Women in revolution

Women in revolution

8 March is today widely celebrated as International Women's Day – yet its roots in the international socialist movement have been deliberately buried in a mountain of bourgeois feminism and identity politics. This collection of biographies commemorates the socialist roots of 'International Working Women's Day' and salutes the inspiring revolutionary women who have so often been written out of the history books.


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Defend women’s reproductive rights

On 24 June, as predicted, the Supreme Court decided to end federal protection of the right for US women to obtain abortions. In the weeks since, over a hundred restrictions on reproductive rights have been introduced to state courts by Republican attorneys; some have been enacted, some will be enacted in the coming months, few will be blocked. So far, ten states have banned abortion outright, with only two, South Carolina and Mississippi, allowing exceptions for rape. Already a 10-year-old girl from Ohio was forced to travel out of state to obtain an abortion as a direct result of post-Roe legislation. For US women, and women worldwide, the overturning of Roe v Wade will only further prove to have lethal consequences.


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Fight imperialism! Fight women's oppression!

Women's oppression under capitalism

Women’s oppression under capitalism, edited by Susan Davidson, Larkin Publications, 76pp, £2.95 from FRFI.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!’s Women’s oppression under capitalism pamphlet comes at a critical time. In March Sarah Everard’s murder at the hands of a British police officer ignited street protests around the country opposing violence against women while in the same month Turkey pulled out of the Istanbul Convention introduced in 2011 to combat gender-based violence. In May a UN envoy warned of a global pandemic against women and in August the US Supreme Court escalated the roll back on women’s reproductive rights by refusing to block the Texas abortion ban.


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Covid-19 and the childcare crisis

Families protest against the closure of Bexhill Nursery, East London

On 15 July the government announced a review into the lives of disadvantaged young children, recognising the importance of the ‘First 1001 Critical Days’ to short and long-term health and social development. Chair Andrea Leadsom said ‘it is literally when the building blocks for good lifelong emotional and physical health are laid down’. This positive, almost jovial publicity is astounding from a government responsible for causing ongoing harm to working class women and children, and shows just how far removed the rhetoric is from the reality. Inequality is rising and childcare provision is on its knees. Childcare does not work for working class women or families. It does not work for children. It does not work for the childcare providers facing closure, and its workforce of primarily low-paid women uncertain about their futures. There is no government concern for the lives of these young families, just utter disdain. This is a broken system, with women left to pick up the pieces.


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Working class women shoulder the burden

The British government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the burden faced by working class women. It has exposed existing fault-lines caused by years of austerity, low pay and service cuts, and shown the extent to which women were already filling the gaps. Those most in need of support — women experiencing domestic violence and migrant women — are yet again receiving the least. The isolated, unrecognised work women perform in the home has been the focus of media attention throughout the lockdown. But it is the impact on better-off sections of women which has dominated. A revolutionary perspective is needed to challenge deepening inequalities. Rachel Francis reports.


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Infant formula monopolies: harming people and the planet

Boycott Nestle

Powerful baby formula milk companies, including Nestlé, Danone and Kraft Heinz, have long harmed the health of babies and women around the world. A paper published in the British Medical Journal (October 2019), ‘Support for breastfeeding is an environmental imperative’, shows the extent to which formula milk also damages the health of the planet. Around the world, formula use growth is staggering – and deadly. To view this as a women’s issue is to side with the corporations and to ignore the devastation capitalism will wreak in the pursuit of profit.


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Childcare costs and Universal Credit hit the poorest women hardest

Women and people with disabilities are disproportionately disadvantaged by UC

‘If you’ had got a group of misogynists in a room, and said “guys, how can we make this system work for me and not for women”, they wouldn’t have come up with too many better ideas than what’s in place’. So said Philip Alston, UN Rapporteur into Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, on 16 November as he concluded his two-week tour of the UK, recognising the disproportionate impact of eight years of austerity measures on women. He was clear it has not been a solely economic question but rather ‘radical social re-engineering’ by a government determined to spread the ‘values’ of individual responsibility and work. His report concluded what working-class women and women’s charities have been saying for years – that austerity is an attack on the poorest, particularly women and children, whilst benefitting the wealthy. Alston in­evitably concludes that it a case of a lack of compassion and a state of denial by the government that could be remedied with some policy reform. Instead, the reports by women’s groups on childcare costs and Uni­versal Credit (UC) that have accompanied his visit make it very clear that the situation is drastic and needs a commensurate response.


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Votes for women: ‘deeds not words’

Over 100 years ago, suffragette Theresa Garnett entered a busy railway station and pushed her way towards then cabinet minister Winston Churchill. She reached him through the crowds and began whipping him, shouting: ‘Take that in the name of the insulted women of England’. Other suffragettes meanwhile were protesting, smashing windows and starting fires, following the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) call for ‘deeds not words’. 100 years ago this year, following a long and militant campaign led by the WSPU, some women in Britain were given the right to vote for the first time. This was an important step forward for women. Rachel Francis reports.


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50 years since the Abortion Act - Still no choice for working class women

On 27 October 2017 it will be 50 years since the Abortion Act became law. The many events and press coverage marking the anniversary generally agree that while the Act was a hugely important step forward for women in Britain, it is not fit for purpose. However, legislation is far from the only reason getting an abortion is still a problem for women. Conditions for the working class – the devastating attacks on services, living standards and benefits which hit women hardest, the increasing isolation and responsibility for childrearing with little support – is missing from these discussions. We must be clear that these cannot be separated, and that abortion is not a question of choice for the working class.


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The DUP and the fight for abortion rights in the north of Ireland

abortion right

UPDATE: In June 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court ruling of May 2014, detailed below, which denies women from the north of Ireland provision of an abortion free of charge by the NHS in England. The judges rejected the appeal with a three to two majority, with those dismissing the case reporting their ‘respect to the democratic decision of the people of Northern Ireland' and arguing that accepting the appeal would increase ‘health tourism’ and ‘a near collapse of the edifice of devolved health services’.

Encouraged by the decision of the two judges who recognised their appeal however, the women are planning to file an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ‘to protect the human rights of the many other women who make the lonely journey to England every week because they are denied access to basic healthcare services in their own country'.


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Newcastle: No to cuts to domestic violence services!


In 2014, Newcastle council began an 18-month procurement process, putting out key domestic violence services out to tender. In May 2016, it announced that the contract had been awarded to Thirteen Care and Support, a not-for-profit charitable subsidiary of Thirteen Group, the biggest group of housing associations in the region. Whilst much has been made of the council's £1.6m capital investment for new domestic violence accommodation in partnership with Thirteen Care, the existing refuge provided by Newcastle Women's Aid faces imminent closure.

Thirteen Care and Support was only founded two years ago, whereas Newcastle Women's Aid (NWA) has 40 years of expertise and experience in supporting victims of domestic violence, and their refuge employs some of the most specialised staff in the country. NWA is a specialist local service run by women, for women and their children. In 2014 the NWA refuge was awarded a stage one Women's Aid Federation England national quality standards award, recognising this specialisation. In contrast Thirteen Care is currently advertising jobs which don’t require previous experience in domestic violence services, including a full-time apprentice who will be paid a measly £6,366 a year for a 37-hour week. Specialist domestic violence workers are being replaced with 'independent living workers', support for working women not eligible for housing benefit is set to be cut, and no proper transfer plan for women using the current refuge has been made available. Further details on the transition are murky, however one thing is crystal clear, despite the council's spin and a shiny new building, the new contract will result in a loss of specialisation for domestic violence services.


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Suffragette: The struggle for women’s rights

• Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron, 2015, 106 mins

Working-class women resisting insufferable working conditions and stifling home lives is a welcome sight on the big-screen. Suffragette offers us glimpses of this in powerful and moving scenes. However, the film ultimately seeks to gloss over the very questions this focus begins to raise. Infuriating, yes – but it is difficult not to be inspired by the will of women who must and do resist, by any means necessary.

‘I can’t take that any more’

The film’s focus on Maud, a fictionalised laundry worker, promises a welcome departure from the usual starched dresses and purple and green sashes associated with the Suffragettes. Instead, we see the appalling conditions of the laundry – the back-breaking, dangerous work that women perform for longer hours and less pay than male workers. They return home to cramped, damp, one-up-one-down housing to face housework, cooking and caring for the children. There is little in the way of support, family planning and childcare. We see women’s lack of legal rights over the care of their children. Sexual violence is commonplace. The solidarity and opposition that grows and strengthens throughout the film is a much-needed example of the necessary resistance beyond the ballot box.


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Welfare cuts hit women hardest

The 2015 July Budget was a savage attack on working class women. In FRFI 244, we reported that of the £26bn cut through tax and benefit reforms since 2010, £22bn has been taken from women – a total of 85%. Women will yet again bear the brunt of austerity. Of the £9.6 billion to be taken from the poorest families, £7 billion – 70% – will come from women. Through it all, the ruling class continues to conjure up a world far from reality. Prime Minister David Cameron presents the Tories as ‘the real party for working people: giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a pay cheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family’. He neatly describes the direct opposite of the experience of working class women and families up and down the country.


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Women – on the frontline of resistance to austerity

Newcastle FRFI supports the campaing to stop cuts in Sure Start provision

The capitalist parties are committed to continuing austerity and working class women will continue to suffer the most. The five years since the last general election have seen attacks on work, benefits, housing, services and childcare. Resistance has, however, been slowly building and women are leading the way in organising themselves and their communities to fight back. Rachel Francis reports.


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Eleanor Marx: hidden from history

Eleanor Marx

History is written, by and large, by the ruling class and serves its interests in promoting its world view. So when the BBC recently screened its history of women’s struggles for the vote in Britain, ‘Suffragettes Forever’, presented by Professor Amanda Vickery, we were treated to a very partial account which deliberately minimised the participation of working class women (boiling it down to the Bryant & May ‘matchgirls’ strike of 1888) and completely erasing the part played by socialist and communist women leaders, namely Eleanor Marx and Sylvia Pankhurst. In Vickery’s history, the struggle for women’s rights, including the vote, was a limited feminist pursuit: a battle by women against men to achieve equality – starting with Queen Victoria (!) and ending with Lady Astor. There was a different political perspective, however, that saw this battle as part of the struggle, led by the working class, to liberate men and women from wage slavery and oppression. Both Eleanor Marx and Sylvia Pankhurst organised and fought explicitly in opposition to the bourgeois feminists whom Vickery favours as the heroines of the struggle. That is why bourgeois history prefers to consign them to oblivion.


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Ending sexual violence in conflict: rhetoric and reality

Sexual violence in war affects hundreds of millions of people around the world, accompanying the wars waged by the imperialist powers and their regional proxies. This is one brutal part of the wider violence against women under capitalism, with women making up the majority of those in poverty and – with children and young people – 80% of those made refugees. The bank accounts of the ruling classes are built on war and poverty. So when then Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie led a ‘Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict’ in London in June 2014, it was clear it was going to be nothing but a slick public relations exercise for imperialism.


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Free, safe, accessible abortion on demand!

“She was able to access such services, albeit they were those provided privately by an independent clinic, outside the NHS for a fee, and no obstacles were put in her way in this regard” - Mr Justice King at the High Court ruling.

In this High Court ruling in London on 8 May, Mr Justice King reaffirmed that women from the north of Ireland are not entitled to an abortion free of charge provided by the NHS in England. In the Six Counties, abortion remains a criminal act. Access to an abortion remains entirely dependent on the ability to pay for travel, accommodation, and a private procedure. The verdict was a blunt dismissal of the realities of poverty, work, childcare and lack of reproductive health rights for working class women.


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Introduction for Revolutionary Women Meeting, March 2014

by Louise Gartrel

This speech was written as an introduction to a meeting titled ‘Revolutionary Women: The Story of Rebellion’, which formed part of Scotland FRFI’s ‘Voices of Resistance’ series of events. The meeting was held on 16 March 2014 in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has called this meeting today to pay tribute to the undeniable contributions which women have made towards the Revolution throughout history and to make the point that the struggle against imperialism and towards a society rid of oppression and exploitation must necessarily have women at the forefront. It must also be recognised that women throughout history have had to face not only oppression from the ruling-classes in terms of the effects of a capitalist system, but have also experienced the domination of, and subjugation to, male privilege within the home and throughout society. And for this, we see that women have had to face the greatest hardship and as a result shown the strongest resistance.


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Women in employment: the statistics that matter

There are 14 million women in work, the highest number since the Office of National Statistics’ records began and a rapid increase from record-breaking unemployment two years ago. The number of women in full-time employment has increased to just over eight million. On paper, things appear well. However, the government’s line that, therefore, ‘more people have the security of a regular wage and can plan for their future’ fails to correspond with a reality which, for many women, means punishing hours, lower wages than men for the same roles and discrimination in the workplace. The huge fluctuations in the number of women in work shows that employment based on the whims of the market cannot be secure.


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Women seeking asylum in racist, sexist Britain

Sexual violence dismissed

Women make up a third of asylum seekers in Britain. 70% have been victims of sexual abuse. In a recent report, of 72 women seeking asylum, 39% said they were persecuted because they were women and 36% for being politically active.[1] Sexual violence is frequently used to punish women who resist oppression.

All asylum seekers arriving in Britain confront an entrenched culture of cynicism and disbelief. Interviews conducted in public rooms by officials behind a screen create a hostile atmosphere; for women it is exacerbated by the fact that their interviewers are usually male. Often, there is a shortage of hard evidence of persecution, as well as understandable discrepancies and late disclosure of abuse. The appeal success rate for women is relatively high at 35-41%, compared with 26% for men, because women are overwhelmingly refused asylum at this early stage.


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Women’s health: rising inequality and resistance

2012 was a year of swingeing cuts to women’s reproductive, sexual and maternal health services in Britain. As the capitalist crisis deepens and inequality rises, the gap widens between those who can afford to make choices about health and reproduction and those who cannot. RACHEL FRANCIS and CAT ALLISON report.

Contraception and sexual health

Contraception and sexual health (CaSH) clinics around the country have been closed over the last two years by health authorities desperate to make cuts. The greatest users of CaSH clinics are young people, ethnic minorities and women from deprived areas. A recent audit by the All-Parliamentary Group on Sexual Health (April 2012) found that up to a third of all women in the UK did not have access to a full range of contraceptive services; clinic opening times have been reduced and posts for trained clinical staff cut. Derbyshire Community Health Service is cutting 20% of its sexual health budget over the next four years, resulting in ‘cuts to contraceptive, STI and menopause services … and cuts to doctors and nurses’. Southampton has lost nine of its 17 sexual health clinics in the recent period.


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Women’s Oppression under Capitalism

Revolutionary Communist 5 November 1976


1. The Capitalist Crisis 

The post-war boom saw the greatest rise in industrial production ever known. Yet the remarkable fact remains that there are less nursery places today than in 1900.

‘In 1900, 620,000 children aged three and four were in school, or 43% of the age group. By 1973 there were fewer than 400,000 children of that age in nursery schools, or a little more than a quarter. Provision is not expected to return to the level achieved at the beginning of the century for another 75 years.’[1]

Capitalism was not able, even with this rise in industrial production, to provide one of the basic requirements for the emancipation of women – adequate nursery provision. What then is in store for women in a period of deepening crisis? Dismissive of all the current calls for equal opportunity, the ruling class makes ‘equality’ serve an end especially its own,


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Women in north east England face sharp end of austerity

The north east of England faces savage austerity measures which will add to the poverty and deprivation afflicting much of the region, and working class women will be at the sharp end. The starting point is already bleak: long-term unemployment, amongst the lowest life expectancy in the UK, and the lowest gross disposable household income in the country, 15% below the national average. The TUC says that the region’s job market is the worst, with high unemployment and falling wages. There are two new food banks opening every day, catering for low-income families unable to put food on the table. This is the context for two recent reports, one by the NEWomen’s Network and the Women’s Resource Centre, and the other by the Fawcett Society. Both reports are damning of the cuts, with their consequences of increasingly entrenched gender roles and show that things are set to worsen, especially for working class women, as the capitalist crisis deepens.

The struggle to meet basic needs is acute. Homelessness has risen by 19% nationally and by 40% in the Northeast, where rows of boarded-up homes sit empty and private rents increase rapidly. Of the homeless households ‘accepted as being in priority housing need’ by the local authorities in the region this year, 47% of them were single female parents with dependent children. Couples with children made up to 20%, and 4% were single men with children. The number of women supporting dependent children living in unsuitable accommodation or unstable circumstances, remains overwhelmingly high. Bearing the brunt of caring responsibilities women face the brutal combination of housing, unemployment and benefit cuts with decreasing support.


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Women: bearing the brunt of Coalition cuts

Women: bearing the brunt of Coalition cutsWorking class women continue to be the hardest hit by the ConDem government’s austerity measures, particularly those with children. Unemployment and underemployment, rising childcare prices, and cuts to benefits and services are leading to rapidly declining living standards and increasing numbers of women living in poverty. This is set to intensify as the cuts deepen and increase.

94% of Child Benefit claimants and 92% of single parents are women. Women are far more likely to have insecure and low-paid positions in the workforce, with 5.86 million women working part-time, compared with 2.01 men. 65% of public sector workers, a vulnerable sector, are women, with women forming over 90% of part-time public sector workers earning under £15,000 a year. This means that the most oppressed are the hardest hit: for example a part-time care assistant on a low wage faces not only the very real threat of unemployment, but also changes to child benefit allowances, tax credits, childcare costs, wider benefit changes such as housing benefit, and reductions in family and women's services. The impact of austerity measures on women is a particularly savage aspect of the wider and unprecedented attacks on the working class as a whole.


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Women’s Organisations Speak Out In Favour Of The Bolivarian Revolution

Demonstrating the continued input of social movements to Chavez’s presidential proposals for 2013-2019, women’s right groups presented their proposals at a televised event on 12 September at the Teresa Carreño theatre in Caracas. Chavez stressed the importance of the political participation of women in the Bolivarian Revolution, highlighting the many gains of the last 13 years, stating ‘All Venezuelan women have my deepest respect... never before has any government treated Venezuelan women with such dignity and respect,’

Whilst abortion is still a heavily debated topic in Venezuela (‘Venezuela: The Dangers of a Revolution against a Woman’s Right to Abortion’) many inroads have been made in addressing the issue of gender inequality. This has included social missions such as the ‘mother of the barrio’ Misión Madres del Barrio where the government pays 80% of the minimum wage to mothers who live in extreme poverty, and the inclusion in the recent New Labour Law, ratified on 1 May 2012, of legally guaranteed job security for the mother as much as the father for two years after the birth of a child, the reduction of the working week by two hours, and the right for fathers [and mothers] to be absent from work if their child is ill.


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Abortion rights under attack

The past few months have seen an increase in ‘pro-life’ protests, underhand government moves to force through regressive amendments and high-profile smear campaigns; an ideological offensive against abortion is underway. These campaigns are led by a section of the ruling class intent on rolling back women’s rights. Sexual health education is coming under the same attack, ensuring that access to independent advice and evidence is absent from the start.

In February an undercover reporter for the Daily Telegraph set out with a camera and a scenario to find doctors who would authorise an abortion based on the sex of the foetus. Finding three who asked no further questions and consented, the paper published a series of inflammatory, misleading articles condemning apparent widespread malpractice. This opened the intended floodgate; women’s choice and abortion came under attack in further articles by the right-wing media, paving the way for a high-profile investigation led by Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley.


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Communist, internationalist and fighter for women’s rights: the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst

Communist, internationalist and fighter for women’s rights: the legacy of Sylvia PankhurstSylvia Pankhurst: Everything is possible

Produced by WORLDWrite,

directed by Ceri Dingle and Viv Regan, 2011

www.worldwrite.org.uk/sylviapankhurst/ DVD: £20, plus p+p

‘To British manhood: comrades, how much longer will you be willing to fight, work and pay for the war which the British capitalists are making on the working people of other countries?’ (Sylvia Pankhurst, Workers’ Dreadnought, May 1920)

After another International Women’s Day was marked in Britain by corporate lunches and lectures, with little to no talk of the capitalist crisis affecting women worldwide, the documentary Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is possible proves the necessary antidote. It details Sylvia’s committed anti-imperialist, anti-racist, feminist politics, and her dedication to building a mass movement with working class women and men. It touches on her unique, and overlooked, contribution to communism and the politics of class struggle. We can learn crucial and inspiring lessons from her opposition to inequality, war, patriarchy and racism, and their cause – the system itself.


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Women: hardest hit by the cuts

Women are experiencing the brunt of the public sector cuts. Benefit cuts will hit women doubly hard as on average they account for twice as much of women’s income as men’s. More women will lose their jobs in the public sector as they make up the majority of the workforce. The already limited public services that women rely on most will be cut further. Driven out of employment and education back into the home, women will be expected to care for children and for those for those for whom the state will no longer provide. If left unopposed, the next round of cuts will force more women to provide this unpaid, largely unrecognised, isolating domestic work and care for longer hours, all with less support.

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement announced the extension of a 1% cap on public sector pay rises for a further two years. This is a pay cut for 4.6 million women and 2.6 million men. He also announced cuts to child tax credits costing women £908m. 73% of the combined cost of these measures will be borne by women. 94% of child benefit recipients are women; this is to be frozen for three years.


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Women, the crisis and the cuts - Cuba shows the alternative


In a time of global crisis, Cuba represents a unique reality for women. Understanding that sexual equality is necessarily bound with economic and political equality, women's emancipation is crucial to the ongoing process of revolution. The huge grassroots political involvement of the people, and the planned economy driven by their needs, means that society actively works to challenge sexism and inequality. Accordingly, Cuba stands out in The World Economic Forum's study on gender disparity and economics - despite its small economy and the blockade which attempts to strangle development, its women rank highly in health, education, political and economic equality. The index shows Cuba's gender disparity has improved; Britain, despite its imperialist wealth, is only four places above Cuba, and has fallen in ranking.


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A victory for abortion rights…for now

On 7 September, the latest attack on abortion provision in Britain was defeated when MPs voted against amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill proposed by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries. These amendments, originally jointly proposed with Labour’s former welfare minister Frank Field, would have stripped organisations that provide abortion services of their role in offering impartial counselling to women.

Dorries argues that non-statutory organisations such as the British Pregancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes, non-profit charities that provide the majority of abortions in Britain – have a ‘vested interest’ in persuading women to have abortions as part of some wider, sinister ‘abortion industry’. This is nonsense. No one in her campaign has been able to present any evidence that BPAS and Marie Stopes have done anything other than provide impartial advice, as they are required to do.


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Speech to International Working Women’s Day panel discussion

international womens day

5 March  2005

I would like to bring the greetings of my organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Group, to this meeting in celebration of International Working Women’s Day.  This speech is in three parts.  Firstly, I am going to talk about specific struggles of working women in this country during the past 20 years; secondly, I am going to say something about women prisoners; finally I am going to explain a little about the political stance of my organisation.

1. The past 25 years in Britain since that very unrevolutionary woman, Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, came to power have seen a huge change in the social structure of the country.  Previously, rich because of its imperialist plunder; the state could guarantee a sizeable section of the working class lifelong employment, affordable housing and welfare provision. Thatcher announced there was ‘no such thing as society’, only individuals and made it clear she was declaring war on the working class.


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