Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Women in Industry. (1929)

From the October 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is it "right” or "fair” that women should continue to hold those positions in industry that formerly were held by men?

Mr. Charles Pilley's article in the Sunday Graphic of August 25th tells us that it is neither.

His first paragraph sounded rather promising. He said, "We are groping for remedies without a true understanding of the nature of the disease.” His last shows us poor Mr. Pilley still hopelessly groping. It is as follows: "It would be instructive if we could learn how many women are working at jobs which once belonged to men at wages below a decent minimum, thus unfairly competing with male rivals and cheapening the worth of labour to the detriment of all.”

We take it, of course, that Mr. Pilley really means the price of labour power.

Directly labour power has been expended by the worker the labour is embodied in the product and as such can be of no further concern to him. It has become the property of the master who bought the labour power. Thus a worker can sell his labour power for a specified time, but not his labour, for it is not his to sell.

It should not be difficult for Mr. Pilley to get the figures of women in men’s jobs (although, as women can perform the work, I do not see the point for calling them men’s jobs), but when he has them, what does he suggest doing about it? His article does not say anything on the matter, so we must presume that he has not thought so far ahead as that. But let us view this question in the light of the Socialist knowledge. The war forced many young women into industry probably very many years sooner than normally would have been the case.

At the same time the introduction of labour-saving machinery so lightened some kinds of physical labour that men were not required to perform many of the tasks on which they were previously employed. Added to this, women’s labour power can often be bought more cheaply by the masters, because of the fact that the future supply of labour power comes into men’s responsibilities. The man’s wages include the upkeep of a wife, a home and a family. A woman’s is the price of her own maintenance, in the main. Again the woman is a more tractable worker. More easily frightened by threats of the sack and less easily organised in trade unions. In some cases her work is better, especially where cleanliness, neatness and dexterity are required..

Then, the fact that so many women leave after a few years’ service, to get married, obviates the necessity of a pension. These are the things which count when the pros and cons are weighed up by the employers. Where women are as competent and the advantages outweigh the disadvantages the employers will take them in preference to men.

It is of no use men kicking against these facts and blaming women for it. They must realise that as the capitalist system becomes more and more developed, these and greater hardships will be suffered by the working-class in their struggle for existence. In their endeavours to obtain more profit the masters will exploit the labour power of the workers, men and women, by every conceivable method. But they, as well as the workers, are in a vicious circle. Trade depression becomes more pressing and continuous, and it is only the lack of understanding on the part of the workers that keeps capitalism going on. International agreements, doles and charities are some of the methods by which the capitalist class try to alleviate the worst of the workers' troubles, but on the day that the workers are ready to vote solid for Socialism the game is up. It only remains, therefore, for the workers to look beneath the surface of all their troubles to find that the remedy for each and every one of them is Socialism. Armed with the necessary knowledge, they are all-powerful and the capitalists know it, and that is why their paid hirelings disseminate so much confusion on the subject.
May Otway


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