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Susan Green

Of Special Interest to Women

(24 March 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 12, 24 March 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A few days ago a woman of forty-seven leaped to her death, from a fire escape on the fifteenth floor of the Cotton Exchange Building in New York City,

Though she had excellent qualifications and could correspond in English, French and German, she was out of a job, She had been out of a job for some time, owed money for her room rent, and did not even have the price for the postage on some letters which she left with a note for the police.

You see, she was forty-seven – and therefore shoved onto the human scrap heap.

She started to write her suicide note last November. For all the intervening months she clung to the hope that something would turn up, Finally she finished the note and her life. She wrote that “office girls are no longer wanted when they grow older.”

The day after this tragedy a wise-Alec known in this life as Mrs. Grace Oakley, holding down a lucrative job in the New York Skin and Cancer Hospital, heaped insult upon injury on the heads of the thousands of women in the predicament of this poor suicide. At a meeting at which “considered counsel” was supposed to be dispensed to middle-aged job seekers, she insultingly gave out the following:

“The average woman over forty does not use her head – cannot be induced to use her head. Of course, if she has a head to use, she need not despair. Why complain that classified ads in newspapers discriminate against you on the subject of age? No one who was not completely naive would look in such a section for a job after passing forty. She must have friends who will help her find a career – and anyone who is not feeble-minded must have made friends.”

Even feeble-minded people make friends. But there are friends – and FRIENDS. This Mrs. Oakley doesn’t mean friends in the sense that we usually use that word. Most of us use that word to describe people whom we have come to like for their qualities, to whom our hearts go out, whom we help in the ordinary troubles of life, from whom we accept such help. She means not friends but PULL. Pull may have gotten Mrs. Oakley her hospital job, but the fact remains that pull is as rare as a job for a woman of forty.

Mrs. Oakley’s caustic, insulting and stupid speech comes from her own flagrant inability to say anything pertinent on the subject of jobs for women of forty.

The solution of the job problem for women of forty is the same as the solution of the job problem for the whple working class: TO ABOLISH THE OWNERSHIP OF THE MEANS OF LIFE BY A BOSS CLASS.

Pending this ultimate solution, powerful unionism is the only thing that will give the workers some control over thei r jobs under the capitalist system.

In the field of office work, unionism has lagged behind pitiably, due in large measure to the fact that office workers have for a long time foolishly clung to the untruth that they are not members of the working class.

Office workers in factories and plants must join the union of all the other workers of their factory or plant; must strike, picket, fight with their fellow workers; and in turn get from the union protection from the arbitrary hiring and firing practices of the bosses.

Office workers in the professions must build a mighty office workers union, able to make and enforce its demands; including protection for workers of middle age.

Not individual pull, but WORKERS’ COLLECTIVE POWER is the basis for solving the job problem in all its phases.

Talking about unionism reminds me that the other day Mrs. Roosevelt devoted her entire column, My Day, to that subject. Though that august lady does most or her traveling by deluxe airplane, she still knows how to ride two horses at the same time – as well as any other straddling politician.

She, of course, believes that labor unions are necessary for the protection of the workers. But at the same time she is sure that labor unions should be of benefit to the bosses.

She does not believe that every man, and woman should be forced to join a union – which puts her on the right side of Ford, that union-buster who claims that the United Automobile Workers are “forcing” the “contented” Ford workers to organize. But she stands for the right of a worker “to join with his fellows in a union if he feels it will help OTHERS and, incidentally, himself.”

So altruism is supposed to motivate the workers to join unions! What “others” are the workers supposed to help by joining a union? The bosses? The so-called public? – that cloak for a multitude of capitalist sins? Obviously Mrs. Roosevelt’s line will sell no tickets for unionism – which sue professes to support.

If workers were dumb enough to use the test laid down by the first lady, there would not now be even a first union. Workers join unions PRIMARILY to help themselves – but after they have learned that they cannot help themselves except by following the working class principle: ALL FOR EACH – EACH FOR ALL!

And talking of the first lady brings me around to a little story about society women of Mrs. Roosevelt’s class.

Since American imperialism has definitely allied itself with its British brother in this robbers’ war, dowagers and debutantes have something to do. Some of them have been giving their support to the American Fund for British War Aid, one of the groups engaged in the business of collecting money for Britain. They fuss around organizing benefits and dinners and dances and what-not.

It seems that the mountain has labored and brought forth a wee mouse. For this group of benefactors has turned over to the British war chest the tiny mite of three cents out of each dollar collected.

Class-conscious working women have enough to do strengthening their own class and the cause of socialism without worrying about the war chests of the British imperialists or the German imperialists or the American imperialists. But curiosity impels the question: “Just what happened to the other 97 cents out of each dollar collected?”

I would not hint that dowagers and debutantes – those feminine, if not always graceful, pillars of top society – are dishonest. But they certainly have been keeping bad company!

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