The financial crisis and how it affects women

The following is based on a presentation delivered by CPGB-ML Vice Chairman Ella Rule at a celebration of the 100th International Women’s Day organised by the Refugee Workers’ Cultural Association Women’s Commission, based in Britain’s Turkish community.

The vast majority of women in this country are working-class women – ie, women from a class of people whose only means of livelihood is selling their labour power in return for a wage.

Fifty years ago, it was often the case that married women, especially if they had children, would cease to sell their labour power to an outside employer, but would instead confine their work to domestic duties caring for their home and children. These duties were performed as a private service for their husbands, on whom they were financially totally dependent. This relationship of dependency, arising from what was then society’s demand that married women should withdraw from social production and confine themselves to household duties, had the effect of turning women into second-class citizens.

Capitalism, however, in its greed for profit, has drawn women back into social production. Because married women relied mainly on their husbands’ wages, they did not need to demand wages that were sufficient to enable them to raise a family, so they were much cheaper to employ than men. This made a female workforce attractive to many profiteering entrepreneurs.

Today, a man’s wage is no longer sufficient to maintain a wife and family, so most women have no choice but to remain in employment despite marriage and motherhood. To the extent that women are no longer confined to domestic drudgery, and to the extent that they now have some financial independence, their status in society has greatly increased. However, it is still a fact that many women, notwithstanding the long hours spent at work, remain responsible for most of the household chores – even in some cases when working full time while their husband is unemployed!

The current crisis has led to a massive increase in unemployment and underemployment, while many workers, in order to be able to keep their jobs at all, are agreeing to lower wages and/or longer hours. This puts families under stress and often leads to family break-up. In addition, because of loss of income, many families are finding it impossible to pay their mortgages and are losing their homes.

Capitalist crisis falls most heavily on women

In addition, the burden of the crisis falls even more heavily on women insofar as they are usually the ones expected to shoulder domestic responsibilities, in particular caring for the sick, the elderly and the young. One of the effects of the crisis is that funds are withdrawn from providers of public services, such as local authorities and the NHS, so that even the rather limited help that was available from these sources in the past (in looking after the elderly, in caring for children when they are not in school, in tending the sick) is even further restricted. Most often, this additional burden is borne by the women of the family.

The crisis heralds a period of great suffering for the working class of this country, both men and women, and their children.

It is important to understand that crisis is caused by the contradictions within the capitalist system itself and that therefore there is no permanent cure to crisis so long as we allow the capitalist system to continue.

The essence of the capitalist system is that while a small class of billionaires – the bourgeoisie – owns most of the means of production (factories, land, machines, raw materials), these means of production are worked by the vast majority, who, not having means of production of their own, are forced to give up the products of their labour to their employers, receiving in return for their work only a small part of what they have produced – as small as the employers can get away with. At a time of mass unemployment such as the present, the employers get away with paying very low wages indeed!

The crisis arises precisely because employers, in order to survive in the battle of competition against other bourgeois producers, do everything in their power to reduce their costs of production, which means reducing their workforce as much as they can, replacing them with machines that enable fewer workers to produce more and more cheaply, as well as keeping wages to a minimum.

The relatively impoverished workers, however, cannot then afford to buy the mass of products that the capitalists are producing. This gives rise to the periodic economic crises, which are in effect crises of overproduction.

It is not that capitalism has produced more than people need, but they have produced more than people can afford to buy. In these circumstances, the least ‘efficient’ producers (mainly those whose production methods are relatively labour intensive) go bankrupt and close down, throwing thousands more workers out of their jobs, and thereby in fact intensifying the crisis of overproduction.

The present crisis is especially severe because for many years measures were taken by the capitalist class of various countries to stave off crisis by lending money to people, and indeed to whole countries, to enable them to keep on spending. The problem is, however, that the loans have to be repaid – usually with a lot of interest – and repayment obligations reduce still further the purchasing power of the masses. The end result is an even worse crisis of overproduction when it does finally break out, as it now has.

Because of mounting unemployment, many of the loans provided to people to keep them spending in fact become bad debts, as without wages coming in workers are unable to repay the debts they may have incurred; and businesses that have borrowed in the expectation of being able to generate profits to repay the loans go bankrupt, so their debts, too, become bad.

With so many bad debts, lenders (mainly the banks) are also in trouble, as are those who provide money to lenders in the hope of receiving a modest amount of interest, such as pension funds. Workers’ pension funds become depleted to the extent that their money has been invested in debts that turn out to be uncollectable or in companies that become insolvent, or can no longer make a large profit.

The result is that many thousands of working-class people, who had been struggling all their life to contribute something to a pension fund so as to tide them through their old age, find that on retirement their meagre pension is going to be even more parsimonious than they had expected. Again, this cannot but aggravate the crisis of overproduction by yet again hitting at the purchasing power of the masses of working people.

Capitalism can never be rid of the systemic fault that while it is impelled endlessly to increase production, it is just as forcefully impelled to reduce the spending power of the masses. Capitalism cannot therefore free itself of recurring crises, and the working class cannot free itself from the inevitable suffering foisted on it by capitalism so long as it tolerates the continued operation of the capitalist system.

Socialism is the answer to capitalism and war

It is not easy to overthrow capitalism. Notwithstanding the crises that prove it is no good, the ruling bourgeoisie defends its right to exploit with all the very considerable means at its disposal and with a cunning, cruelty and ferocity that knows no bounds.

It is understandable that workers are reluctant to act in such a way as to unleash bourgeois fury on their heads. However, if capitalism is not overthrown, the crisis will inevitably sooner or later lead to war as various capitalist and imperialist groupings seek to solve their problems at each other’s expense. This was the reason for both the first and the second world wars. The third, and most dreadful, world war is currently in the making.

In these wars, it is working-class people who are the cannon fodder and it is their neighbourhoods that are the battlegrounds. The unprecedented destructive power of modern weaponry can already be seen from the damage inflicted on civilians by the wars imperialism is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that its surrogate Israel is waging in Gaza, as imperialism strives to maintain and consolidate its domination in those countries against the will of their peoples. When the imperialist powers turn against each other, and/or if and when they decide to try to suppress China by force because it is erecting obstacles to their imperialist looting of the oppressed countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and in order to regain control of the vast market that the 1.3 billion Chinese people represent, the orgy of death and destruction will be unparalleled in human history.

Women, who have traditionally been the carers in society, must fight to save future generations from this holocaust. They must be mobilised in their millions behind the party of the working class to join the fight to overthrow capitalism before it plunges the world into these unprecedented horrors. They must fight to put the working class, their own class, into power, ie, they must fight to establish socialism and then to build it.

Once socialism is established, the special reward for women of the working class is that, from the resources of society, which under socialism will be controlled by the working class and used exclusively for the benefit of the whole class, adequate provision will be made to put in place wonderful facilities to alleviate women’s domestic responsibilities: first-rate nurseries, kindergartens, laundries, elderly care facilities, family dining facilities, etc.

Women will then be free to participate in the life of society on a fully equal basis with men. Thus will the emancipation of women finally be completed.

> One hundred years of International Women s Day – February 2011