*With all NEC comrades, bar Paul M voting for the document
This is a response to the IS document, “Women’s Oppression and Identity Politics – Our Approach in Ireland and Internationally”. The IS document mostly focuses on our approach and methods in relation to our interventions on women and abortion in Ireland, including our approach in ROSA which we initiated nearly six years ago. We will make points:
- On identity politics and our battle against it
- On the importance of the global women’s movement, which we feel the IS seems hesitant about
- On the decisive role we actually played in the abortion rights struggle
- On whether, as the IS suggest, the Irish section has moved away from a working-class orientation and stand point
Part One – The Irish Section and Identity Politics
In Ireland, in contrast to what is implied, we have actually clashed considerably with the ideas of identity politics in the movement and have challenged these ideas, week in, week out.
The IS says, “…identity politics can be an inevitable part of the political awakening of many members of oppressed groupings… Recognising that you are oppressed, and that you can fight against your oppression through a common struggle with others who share the same oppression, is a vital first step.” As a description, this is problematic. We shouldn’t give credence to the idea that fighting against oppression is in and of itself ‘identity politics’. When the IS argues that ‘sectional struggle’ is not always a positive, we understand this relates to the above view of identity politics.
A group moving into struggle against their oppression is a positive development. What’s completely separate, diﬀerent, and wholly reactionary are the ideas of ‘identity politics’. There needs to be a skilful but very firm challenge to these damaging petit-bourgeois, reformist and postmodern ideas of individualism that can exist within movements that aim to fight oppression.
In a 2014 Socialist Party article, we described identity politics as “viewing society as comprising of interest groups. Sometimes the interest groups intersect and overlap, but there is not any overarching framework in which to analyse society.” We situated these ideas in the context of setbacks for the working-class movement, and the backdrop of the dominance of postmodernism in academia. We wrote:
“Postmodernism… feeds into analysing oppression from a subjective or personal viewpoint. Needless to say, the voices and the personal experiences of those that are oppressed are extremely important. But to have the best insight into the nature and roots of oppression, as well as having the voices and experiences of the oppressed front and centre; a materialist analysis of broader social forces at work, that the oppression flows from, is necessary. We need to have a clear vision as to how to best challenge and end that oppression.”
The article goes on to explain:
“The centrality of class is not a denigration, relegation or denial of special oppressions. Crucially, is the fact that a united, organised and conscious working class has the most power to challenge the oppressive system of capitalism; a system that has a vested interest in maintaining oppressions, often for economic gains from them, but also from the point of view of dividing workers to cut across unity and struggle. Working class struggle is the most eﬀective challenge to the ruling class…”
Clash with Identity Politics in the Abortion Struggle
The claim made by the IS that we are adapting to identity politics, is somewhat contradicted by their criticism of our focus on anti-capitalist arguments. Demonstrating the role of capitalism is actually a key way to introduce the need for a socialist alternative, thereby presenting a fundamental challenge to identity politics. In a more specific sense, the approach that ROSA took to abortion pills, meant that we clashed with those who subscribe to ‘intersectional feminism’.
In the 2010s, the use of abortion pills on the island of Ireland was silently increasing. We saw the signifi- cance – namely, that people had an alternative to travelling abroad and more and more were having abortions on Irish soil. We saw that this could change the situation and consciousness.
ROSA’s abortion pill train and later, the abortion pill buses actively flouted the law, and received major national and international media coverage – drawing attention to the existence of the pills and increasing the usage through WomenOnWeb.org by 200 per year up to 2017. ROSA and the Socialist Party were isolated within the pro- choice movement by these actions. They prompted a slew of attacks and at least one attempt at sabotage. It was argued that these actions would alert the state to the use of the pills and that this would put the supply in danger and put the most vulnerable at risk. We countered that if the supply of pills was aﬀected, we would find other ways to get them in. We correctly believed that the actions would increase the knowledge of and use of the pills.
The attacks on our actions were a real example of identity politics. Its myopic individualism meant a complete focus on individuals getting the pills in the present, without any vision whatsoever for the building of a movement to pressurise the state to legalise and provide the pills, or using the pills as part of a political struggle. Identity politics meant accepting the status quo or minimal progress. Any broader focus on the class balance of forces, was posed as being oppressive in and of itself.
Our actions were based on a firm belief that the majority of the working class were on our side, albeit passively. Even though the actions were breaking the law, we felt that it was likely that the state would turn a blind eye, as any repression could shift that passive support into a much larger active movement. Our optimism in the attitudes of working people contrasted starkly with the philosophical pessimism of identity politics, in which the potential for working-class solidarity is at best underplayed, at worst, completely discounted. Challenging identity politics was key to the role we have played in the historic se- curing of the 12 weeks on request victory.
Other Clashes with Identity Politics
The Sex Industry
The IS document could give the impression that the Irish section is soft on, and friendly with the forces of petit-bourgeois feminism. The truth is we are largely treated as pariahs by these forces, and our opposition to the sex industry has been the centrepiece of a series of vicious campaigns of online attacks over a number of years. We’ve been eﬀectively ‘no platformed’ on some demonstrations because of the stance we have taken on the sex indus- try, illustrating the anti-working class, anti-socialist nature of identity politics.
One spate of online attacks happened after the referendum victory. “ROSA are SWERFS” (anti-sex worker) trended on Twitter Ireland. A significant section of the hundreds of young people activated in ROSA’s Yes cam- paign were knocked back by this attack, which was consciously orchestrated by ‘intersectional feminists’. They did this because the unashamedly pro-choice and socialist Yes campaign that ROSA had run was popular (an academic researcher has revealed to us that ROSA’s Yes posters were by far the most popular amongst a cross section of society). We had exposed how those who claim to be radical had needlessly gone along with an utterly bourgeois and tame oﬃcial Yes campaign.
Within the identity politics framework, the question of the sex industry is posed on a solely individual level, focusing on the rights of sex workers not to be stigmatised, not to suﬀer state repression, and to be aﬃrmed and accepted. Of course all of this is valid, but it is one-sided. It fails to recognise the reality of the sex industry: the nature of this sexist, racist and oppressive, as well as exploitative industry; the role that it has in fostering macho culture and the harmful social impact of this; the impossibility of making such a dangerous industry safe; and how this plays into the sanitising of the industry and the magnates who profit from it.
When this came up in the Dáil, we strove to forge an independent class position. We did not support the (highly neoliberal version) of the ‘Swedish Model’ being brought in by the Government. Neither did we succumb to the tremendous pressure from forces rooted in identity politics to eschew any criticism of the sex industry and to support decriminalisation of pimping. We engaged in a very detailed way with all aspects of the legislation as it went through parliament, advocating numerous amendments. Most importantly, in our material and comrades’ speeches in the Dáil, we explained that there is no reformist solution:
It’s a pertinent comment on capitalism today that the sex industry is a massive, global, billion dollar industry. Capitalism turns everything into a commodity to profit from. e sex industry moguls profit from a visage of sexual liberation, but the industry is, in fact, extremely backward, old-fashioned, and sexist gender roles are dressed up as modern and shiny. Real sexual and human freedom is impossible in conditions of poverty and wealth inequality.
It’s also impossible when women’s oppression remains.
The struggle against all oppression and inequality has to be an anti-capitalist struggle, based on solidarity, with the working class linking with all the oppressed and exploited to challenge the ‘masters of the universe’… In short, a socialist struggle is needed. (“Socialists on the sex industry: Opposing pimps & traﬃckers, Sup- porting sex workers’ rights & safety”, Socialist Alternative journal, May 2017)
In contrast, PBP/Socialist Workers’ Network (formerly SWP) deputies in the Dáil took no such stance, making absolutely zero criticism of the nature of the sex industry profiteers in a complete opportunist submission to identity politics.
Challenging Bourgeois Identity Politics
Most of the above refers to the petit-bourgeois identity politics which is prevalent in movements against oppression and can have the most impact on radicalised youth. There is also a more ‘out and out’ bourgeois form of identity politics that we have taken head-on. This is from the Sunday Times from 29 January, 2017 entitled ‘Rebuﬀ to Fake Sisters of Dáil’:
Socialist deputy Ruth Coppinger has refused to join a cross-party women’s caucus in Leinster House, saying “there’s not much point in pretending there’s a fake sisterhood in the Dáil”. Coppinger was the only female politician who rejected an invitation to attend a meeting last week about setting up the group. “I don’t really want to spend any time in a forum with women like Joan Burton and Frances Fitzgerald who have imposed austerity on other women as government ministers,” said Coppinger…
Again, in contrast, the PBP/SWP female deputy attended the above meeting.
Part Two: Global Feminist Revolt – Some points of Perspectives & Analysis
How we challenge identity politics needs more discussion. However, it’s a negative side of what has been an overwhelmingly positive development – the emergence of a global feminist movement that has had an impact on all continents.
There has been a belated and partial recognition of the global feminist movement in recent years in CWI material. A tendency to understate the significance of this development inevitably has an impact on concrete initiatives and interventions, or lack thereof. The tendency for the comrades to reference campaigns and initiatives from a quarter of a century ago, albeit very important ones like the Campaign Against Domestic Violence, underscores this point.
In the 2014 International Women’s Day statement, when there clearly was an outline of significant sections of youth identifying as feminist and open to left politics, and struggles like the ‘Rage Against Rape’ in India in 2013 had taken place, there were only two allusions to the new feminist movement. The first is negative:
This year the so-called ’fourth wave’ of feminism gets an airing but fails to oﬀer a way out of the very practical problems of the women workers and poor farmers who make up half of the world’s population.
The second is a factual point that fails to venture any significant conclusions or perspectives:
Mass demonstrations in Spain against attempts to re- verse progressive legislation, allowing abortion in the first 14 weeks, have shown the deeply felt anger on this issue and the preparedness of young women to fight. Socialists in Ireland have played an important role in maintaining the pressure for legal reforms that came into sharp focus after the death of Savita Halappanavar who was refused a life-saving abortion at the end of 2012.
In the 2016 International Women’s Day CWI Statement itself, there is no mention of the women’s movements and no points about violence, sexism or abortion.
ROSA was established because we had a perspective, not only for a significant abortion rights struggle but because we identified increasing sections of young women in particular, identifying as ‘feminist’ and open to socialist politics, and we also felt that this would be an international phenomenon. In summer 2016, before #MeToo or the idea of the global feminist strike, we wrote in our journal:
“The Stanford rape case that went to trial in June 2016, had a colossal resonance, globally. This is because one in three women around the world will experience physical or sexual violence during her life. It’s also because globally, there is the outline of a new women’s movement. A new generation of young women are being radicalised by continued women’s and LGBTQ oppression, identifying as feminist, and in some instances engaging in political action.
This has significantly deepened since. In Latin America, especially Argentina, and in the Spanish state there has been mass occupations, feminist strikes and mass mobilisations of a militant character –‘class struggle feminism’ as the comrades so aptly call it. In Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia, campaigners have successfully reversed or blocked ‘marry-your-rapist’ laws. In the US, the ‘Women’s Marches’ after Trump’s election were some of the biggest demonstrations in US history. In late 2017 the #MeToo phenomenon saw the hashtag trending on Twitter in one day in 85 countries around the world. On Facebook 12 million people responded in the first 24 hours.
To varying degrees, questions of gender-based harassment and violence on the street, in the home, and at work are aspects of women’s (and gender non-conforming people’s) lives at some point in time in every state. Amongst many working-class and young women, being radicalised on this question is inter-linked completely with all the other aspects of their lives under capitalism – unequal pay, precarity in work and housing. Furthermore, a growing section of the young working class are following and radicalised by struggles in other parts of the globe.
These are all features of the global feminist movement that has deepened in recent months by women workers taking questions of harassment and abuse into the workplace. Working-class women are putting their stamp on the movement, making it a potentially dynamic aspect of the working-class movement as a whole.
The IS seem to imply a rigid distinction between those who are radicalised on economic questions, and those who are radicalised on social questions. There is no Chinese Wall between radicalisation on social and economic issues, and drawing a false dichotomy fails to recognise the processes of radicalisation unfolding in many states on questions of oppression and the potential interplay of questions of oppression, and the economic realities of capitalist crisis.
The “#MeToo” McDonalds strike in ten US cities
is an inspiring example of this radicalisation. In the South of Ireland, the Repeal
victory has helped propel an important section of young people into protest
activity on housing.
Furthermore, the worldwide Google walkouts in November, organised in opposition to management was indicative. In Dublin, up to 1,000 Google workers walked out. There are many multinationals with largely unorganised workforces, so this was particularly seminal and the impact of the Repeal movement was clear. Alongside demands in relation to sexual harassment, other demands of the walkout included points about equal pay, illustrating the interaction of the economic and social.
Comrades organising young workers in Unite the Union in Belfast have taken up the issue of sexual harassment at work. The Boojum workers who recently unionised also simultaneously got active with ROSA be- cause of their concern on this issue. Then there’s the inspiring equal pay strike in Glasgow, Scotland. Surely this development, led by a section of workers that importantly continues to embody important class traditions, is not divorced from the broader radicalisation among women, generally? This can in turn inspire and educate the younger radicalised layer who see the power of the organised work- ing class and learn important lessons about solidarity.
The Material Basis for Radicalisation of Young Working Class Women
What’s fuelling this radicalisation and mass feminist movements? The IS document cites the entering of women into the workforce en masse, increased confidence and expectations, and then the disproportionate eﬀects of austerity and the ravages of the Great Recession. This is all valid. However, the en masse entering of women into the workforce, globally, also means that women workers are concentrated in some of the most militant, or potentially militant sectors, globally, and are likely to continue to be at the forefront of struggle.
The trends of neoliberalism over decades have many features that impinge in specific ways on proletarian women. The shift of manufacturing to the East has seen masses of girls and women entering into factory work. Simultaneously, the expansion of the service sector in the West has been accompanied by record numbers of women workers taking up these lower-paid, less secure, often un- organised forms of employment. The privatisation drive has also disproportionately aﬀected working-class women, both as workers and as users of services.
In our Southern Perspectives document in 2015, we said:
“Since the movement against the water charges really emerged as a mass and active struggle in October 2014, it’s been very noticeable that working-class women have become central organisers in the movement. As with the activity around homelessness and the housing crisis that happened in 2014, this includes working-class women in their 20s and 30s…getting active for the first time… The emergence of working-class women as organisers…shows the potential for the intertwining of the building of a working-class revolt against austerity, to a women’s movement that has a strong involvement of working-class women.
“In Ireland and in many other states, young people and young women in particular have developed an impatience for change that’s characterised by an unwillingness to accept inequality or any further vestiges of sexism, and this means they will likely continue to clash with the system.”
Women’s Oppression and Capitalism Inextricably Linked
A point is made in the IS document that in the West, the impact of deindustrialisation on traditionally majority male sectors, alongside a simultaneous increase in women in the workforce meant that: “before the economic crisis – young working-class women, were, in general, more confident of their prospects than young working class men.” This seems one-sided, not taking into account, for example, that there has been a significant rise in sexist propaganda in the mass media in this period, which also had a detrimental impact on the confidence and mental health of young women, as well as the continued persistence of violence, pay inequality etc.
The point is also made that there was “grain of truth” in the ‘post-feminist’ idea that “women were on the verge of winning equality” in many countries. Again, this seems one-sided when considering the experiences of the very many working-class women even in the advanced capitalist countries at that time, or of any women who suﬀered intimate partner violence and abuse. In fact, the burning and impatient desire for equality, which can’t be achieved under capitalism as women’s oppression is stitched into the fabric of the system – the Oxfam wealth report estimated that the unpaid labour women do globally amounted to $10 trillion in 2017 – is likely to continue to be hugely radicalising.
Furthermore, there is reference made to the capitalist establishment in a number of countries, including Ireland, that will implement ‘feminist’ and LGBTQ- friendly measures in order to drum up support. While this will be true in some cases, it can also tend to understate the impact of the movements that have developed. While Varadkar in Ireland has gained kudos among some for Re- peal, it was an enormous battle and struggle against him and the whole political establishment ‘from below’ that won the right to a referendum. Working-class people have an understanding of this. Also, the threat that the ascent of right-populist and far-right political forces poses to op- pressed groups and existing rights needs more emphasis.
This is a reactionary system and gains from decades ago can be threatened – as evidenced by the threat to Roe vs. Wade in the US.
The Question of Macho Violence
Gender-based violence and harassment are very important factors in the radicalisation. In the context of the Belfast rape trial and presumably in reaction to the “I believe her” slogan that emerged from below, the IS document cautions, “we have to be careful not to go along with the conclusion of many petit-bourgeois feminists that every accusation of sexual assault made by a woman against a man has to be accepted”. The IS are intimating that we just follow petit-bourgeois feminists. This is inaccurate to say the least. The facts are that when we called the demonstration North and South regarding this trial, we purposely called it under the general title/slogan of “Stand with Her & All Survivors”.
When a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict was delivered, “I Believe Her” became the rallying cry. This slogan was a challenge to the mistreatment by police and the victim blaming by the courts and media. This slogan was a genuine cry of solidarity from below to the woman, and to validate all survivors of sexual violence.
The key point is that if we were overly legalistic or cautious in our approach, we would not have taken the initiatives and these important developments and potential would have passed us by. The sentiment behind the slogan was hugely progressive and thousands of angry young women marched through cities North and South irreverently chanting “Sue me Paddy”, after the acquitted rugby player threatened to sue those saying “I Believe Her”.
Under the banner of ROSA one thousand joined the demonstration in Belfast and 8,000 marched in Dublin. Subsequently, the “I Believe Her” slogan has manifested itself in the Wolfpack case in the Spanish State and in the US during the appointment of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
In reference to the #MeToo phenomenon, the IS document says that every accusation cannot just be automatically believed, and that everyone has the right to a fair trial. It goes on to repeat that many petit-bourgeois feminists advocate: “that every accusation of sexual assault made by a woman against a man has to be accepted as proven regardless of evidence”.
Just to be completely clear, we agree that there can be no automatic acceptance of guilt and believe we do have to be careful. Being careful also means being careful not to be insensitive to women, precisely because the facts speak so overwhelmingly to the general lack of justice for victims of sexual violence. A movement that’s throwing light on this social scandal is valid and important, and we should not be seen to equivocate on supporting it publicly or in our own ranks. Similarly, the point made about the potential for the state to orchestrate a false accusation against a male leader a trade union or in the revolutionary party to try to do damage, is something that could happen. How- ever, that possibility is not a reason for us not to register the positives of the #MeToo phenomenon, and more recently #MeToo being taken into the arena of struggle by workers.
Points are made against the terms ‘rape culture’ and ‘toxic masculinity’. When ‘rape culture’, was popularised after the ‘Rage Against Rape’ in India in 2012, we had a discussion on whether it was correct for us to use the phrase. Precisely because the phrase denotes how rape occurs in a social context of sexist culture, victim blaming, perpetuation of myths about rape, and as it rejected petit- bourgeois ideas about the ‘nature’ of men etc., we decided it could be a useful phrase. When, a number of years later in Germany, the far-right invented the horrid phrase, “rape-fugee”, we pulled back from the phrase for a period.
Regarding ‘toxic masculinity’, we have used it. However, more often we use the phrase ‘macho culture’.
The main issue is the idea or social phenomenon depicted. When intervening on questions of intimate partner vio- lence, harassment and abuse, we have to have a rounded- out approach that both chimes with the mood of the most militant layers, but also connects with a working-class struggle against the system. In doing so, of course we must highlight the life endangering lack of resources in relation to aﬀordable housing, rape crisis supports, refuges, access to free counselling etc . However, we absolutely must also challenge macho culture / machismo / toxic masculinity, including when it manifests itself inside the working class and working-class movement.
Rigid Gender Roles
The whole question of macho culture and macho violence should be placed in the context of the nature of capitalism. The perpetuation of rigid gender roles is a tool for capitalism that has damaging consequences. Macho culture is also rife in the ‘armed bodies’, the police and armed forces, and is in this way a certain ideological aid for the perpetuation of capitalist rule. This quote from the US comrades’ is a very good example of how to expose the sys- tem:
“The Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations have exposed the culture at the elite, private high schools and Ivy League university fraternities and societies. is is a horrifying, misogynistic world where there is literally a culture of raping women that is passed from generation to generation of ruling-class youth. is is the culture that future judges, politicians, CEOs, and presidents are steeped in, one in which rich, white men make a game of objectifying, humiliating, and assaulting women.”
On these issues, if we overwhelmingly or exclusively focus on questions of cuts and austerity alone, but don’t agitate against capitalism as a breeding ground for violence, our intervention would be weakened. It’s also in some ways behind the best working-class youth that aspire to a world free from interpersonal and state violence – a world that only socialists have a vision for, and only the working class, organised and conscious, can create.
In some of the IS document’s formulations around violence, the correct and important points about austerity
/ neoliberalism / services are not accompanied by points about macho culture . We would ask whether the IS comrades think it’s correct that some points on macho culture should be raised? In our view, we have to be careful of a potentially overly economistic approach.
Tackling Homophobia and Transphobia
In her article on identity politics from 2015, Hannah makes the important point that the campaigners from LGSM (LGBT support group of the British miners’ strike from 1980s) did not tell miners who displayed some homophobic attitudes to “check their privilege”. Of course, one cannot help but shudder at the mere thought of such condescension being shown to this heroic group of workers engaging in a seminal class battle! In this way, it’s a useful point. However, LGSM campaigners did challenge homo- phobia. They did it in a comradely way that was combined with an implacable active support for the miners that had an inspiring and transformative impact.
Similarly, within any working-class struggle today, there will be challenges posed by working-class women and youth to prejudiced or oppressive attitudes and behaviours. If this is done in a sensitive and balanced way, in the spirit of solidarity in which the primacy of working-class unity remains central, this does not have to be a problem. It also bears no relation to the ultra left, patronising, divisive and ineﬀective “call out culture” of privilege theory and identity politics – that favours moralising over solidarity and struggle; fundamentally reinforcing the status quo.
We must stand in opposition to the dangerous and discriminatory anti-trans ideas that have been whipped up by the right-wing in many states, who are preying on the trans community eg through the ‘Bathroom Bills’ in the US. Where these ideas have manifested themselves in parts of the trade union and feminist movements, they are often in part a remnant of elements of second wave feminist ideas (and are often backed up by Stalinist lefts who have backward ideas on gender), ideas which have for the most part been rejected by radicalised youth. Transphobic attitudes can also sometimes be hidden behind arguments that resources are scarce and that vital social services are al- ready overstretched etc., as a justification to deny trans rights.
We need to be sensitive of course, as broad attitudes catch up with changes in society — we reject the ‘call out culture’ and ‘no platforming’ moralistic approach of those rooted in Identity Politics. However, it is absolutely crucial we are also understanding of the accumulated and justified anger that gender non-conforming people feel about the oppression they experience. Neither should we underestimate the potential for working-class solidarity on these issues.
Working Class Solidarity Against Oppression
The IS document seems to suggest that the abortion vote was also an anti-austerity vote. It says that “…the accumulated anger at austerity has had very limited outlets as a result of the role of the trade union leaders but could be expressed via the referendum.”
It is unintended but this a significant understatement and diminishing of working-class attitudes on these issues. The Marriage Equality “Yes” was at base, a vote to support and aﬃrm LGBTQ lives. The “Yes” for Repeal was a consciously pro-choice vote. (67% on exit polls cited “Choice” as reason for their “Yes”). In the deprived working-class community of Jobstown, there was an over 90% Yes for Marriage Equality. In Dublin’s, Stoneybatter, populated by young newcomers and traditional working-class, inner-city residents, there was a 92% Yes for abortion rights. The working class has the greatest propensity to show true solidarity.
There is only one reference to Ruth C in the IS document and unfortunately it’s a negative reference. The comrades quote Ruth’s comments that a commission at the England and Wales Socialism event didn’t feature enough young women and their concerns such as sexism, violence etc. But Hannah’s comment immediately after, that that commission that year had a particular trade union focus, actually gives credence to the points Ruth made, yet the comrades make a definite criticism out of it. The IS then immediately go on to say that petit-bourgeois feminists today focus on sexism and sexist attitudes and ignore concrete economic questions. Are the IS trying to imply that this is the approach of the comrades in Ireland?
Suﬃce it to say, all our interventions, agitation and propaganda on questions of oppression should deal with both the economic and social questions. They should also show due sensitivity to oppressed layers, their experi- ences and their concerns, while we expose and agitate against capitalism and illustrate the need for a united work- ing-class struggle as the way forward. In the words of James Connolly, “none so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter… But whosoever carries the outworks of the citadel of oppression, the working class alone can raze it to the ground.”
Part Three: ROSA & Abortion work in Ireland
There is unfortunately misinterpretation, misinformation and misunderstandings in the IS document regarding ROSA. No IS member, as far as we can ascertain, discussed with any comrade involved in organising ROSA to check any information for the document. The strong impression is given is that ROSA constitutes a large majority, or even all, of our work and interventions, the reality is ROSA work has not been given a large amount of re- sources.
Since ROSA was initiated in the South we launched the AAA as a broad left movement for working class people; got 14 councillors elected; stood in the Euro elections; stood in three by-election and won two of them; maintained/won three TD (MP) positions in parliament and stood in a number of other areas in a general election; played a key role in a victorious and historic water charges struggle; played an important role in a number of strikes; relaunched the AAA as Solidarity; scored a tremendous victory against the capitalist state in the Jobstown ‘Not Guilty’ verdict and produced The Socialist, journals, pamphlets and three books on many issues, not least on the National Question. Substantial resources and the party itself was only directed into ROSA in the first six months of 2018, in the run up to the Repeal / abortion referendum itself.
Huge Victory for Working Class Women
The IS document says we are in danger of over- stating the abortion rights victory. Unfortunately, the IS are understating it. Winning, not only repeal of the abortion ban but also abortion up to 12 weeks on request is the single biggest blow struck for women’s rights and against the Catholic Church in the history of the state, and was celebrated most of all by the working class.
The IS document criticises our orientation in the abortion struggle. We are not fully clear of the point being made regarding young people in the IS document when they contrast the role of young people in the Brexit referendum to the role of the young in the abortion referendum in Ireland. In any case, our primary orientation over the years of the abortion struggle was to working class youth. We weren’t awkwardly forcing an agenda, as these have been the major activating issues for the young for a time. Neither was there any deviation from a class perspective in this; actually we were working in the best traditions of the CWI, where youth work was always understood as being essential to building the revolutionary party, particularly among working-class youth.
ROSA’s Yes campaign was active on the streets, in the schools and on the doors in working-class communities. On-street city centre campaigning connected us with a huge cross section of the working class, including retail and other city-based workers. Many took bundles of the campaign literature for their colleagues. In Limerick, we helped a group of hairdressers organise a protest against anti-choice campaigners. In Dublin city centre, we had some joint activity with the Nurses and Midwives for Choice Campaign. This group of workers had to organise outside union structures as their union did not support a ‘Yes’ in the referendum. Door-knocking saw us intervene broadly into the mass in the run up to the referendum. We received a hugely warm response on these activities and were often getting canvass returns of 80-90% Yes in our heartland areas.
Concerted Campaigning and the Trade Unions
The IS document says that we should have had a ‘concerted’ campaign to put demands on the trade union leaders on abortion. In point 31, they also say we should have argued, “that the organised working class (i.e. trade unions ed.) could play a potentially decisive role in fighting for the right to abortion”. The implication is that this should have been an important part of our campaign.
Later we will show what we did regarding the unions. However, we did not have the concerted campaign envisioned by the IS directed at the unions either for the first phase, the legislative process to agree the outline legislation that would be implemented in the event of a yes, or in the second phase, the referendum campaign itself.
Such a campaign would have gotten bogged down in bureaucracy, and opposition by some to a Yes stance and in demands to tone down discussion on the use of abortion pills and the demand for full abortion rights . Both of these were crucial if we were first to force acceptance of 12 weeks on request and in winning the Yes in the referendum. Put simply, the unions were not a mechanism to have a broad impact around a strong pro-choice position as they were way behind the general population on this issue. Such an approach would have used up a lot of energy and resources needed for the main lines of battle.
In the actual struggle that was unfolding, we needed first to mobilise as much direct pressure from the broad working class and the young activists on the political establishment to force their hand in the legislative process that was unfolding. It was necessary to bring people into struggle through the street activities, protests and demonstrations that were growing progressively bigger. Given that we had very limited resources, a concerted campaign on the unions would have run the considerable risk of weakening our ability to organise and mobilise that direct political pressure in society.
The points made by the IS re the unions are formally correct on paper, but in terms of the facts on the ground in this case, they are actually a bit abstract and therefore incorrect. The assertion made by the IS comrades in point 31, that the unions could play a potentially decisive role in achieving abortion rights was a wrong assessment of the actual situation.
While a small handful of unions formally backed a Yes vote, others refused or voted down that position, like the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and Fórsa.
There was simply no drive in the trade unions to fight for pro-choice legislation or a Yes because the leadership adopted a conservative position of not ‘rocking the boat’. And there just isn’t an active rank and file that we could have connected with to try to alter or overturn that position.
Fighting on the Actual Front Line
It was ROSA’s actions with abortion pills that opened up the potential in the situation. The massive growth in the use of the pills afterwards, in eﬀect, meant that there was abortion in Ireland up to 12 weeks organised by people themselves using pills. This made the ban illogical, but as mentioned, we still had to maximise political pressure to force the political establishment down the path we had carved out. In terms of the battle in 2017 mobilising activists to directly build up such pressure was the key task. A vital aspect of this was also our tactics in using the deliberations and investigation of the parliamentary committee to bring out the reality of the change that the pills were having and try to force them to make the recommendation for legislation for 12 weeks on request. This was an enormous victory for working-class women in particular, and the reality is, it would likely not have been achieved if we had focused in a significant way on the trade unions.
The IS document refers to the water and bin charges struggles. These, as well as the seminal campaign against household charges in 2012, which achieved a 52% national boycott, were all struggles that our organisation played a crucial role in. But they further illustrate the points above as they primarily took place outside of the trade union structures. The fact that these mass working- class movements happened in this way was because it was easier for the working class to construct and participate in an independent campaign/movement, than to force the union leaders into a fighting stance.
The Irish section recognised that forcing the unions to act would be diﬃcult after they were able to defy the anti-austerity pressure and decisively sell-out, in late 2010. However, we also recognised that there was a possible alternative way forward if a movement, made up of working-class people, could emerge independently of the unions. We were instrumental in fomenting this movement, and we had the perspective that this could in turn create a new active base to fight to reclaim the trade unions. Without the pioneering work we put in, in the Campaign Against Water and Household Taxes, it is questionable whether the later water charges movement would have developed. So there have been issues with the role of the trade unions for many years, but that hasn’t meant that we turned away from the working class. In fact, the Irish section has turned directly toward the working class in all of our campaigns.
These struggles, despite not being conducted through the labour and trade union movement, were class battles. The abortion rights struggle in Ireland also took place outside of the trade union structures, but that doesn’t mean it was not a working-class struggle. On one level, it’s a valid point that the former are on economic questions and therefore relate very directly to class interests – namely over who possesses the wealth in society.
However, there are other aspects of class struggle that are not primarily economic based, that are or can be part of the broader class struggle — eg anti-war movements, movements for voting or democratic rights — because they challenge important aspects of capitalist rule, and by ex- tension the ability of capitalists to extract profit. Sexism, repression, and in Ireland the Catholic Church, are all important aspects of how capitalism rules over working-class people and society, generally.
But there is an important economic aspect of the abortion rights victory. At least 150,000 have travelled from Ireland for abortions since 1980, with costs of any- thing up to €800 or €1000. Now there will be access to abortion for free at home. We saw the potential for a real victory to be achieved and we formulated nuanced, concrete tactics that played a key role in realising this victory.
The Trade Unions
Through the radicalisation and struggles of the water and abortion movements, new activists for the working-class movement have been formed, who can in turn play a role in redeveloping fighting trade unions, which is always a part of our political argumentation.
The IS document says that we have adopted a wrong approach to the trade unions, basically saying that we don’t place demands or orientate to the unions because of the rottenness of the leaders. This is not true. We have limited resources and many demands, but we do feature union work, although we need to do more. However, the comrades can see that there are real problems with the leaders and where the unions are at right now.
Crucially, the IS have made a mistaken assumption, that there is a baseline active rank and file in the unions that we could orientate and build amongst. This might exist in a few workplaces, in the transport sector for example, and we do indeed have important connections and support there. However, the exception proves the rule, in general it is the absence of an active layer that is the main problem. In many unions the bureaucracy organise the structures to keep people out. Essentially this means that currently, there isn’t an active layer or a mechanism to really put the leadership under significant pressure.
The IS cites the fact of the ICTU backing the re- cent housing demonstration, as a sign or proof that they can be pressurised. The ICTU backed the recent housing demonstration, true, and every small step should be welcomed. But the IS should not overstate its significance.
The majority of the union leaderships do not want a real fight with the government on Housing or other issues; were willing to endorse the October protest in significant meas- ure so as to “put it on their CV”; and refused to back the upcoming December protest. The student unions with far less resources mobilised up to 10 times the numbers on October 3 2018.
A few months ago we agreed and discussed a workplace and trade union strategy in all the branches in the South. We also held a special aggregate meeting in Dublin, that emphasised the need to recruit more workers, build a base in some key workplaces and unions, and yes, these meetings were a means to educate all the comrades in the Party as to the crucial role of the organised working class in the struggle for change.
Anti Capitalist & Socialist Agitation & the Central Role of the Working Class
As well as the Irish section not orientating to the working class in its abortion work, the IS says we make concessions to current moods, which implies political opportunism to some degree. On the other hand, the IS makes light of the fact that we actually have engaged in anti-capitalist agitation, saying we just limit it to that and/or we don’t link it to highlighting the role of the working class, so is of little value. We hope to illustrate that this is completely imbalanced and inaccurate, and that in our work we have emphasised the issues that are key radicalising factors today. We have not just critiqued capitalism, we have argued for socialism, and crucially we have de- fended the key role of the working class.
We engage a lot in anti-capitalist argumentation consciously as a key way to raise the need for socialist change and the centrality of class. The more convincing an argument is made as to why it will be impossible for capitalism to deal with the issues people face, the more the material necessity for each person to get involved in a collective struggle is clarified. This not only exposes reformist ideas, but raises the urgent need for an organised working-class movement. Unless the nature and inability of capitalism is discussed and understood, it is very diﬃcult for someone to really comprehend how the working class will get active and fight for socialism. A failure to apply this method can descend into an abstract presentation of socialist ideas.
The quotes in the IS document give a skewed impression of our approach. From the Socialist Party leaflet from the ‘Stand with Her’ protest in Dublin in March 31 2018:
“WHAT’S CAPITALISM GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Capitalism inherited the oppression of women and honed it to a new level. It will never willingly grant full rights to half the population for fear the inequality which the system is based on will be challenged. The objectification of women’s bodies and sexuality that is pushed by the beauty, fashion and sex industry make billions in profits annually by pushing old-fashioned gender roles.
This means the feminism of Hillary Clinton and establishment figures like Katherine Zappone is meaningless – because it doesn’t challenge the system.
“A woman’s place is in the revolution” – liberation and the struggle for socialist change
It’s no accident that last year, 82% of all wealth generated went to the richest 1% of the population.
This shows how unequal the world is but also what could be achieved if the wealth and resources were used in a planned way for the benefit of people and the planet.
There needs to be a socialist feminist challenge to capitalism in Ireland and victory on abortion rights can give a huge impetus to fight for such fundamental change.
Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare today
If organised and united, women, workers and the young have the power to overthrow capitalism in Ire- land and its history of misogyny and backwardness.”
And more examples from this Socialist Party leaflet from November 2017 on abortion rights:
“James Connolly called socialism, ‘the great anti- theft movement’. We stand for a challenge to injustice and wealth inequality and homelessness. We stand for free quality education and healthcare and putting people’s needs and that of the planet before profit.
Now is our time. Young people have been the backbone of the movements that propelled Corbyn and Sanders forward in Britain and the US – we need such a mass movement here that breaks with capitalism and institutes real democratic socialist change, including the full separation of Church and State.”
Bringing People Closer – Winning New Recruits
From a Socialist Party recruitment leaflet & intervention leaflet for ROSA’s Bread and Roses Festival Sept 2017:
“The wealth and resources exist on our planet to end poverty and to provide a good living standard for all. But capitalism as a system is concerned solely with the drive for profit for a tiny few, which means that the needs of people and the planet are trampled on. Ridden by economic chaos and political crises, this system oﬀers us only a future of war, inequality and environmental destruction.
If we are to have meaningful change this system
must go. It is working-class people who create the wealth in society, but this
is being squandered by the 1% elite who own and control it. We need to build an
anti-capitalist and socialist movement of workers, young people, women and
LGBTQ people, a movement that fight to take the wealth producing sectors of the
economy out of the private ownership of this parasitic minority. On this basis
we can invest in aﬀordable homes, decent jobs, a national health service free
at the point of use and free education for all.”
The ROSA programme states that “Feminising the ruling class is not real change. Build a socialist feminist movement to challenge the oppression that stems from the private ownership of wealth. For a mass working-class movement that unites workers, women, LGBTQ people and all oppressed to challenge capitalism’s rule of the 1% super-rich and the destruction of the environment.”
On 31 March, 2018, addressing 8,000 on the “Stand With Her Demo” that Ruth and ROSA called, Ruth C talked about 14% pay inequality, unpaid labour of women, and the need for free childcare. RC said that she’s a “a TD, a socialist and Socialist Party member. None of the above “are possible in a system that is profit driven”, she declared. RC went on to say that, “Inequality is the DNA of capitalism and its doing very well promoting rigid gender roles, promoting racism, promoting division be- tween people” and that “Capitalism is honing the level of oppression of women to a new level than before”.
In a Socialist Party leaflet from August 2013, we raised the need for “A mass sustained campaign of pressure, rooted in every community and workplace for the avail- ability of free, legal and safe abortion facilities provided through the public health service – for a woman’s right to choose”. The first newsletter of ROSA in 2013 stated:
“The hoarding of wealth by the European and global elite must end. We need a mass movement of ordinary working [people], unemployed and young women and men for the public ownership of wealth and resources.
It’s vital that women participate at the front and centre of such a movement ensuring that issues of reproductive rights, equal pay, free childcare, and an end to the macho culture that permeates capitalism that promotes rape and violence, are all taken up by the movement as a whole – in the tradition of the great socialist and suﬀragette Sylvia Pankhurst who, in Britain over 100 years ago, campaigned to ensure that the suﬀragette movement promoted votes for all women and men, not just those who owned property, by linking up with the Labour movement, supporting strikes of male and female workers, promoting women’s rights and issues in the context of the quest to build a movement of all ordinary women and men against the exploitative capitalist system.”
In trying to concretise the question of linking up anti-austerity and pro-choice struggles, ROSA’s leaflet for 2015’s Pride raised the need for “a left political force that can, in unison with the anti-water charges, anti-austerity struggle, build the basis for a left government that would consciously and fully break the links between the Irish state and the church in all its guises.”
Defending the Working Class
There was an infamous incident in 2015 in which a Labour Party Government Minister engaged in scare- mongering that the Marriage Equality referendum would be defeated by anti-water charges campaigners who would vote ‘No’ to damage the Government. We made a massive deal of this, defending the working class and using it to ridicule Labour. The quote below is from a Socialist Party article after the Marriage Equality referendum:
Despite these stereotypings of working class people, the highest Yes votes in the country were recorded in the most deprived and neglected working class areas. As re- ported in the Irish Times for example, in Dublin Coolock voted 88% Yes, Jobstown 87%, the Liberties 88%, Cherry Orchard 90%. In Limerick, Moyross voted 70% Yes and South Hill 72%. e very people mobilised and politicised by the anti-water charge movement went on to register a powerful statement in support of LGBT friends, family and neighbours and for equality and social change. Grainne Healy, chair- person of Marriage Equality and co-director of the main “Yes Equality” campaign herself explained that “When we were out canvassing in areas like Finglas, there was an overwhelming Yes. Once we moved into Glasnevin, there would be more resistance. It seemed the houses with two cars and plenty of money were just less open to Yes.”
Do These Issues “Put oﬀ” Other Sections of the Working Class ?
There is a danger that – as a result of the over- whelming turn that has been made to issues relating to women and gender oppression – we could become perceived by a layer of workers for whom that is not the only or primary concern as ‘not for them’. This can obviously include layers of male workers and older women, but also young women and non-binary people who – while partly radicalised by their specific oppression – do not consider it to be the most central issue for them. (IS Document).
As shown above, the Irish section hasn’t made any “overwhelming turn” away from the working class, but the quote from the IS also completely fails to recognise the significance of the change that has taken place in Irish society and in the working class. The victory on 25 May 2018 reflects this and is understood within the working class as being very significant. The fact that it was driven by a youthful movement from below, has been a powerful and inspiring boost for many.
From the Socialist Party article “The 8th Re- pealed- How Yes was won” (6 June 2018):
e yes vote was very strong in urban areas. Most cities had a yes vote of just below or just above 70%. Dublin had nine in the top ten Yes constituencies and Wicklow at 74.26% was the other. e overall Yes percentage in Dublin was 75.5%. In Stoneybatter, which is made up of working class communities, as well as a new younger demographic moving into the area, the vote was reportedly 92%.
e vote was very high among the middle class and working class. e figures point to it being higher in the former, though in the campaign it was clear that the depth of feeling on the issue was strongest in the working class, with working-class women being the beating heart of the revolt.
This is completely consistent with the political approach which underpinned all of this work. Below is a quote from the statement produced in the name of the three TDs in the aftermath of the referendum result: (May 26 2018)
“It must also be said and said loudly, that once again, as was the case with the water charges movement and the Marriage Equality referendum, the working class was the “secure foundation” as James Connolly once put it, of this enormous social change. Because of lived experience, a sense of solidarity is innate to the working class. It is the force pushing forward progress in this country, as was witnessed during the campaign and will be demonstrated by the size of the votes in work- ing-class communities…..”
The change in the attitudes was also reflected in acts of solidarity. For this year’s Pride, a leading organiser of the recent industrial action in Bus Éireann, who has joined Solidarity and is a contact for the Socialist Party, (who is extremely supportive of ROSA), came to Pride dressed in rainbow colours with his own children. Many older workers – aﬀected by the radicalisation of their own children – have progressive attitudes on these questions.
Solidarity held a 500-strong Jobstown victory rally 1 July 2017. A young comrade who is a school student spoke at it. In her speech, she focused in on the role of young people in struggle, the impact of the Marriage Equality referendum as a radicalising factor, and the movement for Repeal. A few days later a comrade was intervening on a picket of crane workers and the first comment of a striker was to mention the full name of the young person, and how inspiring she was. Similarly, the young comrade’s uncle overheard the two men beside him in a pub speaking about his niece and how brilliant her speech was! There is no evidence of working class people being put oﬀ by our ROSA work, rather, the opposite is true.
ROSA’s mass campaign for a Yes vote received a strong echo. We produced 8,000 posters with a number of diﬀerent designs and these were widely commented upon as being the most eﬀective of the whole campaign. They were the only posters to answer the scaremongering of the ‘No’ side. Our poster, with a photo of Savita was described as “striking in their simplicity and directness” by an Irish Times journalist and had a real impact in the final week.
The point about us potentially putting oﬀ women and non-binary people who are radicalised by their own oppression but do not see it as central does not add up. It’s another example of a serious underestimation of the historic nature of the abortion victory. In any case, we have always in all our propaganda, our interventions, our speeches, raised a multitude of issues; from housing, to environmental destruction, to precarity at work; all the while, raising broader points about challenging capitalism and the type of working-class movement needed to do so.
Part Four: Conclusion & some Questions for the IS
We had hoped that this exchange on identity politics and the global women’s movement could have been constructive and broader in its scope, going into the nature of the countless developments in many countries and what the perspectives are for this movement in a much fuller way. Hopefully that can still happen at the IEC meeting.
Of course a review is an essential part of any such discussion. The work in Ireland undoubtedly has many weaknesses; on abortion, on women’s and LGBTQ rights, there are very many things that we could have done better. We will review and try to learn all the lessons in an open discourse in the organisation. That is essential in order for us to be suﬃciently prepared for the political events and struggles to come.
In a pressurised situation, with a lot at stake, we strove to raise our programme, anti-capitalist and socialist ideas, highlighting the urgent need to challenge the private ownership of wealth and argued for a united working-class struggle as the only way to do so. We did feature the anti- water charges, working-class mass movement and included the trade unions in our argumentation in a balanced way, given the situation in the unions. We have produced an appendix as an answer to the numerous inaccuracies of the IS document.
A defining feature of the IS document is the lack of understanding of how the struggle for abortion rights in Ireland actually unfolded over the last years, or unfortunately of the real nature of our campaigning and building work. Belatedly, after the struggle is over, and won (in large measures by our actions), the IS raise ‘concerted’ criticisms of our approach. We have no issue with criticism that is based on facts and a balanced assessment of them.
However, if this debate results in a more developed discussion on the nature and perspectives for the women’s/feminist movement, that will be very purposeful.
That is necessary as the situation is clearly moving on as some of the recent developments show – the need for work- place organising to take on sexual harassment and equal pay in particular have been pronounced in the past weeks.
This is a very dynamic situation and we need to be politically open to what may happen.
The IS document says there could be more movements of women, but particularly where existing rights are attacked or in countries where there is a particular legacy of oppression. In conversation, IS comrades have indicated that the movements seem to have mainly been in Catholic countries. The comrades accept that there is a radicalisation among women, but that it isn’t a movement in many states. In our view, all of this, errs on the negative side and isn’t consistent what has happened or what could happen in the next years.
These issues need more discussion. They haven’t been adequately covered in perspectives material in recent years. In the documents for this IEC, in reality there are just three or four paragraphs but don’t flesh out or suﬃciently analyse these movements in enough depth. Instead, the material tends to pose them as secondary or the support acts to greater events. Women’s rights or struggles can be seen as sectional issues, but we must remind ourselves that women are half the population and a huge portion of the overall working class. Below we quote from paragraph 22 from the IS document.
However, in our view it is not the case that movements relating to women’s oppression will be central to struggle in every country in the next period. In addition, in many countries where such movements occur the working-class elements within them can quite quickly be- come part of broader struggles of the working class.
It is diﬃcult to know what is being said here. Generally the paragraph seems to be cautioning, raising that the women’s movement won’t be central or primary. If that is the main point, we’d ask the IS to outline its rationale for such an assessment? Given the reality of recent events; would a more open attitude to the potential not be more appropriate? But it says, “in many countries where such movements occur”, this seems to imply we should expect movements of women. That makes it even more essential for urgent and developed discussions, even special IEC discussions or meetings, so that the international is prepared. If we don’t have such discussions, does that reflect we are not taking a serious approach to perspectives or that we have a view that the significance of the women’s movements that may occur will be limited?
Our view is that the radicalisation among women seems to more universal, global and interconnected. It is not a temporary phase, but a more fundamental shift in consciousness and is deeper, in that it is not the preserve of middle class layers, but is also reflective of a change amongst working class women.
Work among the young is and must be a vital and central aspect of the work of every section; that is part of the tradition and DNA of the CWI. Front and centre in our youth work must be taking up the precarious position of the young and the huge increase in their economic exploitation. At the same time, if all sections engage in youth work, it would seem inconceivable that within that youth work we would not take up issues of oppression as this is clearly a part of the radicalisation process amongst the youth, including among working-class youth. Again, all this points to the need for more discussion, including about the possibility that these issues of equality could be quite central.
Point 44 of the IS document states, “ We think it is a mistake to suggest that the young people who are re- belling against the gender norms of capitalism are automatically or generally the most radical section of society, thereby downgrading the role of other sections of the working class and miseducating those young people.” Here two things are being alleged. The first that we elevate a section of youth and the second, that in doing that, we automatically, downgrade the working class.
This a strawman, as we never suggested those re- belling against gender norms are automatically the most radical. That is a baseless assertion. However, particularly in the context of the examples given above, we feel this quote raises more questions about the approach of the IS.
Why do the comrades counter-pose these young people to the working class? Do the comrades feel those who are impatient for equality for women and gender non conforming people are in general middle class or aﬀected by middle class ideas, or is there a danger of mistaking the self appointed leaders of these movements for the base? We assume the comrades don’t rule out that some of these young people while, not automatically assumed, could in fact be some of the most radical, or has that been excluded?
It seems to us likely that this movement has deeper roots than previous women’s/feminist movements. Instead of coming just after the post war boom, is coming at a time of chronic neoliberal capitalist crisis, part of which is in- creased exploitation and the further proletarianisation, which can profoundly aﬀect developments.
Questions are raised in the IS document about
re- viewing ROSA and asking if we see it as a model to be followed generally.
What approach or tactics sections take to the work needs to be determined on
the ground, taking into account the conditions and what our goals and objectives
are. The IS talks of twenty people around ROSA now, again unfortunately, we see
misrepresentation instead of a political approach. In the last months ROSA in
Dublin has had 70, 100 and 150 at diﬀerent meetings it has organised.
Successful, well attended meetings have also happened in Belfast and in other
cities in the South.
ROSA is much more than the number who might be at a particular event. ROSA is extremely well known and supported by thousands. It is a reference point, and has a record and reputation. Of course it isn’t clear if ROSA will develop with a growing and consistently active membership, but diﬃculties in getting and maintaining people in activity is a general problem in this period given the complications around political consciousness in general. What is beyond dispute is that ROSA has been essential in fighting on the issues and in building the Party in so many ways over the last years.
If, on the basis of further discussions on perspectives for the women’s movement, it is felt by sections that there is definite potential, then there clearly would be a basis for a discussion as to whether a specific banner/campaign/organisation will be appropriate. No one would advocate a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but clearly it would be beneficial for everyone if the lessons from all the sections who are taking initiatives are brought together.
We suspect that the IS has a significantly diﬀerent view of ROSA and its successes to comrades in Ireland. If comrades see ROSA as having limited value, they will not accept as legitimate that the public profile of the party can be diminished when ROSA is being promoted. We are concerned about the profile of the Party too and are taking measures to enhance it. However, we need to be very clear, the Party has been strengthened enormously through the ROSA work.
The comrades are correct when they say there were ROSA and Solidarity posters in the referendum but none for the Party. It is possible that we could have produced a run of Party posters at one of two junctures in the campaign and that point will be taken on board.
However, it would be completely wrong if comrades concluded that if there were some Party posters that the Party would have grown, or that we did not have a definite plan for how to build during the referendum. The way the Party was going to grow and in fact did grow, was by having a very high profile in the ROSA campaigns which mobilised hundreds throughout the campaign in diﬀerent parts of the country. The Party has a very high profile in ROSA. The number of recruits so far is lower than we would like, but there is still a very large supportive periphery around us in ROSA, which we believe can yield significantly more in the months ahead.
The IS comrades say that “in our anxiety to recruit” from this work, we are taking shortcuts. For the comrades’ information, we have not operated an open pol- icy of recruitment – we didn’t during the water charges nor during Repeal – because we are trying to recruit on a good basis. Given the confusion that generally exists, this is appropriate. Here is a breakdown of recruitment in the South this year, at the time of writing:
29/35 of recruits in 2018 are women
13/35 are workers, including precarious low paid workers, retail, teachers, factory, tech & community workers
12/35 are school students, and 9 out of these 12 are from a working class background
9/35 are college students (some of whom also part-time workers), the large majority of these students are from a working class background
26/35 were active in the referendum campaign before joining the party
There are still challenges to integration and consolidation which we are discussing and trying to wage a campaign on.
Raising a Fundamental Question Mark
Incredibly, the IS document says that a “tendency has… developed of some leading Irish comrades seeing all struggles through the prism of the women’s movement”. What is the basis or evidence for this assertion that inti- mates that some leading Irish comrades are abandoning a class viewpoint and Marxism? The central idea of the whole IS document is that the Irish section has moved away from a working-class orientation and stand point.
All of these points tee up the IS to make a reference at the end to the USFI and their infamous and disastrous writing-oﬀ of the working class as the key agent for change. Despite not directly linking the Irish leadership or ‘sections’ of it, to such a degeneration, inevitably the allusion is enough to raise a big question mark over the Irish comrades. Comrades are free to raise whatever they see fit, but it should be based on real information and facts about the work and the political approach being pursued. It is poor that the IS document isn’t based on that method.
The Irish section has an important base in the working class, that we have fought tooth and nail for over decades. We are always looking to deepen and activate that base. In the North, the question of working-class unity, most especially in the workplaces and trade unions, but also through youth struggle, is the daily concern of the comrades because of the National Question. The role we have played for decades, both North and South, is to be the most implacable defenders of the working class as an agent for change, as the most powerful and only antidote to all the ills of society. We would hope that what we have documented here, and the experience of comrades of the Irish section, answers the question mark that is being raised over our position.
Finally, we have to register that we regret the approach that the IS has adopted in their document. It is based on superficial analysis and judgment from afar. It is full of inaccuracies or misquotes and half information re- moved from context to such an extent that they confuse rather than clarify, and speculative suggestions that paint a very negative picture. For our part, we will try to answer all points about our approach and hope that the actual discussion at the IEC is constructive and productive. A very important aspect of that discussion will be whether the CWI has engaged in and prepared for the exceptional women’s movement that has erupted and whether the CWI is ready for what may come next.
Appendix 1 – IS Document – Answers in Brief to specific points:
Housing Demo and Meeting: The IS completely misrepresent our intervention at the recent housing rights demonstration. The IS says a ROSA public meeting was the cutting edge of our intervention. That is simply untrue.
They refer to a ROSA meeting entitled ‘Housing is a Feminist Issue’, and criticised the title. We agree it’s not a great title ( the whole idea of discussing this issue was precisely to bring in class points to youth who’ve been radicalised by the Repeal movement) but there was no specific ROSA material distributed at that demonstration. The meeting in question was advertised on social media. So much for it being the cutting edge. At the demonstration, a Solidarity leaflet was distributed, but the main intervention was for the Party, and included a discussion among comrades be- forehand regarding the approach; the distribution of a specially produced leaflet and the selling of the paper. We sold 110 papers and got 6 Party names.
Socialist Feminist Pamphlet: The IS note there is no reference to the water charges movement in the Socialist Party pamphlet produced for the referendum campaign. We’ve outlined that water charges are a constant reference point. In fact water charges speakers have spoken at ROSA IWD and Bread and Roses events. However, the IS comrades didn’t say that this pamphlet was a selection of old articles from recent few years relating to abortion. In that context, we feel it is imbalanced to portray the absence of a mention of the water charges as being symptomatic of anything.
A Socialist Party pamphlet for IWD 2017, which sold up to 1,000 copies, says,
“the revolt against water charges of recent years has shown that when working-class people get organised en masse, they are powerful. Initially, the working class got organised in communities to challenge the water charges, a pillar of austerity and the neo-liberal drive…the need for the women’s and LGBTQ movement to connect with the working-class and trade union movement.”
Use of Language: We haven’t historically used the phrase ‘socialist feminist’ in the Irish section. However, a number of years ago we felt it could be a useful term, if filled with the content of our programme. Two words that are mentioned by the IS are generally not words that we feature, namely ‘cisnormative’ and ‘patriarchy’. We consciously shun the use of the word ‘patriarchy’ , though we do refer to capitalism as ‘patriarchal’ which is diﬀerent. In the course of the campaign, in the diﬀerent strands of our campaigning we used trans-inclusive language and this in no way dimmed the impact of our material, nor were there any indications that it put anyone oﬀ.
Comrades Speaking at the CWI School: It is a poor method for the IS to take out of context a line in LF’s lengthy contribution at the European School and we completely dispute their interpretation of it. We feel the approach taken to the contributions of two young comrades, one of whom was a member for four months, is completely imbalanced and implies an overly strict approach in what is a school and forum for comrades. If leading Irish comrades had taken up the mistakes of these young comrades in the commissions, from what were generally positive, if imbalanced and raw contributions, that would have been a real knock to the two comrades. There were ongoing discussions with all the comrades during the school, teasing out issues etc., and those two comrades have also been discussed with since the school on these issues.
Not Raising Childcare and Real Choice: We’ve consistently raised the need for public childcare, housing etc. to ensure working-class families can make the choice to have children and not subsist in poverty, in relation to abortion. The comrades’ assessment that this would have been helpful in convincing people unsure of abortion, misses the main point. Once we were in the actual referendum campaign, it was necessary to focus and openly deal with abortion, and not be seen to avoid it. The real situations people face and why this right is a necessity – these questions and the points of the Pro-lifers, needed to be answered directly and that was our focus.
The CWI Website: The IS implies that the abortion
issue in Ireland has been well covered on the CWI website and that any
deficiencies are as a reflection of the comrades here.
The fact is
that between Savita
Halappanavar’s death in October 2012 and September 2017, apart from a
short press release, there was one brief article of 250 words. In our experience,
it is normal that the comrades get in touch with sections when they want to
cover issues they consider important, or take articles from web- sites of
sections and adapt them, but this didn’t happen. In September and early December
of 2017, we sent in a number of articles on abortion, but they were not
featured. Yes, in late December 2017 the issue was covered with an article, and
again for IWD 2018, and after the ‘Yes’ vote, but in our view, two written
pieces over an intense five years indicates a political issue.
Monthly Public Meetings Solely Based Around Fighting the Oppression of Women or LGBTQ People: Point 16 in the IS document continues with the biased portrayal that everything we do is women or LGBTQ focused. In fact, the information that is presented in a con- fused way is not a description of the Party, centrally, but that one branch out of five in Dublin, which sometimes holds open branch meetings or public meetings that they publicly advertise. The seven meetings from October 2017 to October 2018 were: 1. Oct. Public meeting on Catalo- nia; 2. Nov. Open branch meeting on Che Guevara; 3. Feb. Open branch meeting Repeal to Revolution; 4. April. Open branch meeting on Belfast Rape Trial; 5. May. Public meeting on Abortion; 6. July. Public meeting on Why Ire- land has been no place for women or LGBTQ (Documentary) and 7. Oct. Public meeting on Housing/Capitalism. So the information relates to one branch and not the Party overall and shows, unsurprisingly, that at the high point of the Repeal movement we featured issues connected to that struggle, but before and after, the topics were diﬀerent.
Appendix 2 – What we Actually did in Relation to the Unions during the Yes Campaign:
We will quickly sum up some of the initiatives we took re the unions.
Susan Fitzgerald, organiser for Unite the Union, spoke in an oﬃcial capacity at a 500-strong launch rally for ROSA’s ‘Yes’ campaign in Liberty Hall – the most well- known trade union venue on the island – she spoke on the role that the unions should play in the struggle and how abortion rights is a worker and trade union issue.
Attempts were also made to try to turn Unite’s Yes position into something more active and tangible, like getting assistance for the postering of the broad campaign, but this proved diﬃcult to tie down.
Comrades active in a number of unions sought to get motions passed in their union branches, and at union conferences to support a Yes vote. This includes a comrade who is on the Youth Committee of Fórsa, the second largest, who really pushed the issue but met a wall of resistance from the bureaucracy who refused to take any position on the referendum.
On 18 May, we organised a major press conference that was covered widely in the media. The theme was how abortion was a class issue. It had speakers who were working-class campaigners from communities and a union speaker about how abortion is a workplace issue.
ROSA had an article about the abortion pills in a special newsletter produced by some unions to advocate for a ‘Yes’. This was a good initiative, but unfortunately it was not distributed very widely.
Not directly union related, but connected; Ruth C wrote oﬃcially to the broad ‘Yes’ campaign to raise a number of criticisms. These included that there was not enough / any working-class voices for the ‘Yes’ campaign in the media debates, and that it was a serious mistake for the campaign to be associated with Government figures who were implementing a myriad of attacks on workers.
Immediately after the ‘Yes’ victory, ROSA in the North organised a major action to use the victory to force pressure for change, there. This ‘Abortion Pill Bus’ garnered unprecedented national and international coverage. Illus- trating that were there is potential, the Party focuses on the unions; the bus went to the NIPSA conference and was greeted enthusiastically by the delegates and a comrade then spoke for ROSA and received a standing ovation. A motion of support for ROSA and abortion rights campaigners’ work was passed. (This action at NIPSA took place after the victory. Using NIPSA as an example in the South, where the actual situation in the unions is diﬀerent, wouldn’t really have been feasible.)
Some trans comrades took the initiative to organise Dublin’s first Trans Pride march in July. On our request, Unite oﬃcially supported the march and there were numerous trade union banners on the demonstration. Approx. 1,000 attended.
Both, North and South, we have attempted to
connect with workers on the question of challenging sexual harassment in the
workplace and trade union activists have been invited to address ROSA meetings
on this topic.