Stop The War on Women!

Stop The War on   Women!

No doubt about it,   women are under attack. The popular term “war on women” accurately describes   what is going on in the U.S. today. Though many use this   term to refer to Republican proposals, the attacks are in most cases   bipartisan, with Democrats either supporting anti-woman policies or agreeing   to “compromises” that undermine women’s legal rights, health, and economic and   social status.

Lower-income   women, who are disproportionately women of color, are the hardest hit. The   current economic crisis and the war on women weigh heavier and in differing   ways on women who face additional forms of oppression (race, immigration   status, etc.) — the vast majority of whom are also working class.

Employment   Discrimination

While the range of   employment options for women is one of the few lasting victories of the   women’s movement, equal pay is still a dream. U.S. women   make only 77% of what men make. When race is added, this figure is even worse:   Black women make 67.5% compared to all men, and Latinas make only 57%, which   was the average wage gap for all women in 1963 when pay discrimination was   first addressed by law. Besides, much of the narrowing of the wage gap has   been due to reductions in male wages, rather than improved wages for women,   due to declines in unionization and the loss of well-paid blue-collar   jobs.

Though the wage   gap persists largely because women are concentrated in low-paying jobs, it   crosses races, educational levels, and most occupations. Even within the same   employer, in jobs where women dominate, their pay is typically 20% less than   in jobs dominated by men requiring comparable education and skill sets (an   issue referred to as “comparable worth”), showing continuing discrimination in   women’s wages.

While women have   had a legal right to equal pay to men in any specific job classification since   1963, a Paycheck Fairness Act that would have addressed comparable worth was   recently rejected by the Senate. The right to equal pay, even where legally   protected, is routinely ignored and hard to enforce, since employment in the   U.S. is largely “at will” and employees can be fired without any reason   given.

Only women with   union contracts can truly expect to be paid the same as equivalent men, and,   even in union jobs, comparable worth rarely is addressed and discrimination   may affect women’s ability to be hired, pass probation periods, or get   promoted into higher-paying positions. Union women, though, usually have some   job protection and a grievance process.

Though women also   are impacted by the current economic crisis for reasons not exclusive to   gender, the crisis does have different and often worse impacts on them than on   men. For example, women and people of color have much less accumulated wealth   compared to white men, and most wealth they do accumulate is via   home-ownership only. Thus, the foreclosure crisis hit them harder, wiping out   the entire net worth of many families. A higher percentage of women and people   of color than of white men find work in the public sector, so they are   impacted more directly by government cutbacks and privatization. Public-sector   unions, especially the majority female teachers’ unions, are under extreme   attack right now.

Reproductive   Rights — the Most Direct Attack

Given that   only women can give birth, it is not surprising that the most direct and   blatant attacks on women are in the area of reproductive rights. Without the   ability to control if, when, and how they give birth, women have little   control over the rest of their lives. Yet, the right to choose legal abortion   has been under attack ever since it was established by Roe vs. Wade in   1973.

At the federal   level, the most prominent restriction is the Hyde Amendment, which denies any   federal funding for abortion, except for cases of rape, incest, or to save a   woman’s life. Hyde ensures that women dependent on federal funds, including   active-duty service women, are routinely denied access to abortion, since they   often can’t afford, locate, or visit private providers. Also, the Supreme   Court upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which prohibits a   certain method used for medically necessary late-term abortions, inaccurately   referred to as “partial birth,” even when there is no chance of fetal   viability and the method is in the best medical interests of the   woman.

Restrictions at   the state level are quite numerous. Most states require parental consent for   minors and many require spousal consent for married women, waiting periods up   to 72 hours, and exposure to anti-abortion films, literature, and   counseling.

Current efforts,   already successful in many states, focus on:

  • Outlawing   private insurance coverage for abortion.
  • Denying state   funding for abortion and to Planned Parenthood and  other organizations that provide abortions.
  • Requiring that   abortions be performed only in hospitals (where they  are more expensive).
  • Requiring that   women hear the fetus’ heartbeat, even though that often requires using an invasive transvaginal ultrasound.
  • Putting   medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers.
  • Allowing medical   providers to refuse to perform abortions, regardless of circumstances.

Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky,   Louisiana, Mississippi, North   Dakota, and South   Dakota have passed “trigger” laws, which will outlaw   abortion if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. In 2012 alone, some 39 restrictions on   abortion have been enacted by states, and 2011 saw a record-breaking   80.

In addition to   legal attacks on the right to choose, nine abortion providers have been   murdered and many clinics have been fire-bombed and vandalized. Aggressively   hostile pickets trying to prevent access are common, though the federal   Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), an important victory for   women, outlaws outright blockades and provides additional legal recourse   against persons with threatening behavior.

In most parts of   the U.S., providing abortion is quite   dangerous, requiring expensive security measures, which add to the cost. 87%   of U.S. counties have no abortion   provider. 25% of women seeking abortion have to travel over 50 miles and 8%   over 100 miles.

Attacks on   Contraception

Contraception has   been fully legal throughout the U.S. since 1965, and 99% of all sexually   active U.S. adults have used it at least part of the time, including 98% of   Catholic women in this category. It is hardly controversial, regardless of   objections by some religions. Yet, contraception is also under attack. Efforts   to restrict it are usually posed as protecting religious freedom, as a means   (proven ineffective) for delaying sex among teens.

Many public   schools are now limited to teaching that abstinence is the only effective way   to avoid pregnancy, despite the fact that abstinence-only education programs   have resulted in higher teen pregnancy rates wherever they have been   implemented. Refusing to teach young women how to protect themselves is a   direct attack on their futures.

Many states allow   pharmacists to refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions if they have a   religious objection to doing so. Efforts are underway to require women to tell   their employers if and why they are seeking contraception, if covered by   employer-provided insurance. Opposition to contraception indicates that the   most important issue for the extreme right isn’t abortion, which contraceptive   use obviously helps prevent, but restoring the traditional patriarchal family   model.

Violence Against   Women

Personal safety is   another area where women continue to face attack. Despite some significant   legal progress, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994,   domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment remain significant problems in   the U.S. Government surveys indicate that 22% of U.S.   women report having been physically assaulted by an intimate partner or   date.

Women who kill or   injure abusers in direct self-defense are often convicted and incarcerated,   sometimes even with life imprisonment. Over half of all restraining orders are   violated. Mothers are reluctant to report domestic violence because of a   growing trend to prosecute battered women for neglect and/or take away their   children on the grounds they have endangered them by being in abusive   relationships. Though it has been renewed twice, VAWA faces constant defunding   efforts. The most recent attempt to reauthorize the Act is now stalled, as   Congress has yet to agree on a unified version.

What Can the We Do   About the War on Women?

Thanks to a lot of   effort on the part of union women, labor generally supports women’s rights,   but the political approach currently predominant within organized labor   doesn’t work well to protect them. Plus, labor support is often compromised by   a fear of alienating members who may oppose abortion rights, sexual freedoms,   and non-traditional families. We must push our unions to do a better job   educating members why support to the conservative “moral” agenda works against   their economic interests. Like racism, sexism divides union workers and the   working class as a whole, making it harder for all of us to fight   back.

On the political   front, it is critical that union members and leaders — and women’s rights   activists — realize that the attacks on all of us are bipartisan. The current   wave of austerity led by the Obama administration is a brutal attack on the   whole working class, with women, particularly from oppressed communities,   being hit the hardest.

In general, the   Democratic Party does have a better voting record on specific women’s rights   issues — such as the right to choose — than the Republicans, but is not a   reliable ally for any sector of the working class. Democrats undermine   women’s rights by their refusal to support them fully or vigorously. Without   strong opposition, extreme right-wing positions opposed by the vast majority   of voters are presented as mainstream by the media, promoted   disproportionately to their actual public support, and eventually implemented.   At a time when what we need are firm positions backed up by a real fight, what   is presented as bipartisan compromise is, at best, cowardice and capitulation,   and, at worst, backhanded, intentional approval.

Politicians of   both parties receive their money from the same source: the 1%. Ultimately,   they will implement whatever is expected of them by their donors, unless we   organize a massive enough movement to make them fear losing our votes. Even if   some Democrats sincerely support choice, only millions of people willing to   take to the streets and withhold their labor if need be, will be enough to   beat back the right-wing attacks.

In the broader   community, we need to join with women’s rights groups, especially to defend   reproductive choice. Within our unions, we can and must:

  • Fight for improvements for women in our contracts.
  • Conduct educational campaigns about women’s issues.
  • Defend women  against discrimination and sexual harassment.
  • Encourage the   participation and leadership of women.
  • Support or  oppose legislation affecting women.

Even with all its   present weaknesses, organized labor is still the sole force in the   U.S. based on representing   only workers; that is, representing working-class people as a   class. Thus, it is the only currently existing force objectively   capable of politics truly in the interests of the entire working class,   half of which is women.

Because no other   movement or institution represents working-class people exclusively, other   forces are more objectively vulnerable to ideas that reinforce racism, sexism,   and other divisions. For example, a focus on getting women into corporate   leadership does not promote equality for everyone; rather, it allows a few   women, in the name of equality, to benefit directly from such practices   as exploiting immigrants or polluting communities of color.

Sadly, dependence   on the Democrats has led the U.S. labor movement to one defeat   after another. Therefore, the most important contribution labor could make to   women rights would be to break our own political chains. The Emergency Labor   Network’s call to create a movement for a Labor Party has never been needed   more. The hard-won rights of women are on the line today, as is the very   survival of the labor movement. Given the disastrous global trajectory of   capitalism, with its wars, genocides, and environmental degradation, it is no   exaggeration to argue that the very survival of humanity depends on   independent working-class political organizing throughout the world. Building   a Labor Party in the U.S. is a key component of that   effort.


Issued by the Emergency Labor Network   (ELN)

For   more information write or P.O. Box 21004, Cleveland, OH44121 or call   216-736-4715 or visit our website at Donations   gratefully accepted. Please make checks payable to the ELN and mail to the   above P.O. Box.





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