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Susan Green

A May Day Message to Working Women

(28 April 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 17, 28 April 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The working women of America have a glorious record of struggle, of which they can be very proud. The power wielded by labor today is the result of bitter combat, from which women and men have drawn strength and wisdom. On this May Day, the international holiday of the workers of the world, working men and women can join hands in mutual esteem as comrades in a good fight.

The exploiters and deceivers of the workers point a triumphant finger at the recent agreement between Big Steel and the CIO and say: “Where else in the world can labor sit down with the big industrial magnates and with representatives of the government and work out an agreement so beneficial to labor?” Such a thing, they say, can only happen in this great American democracy. Therefore, continues this tricky argument, let every mother’s son go get his gun and fight for this grand and glorious democracy.

Labor Fought for Its Gains

All this is as false as that beautiful set of new teeth in the head of an old man. American democracy never handed the workers anything on a silver platter. Whatever gains the American working class has made it FOUGHT FOR. Industrial magnates and government representatives sit down with labor BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO. American labor is STRONG. It knows how to close down huge plants like Ford’s and how to keep them closed. It knows how to stop the flow of profits into the bulging pockets of the bosses. That is their talking point.

Labor has gained this strength and knowledge over long years of fierce fighting – struggles that have piled up many martyrs for the cause, And every inch of the way the workers have been attacked, not only by the private thugs of the bosses but by the city, state and federal forces of “this great American democracy.” With its laws and with its guns American “democracy” has sought to keep the working class down. IT HAS NOT SUCCEEDED.

In all these battles the women have done their share. They have fought bravely on their own, striking for unions, wages and conditions, and picketing shoulder to shoulder with the men. They have also participated as fighting partners of their striking husbands, as fighting partners of their striking sons.

In Steel and in Textile

In 1919 during the great strike that first shook the feudal foundations of the steel industry which now is forced to sign with the CIO, the women stood by their men for three and a half long months. Those were the days of Burleson and Palmer, when the revolts of the European workers produced such hysterical fear and hatred in the ruling class here that no terror against the workers was terrible enough. In the steel districts the Cossacks of. American democracy ruled supreme. Every vestige of free speech, press, assembly, was gone. For weeks at a time strikers were isolated from each other, without organizers, without strike bulletins. The mounted gunmen went so far as to charge into groups of children in order to provoke the fathers to fight and thus give the gunmen the excuse to let flow rivers of blood. The women had the strength to restrain their men. Their strength has gone into the building of the great labor movement of today.

In the textile strikes of the early twenties, that spread like wild fire throughout the New England states, the most backward, the most suppressed and exploited workers rose and did battle against their bosses and the forces of American “democracy.” Against a 54-hour week, against a 20 per cent reduction in wages and against the well armed troops of “democracy,” they fought. There were 100,000 of them, of all nationalities, many who came to the great American melting pot to escape the Cossacks abroad. Tens of thousands of women and girls were in the strikers’ ranks and in some localities fought on for nearly nine months. Their strength has gone into the building of the mighty labor movement of today.

There was the great Passaic strike of 1926–1927. Fifty per cent of the strikers were women – enslaved women who had labored continuously for eight to ten hours every night without pause even for a drink of water, who had slaved thus even when carrying their unborn children. They became dauntless warriors of the working class, They marched with the men on the picket lines and were in the thick of all union activities. During “Terror Week” when men, women and children were indiscriminately and mercilessly beaten and ridden down by the mounted police of the bosses and “the great American democracy,” these women did not run away, but kept reforming the picket lines with the men. Their strength too has gone into the building of the powerful labor movement of today.

As Militant as Ever

The growth of the CIO, the symbol and instrument of working class power in this country, was made possible by the splendid solidarity of the women with the men, by their courageous cooperation and at times brilliant initiative. Most dramatic is the part played by them in the great auto strikes, in Flint they went from house to house, from store to store, exposing the vigilante committees organized to fight the strikers, and succeeded in completely discrediting them. The women’s battalion picketed the plants and by their unswerving militancy often shamed the police into less brutal conduct. In the famous “Battle of Bulls Run” the women had the satisfaction of being fighters on the victorious side.

In the strikes of today the women are as militant as ever. They took their places among the pickets at the Ford plants. In the less spectacular strike at the Leviton factory in Brooklyn, now in its seventh month, women who have never struck before are persistent and courageous fighters. In the New York bus strike that made such a stir the wives and children of the strikers joined with them in their meetings and their activities.

The Real Test Is Yet to Come

As the child is father to the man, so labor’s history explains why the American workers can today talk turkey. Years of struggle

against the combined forces of American “democracy” and the exploiting bosses have made them strong – have increased their solidarity – have improved their strategy – have perfected their form of organization. In spite of the many setbacks inflicted by the craft form of organization of the AFL, in spite of the many sell-outs of false leaders in many of the unions, the rank and tile workers have come put on top. And in this development of labor there has been no such thing as “the weaker sex.”

But this May Day does not mark the achievement of the goal of’ the working class of America. Far from it. Today the call to fight rings out more compellingly than ever. The real test is yet to come.

The rising cost of living on the one hand and “frozen” wages on the other are bound to worsen living standards. The “mediation” boards will move heaven and earth to induce the workers to take it on the chin, while the bosses take it into their pockets. Payment for the imperialist war will in large measure be forced from the working class by income taxes, consumer taxes and ail kinds of “voluntary” contributions. If the war continues – as it is expected to – for three to five years more, there will be shortages of food and other living needs. Suffering and privation are the “benefits” the working class will get from the war.

As always, the women will feel most the direct impact of these war conditions. They suffer twice: their personal privations and their anguish for their families. On top of this is the harrowing worry over their boys who are already being sent to the outposts of American imperialism – to defend “their homes” in the Philippines, Hawaii and other distant places. And there will be the broken hearts of the bereaved mothers that will gradually fill up with anger at the war makers.

Women Will Play Their Part

In the past such conditions have led to great revolutionary struggles, in which women nave played a brave role. Back in 1871, the hardships of the Franco-Prussian war burst the bounds of endurance and the workers rebelled. For the first time in history, the working class of Paris took power and held it from March 15 to May 29: The Parisian working women knew how to fight. They were on the barricades, sewed the sand bags needed for defense, participated in the meetings of the people’s government, formed revolutionary clubs for women, And what they stood at the open graves of their fallen comrades, they pressed their children to them and taught the little ones to cry out “Vive la Commune!”

The Paris Commune was drowned in blood when the butcher Thiers invited the besieging German armies to enter Paris and do the filthy job. Then as in 1940 the French ruling class preferred the armies of the “enemy” capitalists of Germany to file power of ITS OWN WORKING CLASS. But the revolt of the men and women of the Paris Commune was not in vain. Perhaps the Russian Revolution would not have taken place without thee example of the Commune.

The world-shaking events of 1917, which stand as the criterion of action for the freedom-seeking workers of the world, also developed out of the unbearable conditions of war. The revolution was set in motion by a group of the most oppressed and downtrodden workers of Russia – THE WOMEN OF THE TEXTILE MILLS. On the 22nd of February, 1917, which was International Women’s Day, they walked out on strike – against the orders of their leaders.

They took the initiative, THE TIME HAD COME. They were through with slaving to fill the pockets of the bosses with war profits – through with standing hours on bread lines – through with being separated from their husbands at the front – through with being widowed.

They went out and more masses of women joined them. They flocked to the government buildings, demanding bread. Then the more advanced workers also swung into action. First to fall under the revolutionary might of the masses were the czar and the old despotism. After a series of crucial events leading up to the October Revolution the workers and peasants took complete power, ended the war, ended the rule of the capitalists, landlords and their fake democratic government.

Stalin and his gang of reactionary bureaucrats robbed the Russian masses of their revolutionary gains. But the glorious accomplishment of the Russian workers in making a successful revolution, the courage and initiative of the women in starting the massive, annihilating bail rolling over their vicious rulers, have not been lost. In some nation soon the workers will continue where the Russian masses left off.

Side by Side Toward Freedom

AMERICA SHOULD BE THAT NATION! The working class here has not yet been crushed by a military juggernaut. It is stronger than ever before. So strong, in fact, that while the stupid politicians call for the electric chair for strikers, the wiser ones advise kid-gloves for the handling of labor. They are afraid that the great giant will lift its mighty fist and slap them down.

Will the workers of America allow themselves to be “mediated,” then bludgeoned into powerlessness, or will they widen and deepen their struggle? Will the working women of America wait until their families are starving and their sons and husbands slaughtered; or will they carry out the tradition of women’s militancy in the past and FIGHT NOW FOR PEACE AND ALL THEIR PEACE-TIME NEEDS!

Millons of stunned, starved, lonely women under Hitler’s heel wait tor a sign that will set them in motion. Millions of women squirming under the paws of the British lion wait for the dawn of a better day. The working women of America have it in their power to give inspiration and courage to all the others. They can make those miserable ones abroad understand that in America the working class has started on the road to power and the END OF WAR AND STARVATION. Then they too will rise up against the bloody imperialists – dictators and “democrats” alike!


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