinds of new toys that we are buying now and thinking about how that affects children.

Toys have existed in every civilisation. Remarkably, there was little variation in the basic kinds of toys which appeared in different societies in the past. Balls, rattles and even yo-yos turn up in different places, not in sequence but often centuries apart as do dolls.

The first toy industry developed in Germany. Craftsmen began to produce toys for sale, making the newly invented optical toys and mechanical models of the period, as well as traditional dolls’ houses and dolls. Gradually factories for manufacturing toys were built. By the beginning of the twentieth century, toy making was one of Germany’s most important industries. One quarter of the toys were exported to America.

The embargo on imports from Germany during the First World War sparked an independent toy industry outside Germany. In America mothers even destroyed toys with a ‘Made in Germany’ label on them.

After the war, in the 1920s, there was a move away from war toys and tin soldiers. This trend was to be reversed during the 30s when re-armament stimulated the production of toy anti-aircraft guns, searchlights and barrage balloons.

But an important development was taking place at the same time. The work of the educationalist Froebel in the latter half of the nineteenth century and of Maria Montessori in the 1920s stimulated interest in toys and their effects on children’s ideas. Froebel stressed that children learned through discovery. Maria Montessori believed that children wanted to ‘work’ rather than ‘play’. Such ideas led to the production of the first educational toys.

Firms like Fisher Price now flourish producing just these kinds of toys. Fisher Price are famous for their bright coloured and durable toys for nursery age children. The successful formula is no accident. The toys are designed after intensive investigations and observations of children’s play. The company runs a nursery in New York where children are observed playing with Fisher Price toys through a one-way mirror. The observations are interpreted and passed on by a psychologist employed by the company. The result—an immensely successful ‘scientific’ commercial venture.

This scientific approach to toys is worrying. The problem is not the slick high-pressure research and marketing techniques—capitalists use such methods everywhere. What bothers me is that this approach to toys profoundly affects the way our children experience the world. Toys are essential to children’s mental and physical development. Some aspects of this are obvious—learning to manipulate and handle various materials for example. What is less obvious are the ways in which toys enable children to adjust to society.

If you think about it the limitations of the world imposed by rigid models like dolls’ houses or toy hospitals are infinitely greater than those imposed by balls or tops which leave children a great deal of scope for learning about the world through experiencing it, rather than seeing its values in miniature in their toys. That’s not being anti-toy. But the more complex the toy, the more rigid the set of ideas it imposes upon a child. And the trend as shown by the profit figures, does seem to be toward more complex toys.

Feminists have long pointed to the way that ‘dolls for girls’ forces sexual stereotypes onto young women. The solution to that is not simply ‘dolls for boys’. All the toys we give our children reflect the values of the society we live in. When buying toys for children we should bear that in mind. Kids need room to think as well as being in touch with the latest developments. Complicated educational toys could stifle rather than help our children precisely because they are so exactly researched.

Anna Paczuska

‘Wreckers in Coventry: No Christmas money for the kids’ (Women’s Voice, 1975)

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CHRISTMAS IS coming and the goose is getting fat… Not in my house it isn’t – nor I’m sure in the houses of a few thousand other women, whose husbands work in Chrysler, Coventry. They’re being laid off because there’s no work – or so they’re told.

This week my husband who works at the Stoke engine plant is off for one whole week. After that it’ll probably be one week in, one week out till God knows when. At the moment he receives lay-off pay of 70 per cent of the basic wage. To some people that may seem fair enough – but when you get used to a certain amount each week, it’s difficult to accept a cut. And the lay-off pay soon runs out – they’re only allowed so many hours. Then they’ll join the one million or so unemployed on the dole.

For me these lay-offs mean I’ve had to go out and get a job – cleaning, which I loathe. The money I earn isn’t for the little extras I wanted to buy for my kids’ Christmas, but to supplement the loss of the old man’s wage.

Everyone in Coventry seems to be in the same boat. A couple of months ago, I used to go and browse through second-hand shops to pass a bit of time. Now I find myself queuing up outside to see if I can get something for my kids. My situation is bad but I know friends who are worse off than me. One of them has a mortgage of £80 a month. And believe me, she doesn’t live in a mansion. Rates are £12 plus gas and electricity. She has a six month old baby, and is now having to think about going out to work. The sort of job she’ll get is one where she already knows someone to get her in. At the moment the only thing open to her is auxiliary nursing working nights.

I could go on writing about situations like this all day, but the more I think about it the more worried and depressed I get. I know the situation is the same everywhere. Nothing will have changed in the households of the gaffers. I bet they’ll still have their fat turkeys and full Christmas stockings – got by stealing from the workers.

I hope they spare a thought for the hundreds of kids who through them, their ignorance and greed, will be facing the most dismal Christmas for a long time.

Women’s Voice – November 1975 (paper edition) No 23

By Maureen Enever

How to write, creche, meet

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As a last post before I go away for Xmas, I’m sharing pages from the “DIY” column of Women’s Voice magazine (you can click on them to enlarge). One on how to write, one how to run a creche, one on how to a street meeting, and one for nostalgists on how to use a manual duplicator. 

Here’s hoping that the best of the left can relearn this practical, “DIY”, culture  in 2014

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IMG_1975  IMG_1970

Col. Sanderson’s Chickens come Home to Roost (Women’s Voice 1980)

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GLORIA JORDEN has been on strike now for thirteen months. She is a mother of three daughters and a local lnternational Chemical Workers Union official. She has worked at Sanderson Farms for seven years. which she calls seven years of slavery. The factory in Laurel, Missisippi, USA, processes chickens. The owner whom the workers call ‘ole massa` rents the land from Jones County for $70 (£35) per month. Workers in the factory pay $l25 (£63) per month rent for a house.

208 workers, nearly all black women, walked out on strike after the ‘ole massa’ refused to negotiate a new contract.

Gloria starts work at 4 am and officially works an eight hour day. But the workers have to stay until the production line stops. One week Gloria worked 53 hours and her take home wage was $63 (£32). 68 chickens an hour pass down the production line. Gloria and another woman are expected to gut every chicken.

She told Womens Voice. ‘We’re fighting a just struggle for a contract. The boss, ‘ole massa`, has us chained like slaves through low money and long hours. What we are fighting for is simply humane working conditions.

‘A white woman complained to the foreman that the blood from the chickens was making her feel dizzy. The foreman ignored her. She fell right down on the concrete floor and sufferend concussion. All they give us to work in is a plastic apron once a month. They get torn in two days through scrubbing the blood off.

‘Before we went on strike our lunch break was cut from half an hour to twenty minutes and our coffee break from ten minutes to six. lt takes six minutes to wash the blood off you. Sanderson just wants to be a mass hero by union busting, That’s been an issue for 99 years. So we decided that Sanderson Farms weren’t going to operate in Jones County like that any longer. This is 1980 not the fifteenth century and l thought there was no such thing as slaveryl’

One rule in the factory is that you are only allowed to use the toilet three times a week during working hours.

One pregnant women who had already used the toilet three times, asked the foreman if she could leave the line and go again. She was refused. After waiting sometime she left the line without permission, and was found later to have miscarried.

Sanderson runs a multi-million dollar business – or sweatshop. Last year his ‘Miss Goldy’ and ‘Southern Beauty`chickens turned over $58 million (£29 million) in sales.

But it’s not only the anti-union owners the black workers have to put up with but also the Ku Klux Klan. Since the day of the strike Sanderson has kept his factory running by bussing in scabs from mainly outside Jones County. Most of the scab workers are black. They keep on working because of fear – of the Ku Klux Klan.

‘Emarine McGill’  said Gloria ‘wanted to quit working at the plant. She had the job of training the scabs. Every Friday she said she would quit, then one Friday she did. The following Tuesday her house was burnt down. She couldn’t get the fire service to come out to the fire. She phoned her mother, who was still working in the plant.  James White, a KKK foreman took the call, but he didn’t tell Nana May McGill for half an hour.  When she asked to go home he told her she could not leave as he had not replacement for her and that would mean the line would stop. The whole family is still working there.

The strikers picket for 24 hours a day, six days a week. They desperately need cash.

The fight of the Laurel women is a fight that affects all of us. It is a fight against racism. It is a fight against intimidation. lt is a fight against union busting. And it is a fight to control our every day working conditions.

When I was speaking to Gloria l could not help thinking of Grunwicks and the struggle there by Asian women to win the right to join a union. That strike too went on for many months. Why not discuss this strike in your Womens Voice Groups – and if you can’t afford a telegram why not write a note? These women need all the support they can get.

Maggie Rutter

Women’s Voice 42, June 1980

School dinners we’ve had our chips (Women’s Voice 1980)

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‘FOR DINNER I got eight chips and no beans and we were meant to have a choice of sausages or spam fritters. I chose spam but all I got was a piece of spam, no batter on it and I was starving so I went home and I got lots of chips and a fried egg and three sausages and beans. So that shows you the difference. (Tracey Carrol, aged 12, St Matthews School, Dundee.)

Tracey,  like many other kids, is talking about the difference between a meal and not a meal.  Many kids are not getting a proper dinner in school. The Tory cuts in education mean that Tracey has to wait till she gets home to get a decent meal.

Many other kids are not even getting a meal at all. School meals in some areas have gone up to 55p which means that many people cannot afford them. There have been drops of up to half on last terms numbers.

ln Dundee, mothers and kids are fighting back.

In the Whitfield Housing Scheme in Dundee, they started a campaign against totally inadequate school meals. Mothers picketted a school and lobbied the Dundee Council building. They are determined to win.

But its not only the kids who are suffering. By stepping up the prices of the meals, the government will turn round and say there’s no demand for meals and try to cut further jobs in schools. Most of the dinner ladies are in NUPE who fear that of the 50,000 women employed, more than half may find themselves unemployed.

Doris Lucas explains how their jobs in Northampton are under threat from the vicious Tory policies:

‘I work for Northampton County Council as a school dinner lady in a small village school. When I first started there three years ago seven of us made 240 dinners a day. When we started back after Easter when dinners went up from 35 pence a clay to 55 pence a day as part of the Tory cuts, we found ourselves required to make only 70 dinners a day, now most of the kids are bringing sandwiches. The staff was immediately cut by one with another on the way. Our hours of work have been cut as well.

The way things are going there won’t be a school meals service soon. and this at a time of growing unemployment when more and more families are too poor to provide meals at home. This also shows the nature of this vicious and petty anti-working-class government. They hit the weakest first, in this case, children, and at the same time a weak and scattered section of the workforce.

Women’s Voice 42, June 1980

Tales We Tell Our Sisters: A Typists’ Lot (Women’s Voice 1980)

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FOR THE last eight weeks I`ve been on a TOPS course. training to be a shorthand typist at Sight and Sound, a commercial college. lt’s a battery hen existence. You are taught by tapes. The only male presence in the place is that of a disembodied voice on your headphones giving shorthand theory, dictation, and spelling out the letters to type at ever increasing speeds.

We tend to fantasise about this voice. I reckon it belongs to James Parkes – one of the co-founders of Sight and Sound. who invented their audio- visual system of teaching after being given typing lessons as therapy when suffering shell shock from a torpedo attack!

I have learnt to type and take shorthand but not to contain my irritation at the attitude to women that the course conveys. lt could be intentional. Maybe the office world is full of petty sexism. The earliest example was plausible enough. One of the first phrases the voice in the machine dictated was: ‘Type the memo quickly, pet’. but it still irked. “Yes.” I thought. “type the memo, pet, you domesticated animal you. Type it quickly because time is precious.”

Anyway, the shorthand became more complex. We started to receive the gospel
according to Mr Sight and Sound – little aphorisms to translate into shorthand such as: ‘I never met a woman who was a good cook, who was divorced, unmarried or even widowed.” Well. now we know the secret of how to get our man. Maybe I should change to a catering course. Worse was to come. These were, after all.,only the pithy sayings of a man the war had treated badly. Then the secretarial training began. For some reason personal appearance figured largely in this: lessons were devoted to it. Little tips like ‘bathe regularly’ and ‘remember if you wear nail polish. make sure it matches your clothes.’

We liked this one: ‘Neatness: wear light natural make up and have conservatively styled clothing and hair do.`

We were shown cartoons to guide us towards the kind of looks we should cultivate in our new occupation. Of course Painted Dolly was the one to avoid. and Well Groomed Sue, obviously part of the Jaeger set (on her wages?) was the paragon of the three. But Plain Jane mystified us. What is wrong with short straight hair, no make up and glasses?

Mind you. some of the advice was so peculiar that a sort of game started: find the pettiest piece of advice.
Joint winners were:
*Interviews: our advice is not to cross your legs.
*Telephone calls: your tone of voice is important when making a call-SMILE!

We found out what happened to unsmiling, Plain Jane when she somehow did manage to get a job, by the way. One letter dictation complained of a secretary who was very status conscious and resented making her boss a cup of coffee. ‘She feels she is far too important to do such menial tasks! Well, she had to go. didn’t she?

Somehow. l don’t think l‘m going to make the grade either.

The course has helped me to build up a picture of the sort of person that l should have to be in the office world: a submissive, clean, well-dressed, well-spoken. smiling, not-too-sexy, not-too-drab tea-maker! My duties will be filing, typing (immaculately), taking dictation (have you ever thought about that word?), taking phone calls and receiving visitors – possibly telling them little white lies to protect the boss, keeping an engagement diary, reminding the boss of anything from an appointment to his wife’s birthday.

It reminds me of housework. in a way. You complete it one day. only to be assailed the next day by exactly the same tasks-you never actually get anywhere.

Being a secretary has been `women`s work’ for over fifty years. There are Company Secretaries who are mostly men but they are not quite the same thing. Similarly the work done by the County Clerk is not to be confused with most clerking jobs. _
Secretarial posts used to be a male bastion-from the time when clerics administered for the medieval church-to the middle of the nineteenth century. With the Industrial Revolution. the rapidly expanding world of industry and commerce lowered the barriers and let women enter the office-for all the usual reasons. a shortage of qualified men. and lower wage demands from women.

But women didn’t exactly take on the jobs previously done by men. The whole structure of office work was altered so that women were allotted the routine and subservient functions whilst men were ‘freed` for higher things-middle management and specializations which became professions like accountancy. personnel work. etc. and the gulf in terms of status and pay between these positions and the mainly female side is still growing.

One final scene: two of us were given a shorthand dictation test by a member of staff. lt started: ‘Some men are always in the news. Their faces smiling at us from newspapers and tv screens as they dash from one high-powered meeting to another. The interesting things is that all these men say, without any doubt, that they could not cope with their fast moving businesses and social lives without the help of one vital person – their…. SECRETARY _ _ .`

At this point the test was abandoned as we were both laughing so much _ _ _ but is it so funny?

Sarah Stone
Women’s Voice 40, May 1980

Victims of Ancient Ideas

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Women are often thought to be religious, conservative and reluctant to change. For example many sisters including Iranians who have been in this country for some time, still believe that Iranian women who in their thousands took part in the so-called Islamic revolution did so because they were superstitiously religious and wanted to bring about an Islamic order of society. But this is far from the truth.

For many people in Iran, it seemed logical that any government which succeeded that of the late Shah, would be democratic and that Khomeini’s main aim would be to bring about an improvement in economic conditions for working people. To some extent women were interested in aspects of Islam but what they had in mind was very different to what Khomeini and his provisional government intended, and many women feel that they have been cheated by his policies.

To our sisters in Iran (though not any longer) an end to poverty, starvation and homelessness seemed in sight. Most important of all, an end to torture of their sisters and brothers in the Shah’s prisons seemed certain.

Steadily, as women realised that Khomeini’s regime was not going to bring about any significant changes, they joined their brothers and have now started a vicious and bloody campaign against his rule. Amongst the hundred that have been executed in recent days are many women who were and are either supporters of the Islamic organisation ‘Mojahedin’ or other opposition groups, or are simply fighting at the risk of their lives against wearing the compulsory veil. On 9 August 1981, it is reported in the Iranian daily paper that in Oroomiyeh, North West of Iran, two women were arrested and sentenced to 30 lashes for the crime of wearing no veil and distributing leaflets against the requirement to wear the veil. In September, the same paper reports the arrest of 60 women, some of whom were sent to the firing squad.

To reinforce the point I am trying to make I reprint extracts from a letter sent to the only women’s magazine currently published in Iran, ‘Zan-e-Rooz’. The magazine observes the press censorship, so the letter has almost certainly been edited substantially.

The anonymous writer is a 17 year old woman, who is clearly still awaiting the revolution. She lives in one of the many remote and far-flung villages of Khozestan. Perhaps her remoteness from the capital and the rapid historical changes that take place in industrial cities could explain why she has not yet lost hope in the present rulers of Iran. She wants them to open their eyes and see her oppressive position in her village and put an end to the ‘non-revolutionary’ conditions in which she and her women friends are living. To her mind Islamic Government should act in a revolutionary way and that seems to bring about a drastic change in the position of women in society.

‘I am a 17 year old girl who lives in one of the very hot parts of Khozestan. My aim in writing this letter is to acquaint you with our customs and rites and I beg you to publish it.

‘In our clan still it is the custom that girls do not have the right to choose their own husbands. We girls have to marry men within our family circles and freedom on this most natural right of ours is denied to us. And worse there are still very many families that think educations is not suitable for girls and stop their daughters from going to schools, and do not like the idea of us women going to work. Why is this so? For how much longer are these ancient rites and customs that belong to barbarian times going to remain untouched.

‘I, as one of many individuals in my society who are victims of these ancient ideas, put my hand towards you for help and in case you are still living in a dream-world to awaken you, and remind you of your responsibility to respond to the needs of your society.’

Behjat Rezael
Women’s Voice
November 1981
Issue 57 pp.12

Divide and Rule (Women’s Voice, 1981)

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Closures and amalgamations of secondary schools, now under way in many areas, will not just mean worsening standards.  A higher proportion of children will go to church schools and single sex schools.  In one London borough alone, Hackney, well over half of all pupils will be in single sex schools.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Chanie Rosenberg, a Hackney teacher, gives her views.

Even though the other side of girls’ schools is boys’ schools, there is a different attitude to each.  Girls’ schools are heavily subscribed to.  Parents’ attitudes tend to include the belief that there is less violence and roughness and a generally quieter atmosphere and there is no male diversion from the girls’ studies.  The result of these two factors is a more studious atmosphere, and the schools are considered ‘good’ schools.

Many women teachers, including some who consider themselves feminists, see advantages in girls’ schools in many spheres.  Subjects like maths and sciences, which are avoided by girls in co-ed schools, are encouraged and indeed taken up more confidently by more girls; in extracurricular activities more girls get more ‘leadership’ and related experience; women staff get a better chance to fill ‘top’ posts and serve as ‘successful’ examples to the girls.

DISADVANTAGES

Among girls, too, the single sex girls’ school has its adherents.  The shy prefer it for the first two reasons that their parents do.  The unshy notice a greater confidence gained, probably, through inability to play up to the boys in a stereotyped – and inferior – sex role.

If these presumed benefits are entirely the results of girls belonging to the ‘oppressed’ sex, it follows that boys’ schools must suffer from as many disadvantages.  The male dominance of the outside world is strongly reinforced inside the school, through authority being unquestionably male, with the minority of women teachers largely at the bottom end of the power pyramid.  Much of the authority is of the strong arm type, whose ultimate sanction is the cane – still widely used in boys’ schools, but not in girls’.

SEXISM

This sort of authority encourages aggressive and violent behaviour which is then usually punished in like ways.  Sexism is the natural attitude of the boys.  Verbal abuse – sexist and otherwise – of the women teachers is widespread, and fantasised sexual assaults of girl ‘friends’ are very common, widely illustrated in discussions, drawings and jokes.

It is not that teachers wish it so.  Some go out of their way to try and educate the boys to a more sensitive understanding of sex.  It is the single sex institution in a male dominated world which overrides their efforts.

My own attitude is against single sex schools, even though I understand and sympathise with the rationale behind the popularity of the girls’ school.  I think it is unnatural to sharply separate the sexes at 11, putting work and social life into separate compartments.  This has no observable effects on the work (at least for boys) but retards social life for the youngsters, directing it into ‘boy crazy’ and ‘girl crazy’ channels with their attendant ills.  For boys, single sex schools have no redeeming features.  In addition single sex schools discriminate against their pupils in lacking facilities for skills other than those traditionally stereotyped as male or female.

MEETINGS

To counteract undesirable tendencies in boys’ schools, women’s groups have been set up in some.  We have such a group in my school.  After some initial raillery when we marched out to our lunchtime meetings we are now well established, with many of the male staff encouraging our efforts.   We discussed the difficulties of women in a boys’ school.  Collectively we sought solutions to the problems within the strictures of the single sex set up which we came out against.  To help the male staff understand our situation, we gave them a version of our discussion.

PROPOSALS

To try to broaden the boys’ education, we drew up proposals for a new subject for the curriculum called ‘Skills for Living’ which covers those skills of homemaking and social living traditionally separated into women’s and men’s work.

We should not relegate this problem to oblivion but seek to change it.  Out of the evils of the cuts perhaps we can pluck this reform.

This article is adapted from one which appears in Hackney Teachers Association Newsletter earlier this year.

 

Chanie Rosenberg

Women’s Voice

November 1981

Issue 57 pp.18

Why I became a socialist (Women’s Voice, 1981)

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Ann Flynn is a veteran of sixty years of socialist struggle. Brought up in Glasgow as a child, she describes the experiences which led her to socialism.

I come from a socialist background. My mother was a highland woman, a member of the Wee Free church. All the things that happened to highland immigrants to Glasgow changed her mind about the church and she left. Although I was free to attend the Gaelic-speaking church if I wanted I became an atheist at the age of eleven. My elder sister followed me out of the church—she was an influence too.

Two of my teachers at school were socialists. They were women teachers who had a great effect on me. I remember a discussion during an English lesson. One of them asked us what would we would call people who wanted to share out equally all the good things in life. Someone suggested that such an attitude would be Christian. The teacher said ‘No, that wouldn’t be quite the answer I’m looking for.’ So I put up my hand and said ‘Socialists!’ And she said ‘Yes’. A lot of early socialists in Glasgow were teachers, people like Maxton and McLean. So by eleven I was an atheist and a socialist.

Being reared in Glasgow was very important. My mother was a widow and had to take in lodgers. We would hear their conversations. Then my elder sister started work and met a socialist. She would come home full of the things they had talked about. It was a burgeoning time for a young person.

My mother was active in the first big Glasgow rent strikes. We were messengers for the strike and knew a lot of people in George’s Cross, where we lived. Our local co-operative was very involved.

DISADVANTAGES

I first joined the Labour Party in Hillhead. This was a rather respectable area of Glasgow and Hillhead Labour Party was a bit of a trial. Nevertheless, I stuck it out and stayed in the Labour Party for nearly ten years. Then I was out in the streets campaigning against the Means Test and taking part in the great rent battles which were coming up at the time.

I started reading Marx and became interested in the Communist Party. The CP had a splendid organisation of ‘street newspapers’. Members of the Party wrote newspapers on black tarmacadam taking up the width of the pavement. They were magnificent writers. The material would come from a publication called ‘Inprecor’ which an unlikely title for a pamphlet which was like a tiny compressed newspaper.

Then I met a marvellous woman called Ann Morrison who was leading the rent struggles. She had three children and lived in Partick. I was very impressed by the way she fought rent cases. So I was fortunate in being influenced by my mother, my sister and Ann Morrison.

So I joined the Communist Party, and enjoyed being in it. They encouraged us to read and learn and develop our attitudes towards Marxism. My differences with the Party began over arguments about cultural questions. I found that some of the CP members had arrogant and almost vicious attitudes to, for instance, worker’s theatre. Vincent (Vincent Flynn is Ann’s husband, ex-general secretary of SOGAT and an equally committed fighter for the cause of socialism) and I tried to start a socialist theatre group. We approached the CP about this and it was as if all hell had been let loose. We went ahead anyway and managed to build the foundations of Unity Theatre in Glasgow. Vincent was never in the CP, by the way; he came from a Catholic family and always said that one Pope was enough for him!

Then the war came. I came out of the CP finally over the question of Russia’s treatment of the Jews which I could neither understand nor defend. Vincent was a member of the Labour Party and I joined again. After the war we went to live in England and I was involved once again in housing struggles, as well as odd bits and pieces such as helping Greek refugees. There were terrible housing problems then. Property had been damaged everywhere. There weren’t enough houses for soldiers to come back to. The experience we already had of fighting rent battles was invaluable.

While I was working as a social worker I got involved with the Family Planning Association. At the time it was very difficult for single women to get contraceptives. When I first went to London in 1940 I was shocked to find that many women were using contraceptives that weren’t medically fitted—they just got them through the post! I was horrified and took myself to the nearest FPA clinic and picked the poorest area I could find to work in. This was just after my son was born and I left him with my mother two days a week while I worked for the FPA.

MEETINGS

 

In the sixties I became finally disillusioned with the Labour Party, I couldn’t stand it any more. I joined the Socialist Workers Party, or International Socialists as it was called at the time. It felt a bit odd; I thought ‘here’s me, going to another party, but this one looks like what I’ve been searching for all my life’. It was lonely in a way, because the party was so small at that time, but the paper was marvellous. I’ve always, always felt Socialist Worker was something special. I hold Socialist Worker in the same regard as the paper which first helped to make me a socialist—that was the old Glasgow ‘Forward’. I’ve always recognised the same drive in Socialist Worker, because it’s a paper which tells about the workers, and believes in the workers, and has a goal for the workers. The paper’s what links people up all over the country.

My greatest achievement as a socialist? Probably raising a child who grew up to become a socialist. So many parents sicken their children with politics. Vincent has never given me anything other than support and encouragement. And that’s the way it should be.