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Susan Green

A May Day Message on Socialism
for Working Class Women

(30 April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 18, 30 April 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Not long ago women and children in Nice, Southern France, rioted when a huge plate of caviar and cold salmon appeared on the screen of a local theatre in a scene from Andy Hardy Goes to Town. Thereupon the authorities banned the movie; The Private Life of Henry VIII, because it shows great roasts of beef, fowl and other food. The danger of inciting the starving French people was too great.

From northern France came recent news of women trying to break into a sugar factory to get for their children some of the calories lodging in sugar. The sugar permitted only to those who can afford black market prices.

From Stockholm, Sweden, comes a report of hunger riots in the northern and eastern sections of Berlin. Said the reporter:

“On the eve of my departure hungry mothers of starving children stormed food shops in the Alexanderplatz and almost lynched a SA (storm troop) guard who tried to quiet them with the suggestion that they economize on their bread rations.”

Here are similar pictures from both a so-called friendly and so-called enemy country – pictures that transcend national boundaries and prove that imperialist World War II has inflicted unbearable suffering alike on victor and vanquished. And they show also that women, as the fulcrum of family life, bear the load. In the United States the barbaric devastation of war has not been felt in all its impact. A favored geographic location, the great natural resources of the country and the tremendous productivity of American workers and farmers have all contributed to saving us here from the horrors experienced by the common people in other parts of the world. However, even here the ravages of war have not exactly passed us by.

There is the struggle of the people to make ends meet with frozen wages and expanding prices. There are the empty places in the icebox and in the clothes closet due to the scarcity of commodities – found in plenty, however, on the black market. There is the shortage of decent housing, of doctor and hospital accommodations, of child care centers for working mothers. All these lacks mean discomfort for all, undermined health for many, sickness for many others, and even premature death for all too many. And again, the women, as the fulcrum of family life, feel the brunt of the situation.

A casualty of war, almost as tragic as that which happens to the best manhood of the nation, is what happens to its children. Due to the economic, social and moral upheaval, tens of thousands of adolescent boys and girls are caught in the treacherous current, and their lives are twisted or broken. Hundreds of thousands of children are induced to take jobs. Youngsters under fourteen work inhumanly long hours on unfamiliar jobs, at hazardous and unfamiliar machines. Accidents to child workers have risen directly with the violation by bosses of child labor laws.

In the State of New York the child accidents reported by inspectors – and they are only part of the story – were in 1944 seven time those in 1940. The near breakdown of the school system under war conditions is a factor increasing both child delinquency and harmful child labor.

The War has taken the full-grown, and stunts the growth of the growing. And what woman is not aware of this double tragedy!

Again, what women is not filled with consuming doubt as to the future? What shall she tell the baby when it grows up about the missing father? What kind of world will the baby grow up in? These doubts were well expressed by the widow of a pilot. On receiving a medal awarded her dead husband, she wrote to the army heads stating some of her thoughts about her baby and the future:

“I don’t want him to think of his father being killed while he was killing other people. We Americans weren’t brought up to do that. I wish I could tell him his father died to save him from being drawn into a third world war. I hope it is true, sincerely, but mothers twenty-five years ago wondered too.”

Does Bretton Woods give any assurance to the mothers of whom this pilot’s widow is typical? Do Dumbarton Oaks, Yalta and Sam Francisco give any assurance to the mothers of whom this pilot’s widow is typical? Hardly, for the conflicting interests of the great powers among themselves, and of the little powers as against the great powers, inevitably mean trouble. Even Roosevelt, in his speech to Congress after Yalta, betrayed an undercurrent of doubt while expressing hope.

And did not Wilson express hope a quarter of a century ago? But international capitalism runs true to form!

The first half of the message of Labor Action, on this May Day 1945, to working women is this:

Permanent peace under international capitalism is impossible. One or the other must go. For the sake of the dead for whom there is no longer any hope and for the children for whom there still is hope, we ask the women to dedicate themselves to the task of procuring peace in the only way possible – helping to establish International Socialism.

Another source of grave anxiety to every woman is the question of economic security. Will the mother and housewife, who is fortunate enough to have a breadwinner, be the recipient of a pay envelope each week sufficient to provide the good life for her family? And what of the almost 18,000,000 women workers now supporting themselves and dependents? Will there be jobs for them? And what kind of pay will they get?

Security and Socialism

In March 1944, the United Auto Workers made a survey and discovered that 85% of the women workers wanted to keep their jobs after the war. Of the widowed women working, 100% need their jobs. Of the single women, 98.5% must keep on working. Of the married women, 68.7% must continue to contribute to the family income.

However, already six months ago there were 20,000 women in the Detroit area unable to get jobs. Cutbacks have since increased and are steadily increasing. Women are being discriminated against in lay-offs, and especially union women whose standard is equal pay for equal work. It is the purpose of the capitalists to create a huge army of unemployed women to compete for jobs at lower wages and thus break down the whole wage structure!

This calamity to labor must be avoided. Women must insist on being unionized, on union contracts with equal pay and seniority rights for women, on lay-off pay, on protective legislation both federal and state. But just as’ capitalism runs true to form on the international field; it also has its basic form in domestic economy. There will be many more workers than jobs to go around. And this always spells economic insecurity and chaos.

The second half of the message of Labor Action, on this May Day 1945, to working women is this:

Economic security under capitalism is impossible. One or the other must go. We ask the working women who fear economic insecurity as well as war, to join us in fulfilling our program for an independent labor party, a Workers’ Government, workers’ control of industry, production for use and not’ for capitalist profit.

For economic security – a Workers’ Government and Socialism; for permanent peace – International Socialism.

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Last updated: 13 June 2016