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(en) Sweden, Malmo, The buletin of the The libertarian alternative to the ESF - Feminism is part of the class struggle by Kvinnopolitiskt forum

Date Sun, 04 Jan 2009 12:17:24 +0200

In this article we seek to summarize the situation of women in Sweden. We offer an analysis of why
we haven't progressed farther and why we need to keep up the struggle. Many examples used are
specific to Sweden, yet typical of the ongoing love affair between capitalism and patriarchy, in
Europe as well as globally. ---- Every day we read in the newspapers about new proposals hatched up
by Sweden's neo-liberal government. One day brings cut downs in social funds. Another day it is tax
deductions for domestic services, making it cheaper for the well-off to employ a maid or a nanny
(this is known as pigavdrag - "maid deductions"), or a new child care allowance for people who stay
home and take care of their children (vårdnadsbidrag - care support). We know that these schemes,
that seem to bring us back to the 1950s, are bad and that we need to stop them, but often we fail
to discern how each proposal paves the way for further proposals to be implemented.

Lacking such an analysis, we risk once
again ending up viewing issues as sepa-
rated from each other. A feminist
and/or leftist movement with no
insight into the way issues are
interrelated is doomed to fail.

Groups pitted against each other

Conservatives and liberals know
this, and they are clever enough
to divide us, playing one group
against the other. As a result,
we witness how senior citizens
are led to believe that their well-
being depends on closing the
country's borders, or how fede-
rations within the trade unions
compete to get the biggest piece
of the little cake. Government
officials talk with a straight face
about "normal people" profit-
ing from reduced social funds.
"Normal people" are apparently
understood to be young, healthy,
employed people who don't need
any help from the social system.

The trade unions refuse to help
undocumented immigrants, out
of fear of wage-dumping. An his-
torical precedent for this is the
male trade unionists who, based
on the same fear, opposed the
employment of women. The idea
of struggling for an equal pay for
men and women never entered
the heads of these men. After all,
it was quite convenient if the wife
had all day to clean, wash, and
cook. Unpaid household work
was, and still remains, the histo-
rical plight of women.

A new market is created in the households

Socio-geographical mobility is
severely restrained by a privati-
zed, deregulated real estate mar-
ket, and certain living areas come
to be consolidated as low-income
areas. On the opposite side of
town we find the gated ghettos of
the rich, where poor people come
every day to work as maids.
This is made possible on a bigger
scale than before by the recent tax
deductions (pigavdrag), a way to
use tax money to feed capitalism's
need to create new markets, this
time in the domestic sphere.
Thus, class and ethnicity con-
flicts enter the households of the
wealthy, and sweep gender con-
flicts under the rug. One woman
replaces another, the man is exo-
nerated from responsibility, and
the conflict of the sexes remains
unresolved. Meanwhile, the maid
still has to clean her own house
when she gets home since she
can't afford to hire someone else,
but the government is obviously
not concerned about her predi-

"It doesn't matter if a man, woman, or
undocumented immigrant does the work
as long as someone is exploited."

How to produce new and cheaper workers

After the pigavdrag was introdu-
ced in July 2007, a meeting was
held between government repre-
sentatives and staffing company
managers. The staffing compa-
nies complained about the trou-
bles they had in finding people
for the maid jobs. One of the
solutions presented was to shor-
ten the free language courses for
immigrants, since "anyway, the
best place to learn Swedish is at

This suggestion hasn't been
implemented yet, but is frequent-
ly discussed. This is a very clear
example of how the neo-liberals
in government fuse together seve-
ral types of oppression to main-
tain control. Capitalism, to stay
vital, must depend on a reserve of
unemployed labour and a divided
working class. A desperate wor-
ker is always preferable, which
means women and immigrants
are consistently targeted.

Women become more dependent

Vårdnadsbidraget delivers the
final blow meant to send women
back into the household. After the
long struggle to free women from
their homes, women are now offe-
red 3000 Swedish crowns (ca 320
) per month to stay at home with
their children. This is obviously
not an offer aimed at single mot-
hers: it is impossible to survive on
this sum in Sweden. Those lucky
women who have a real man who
brings home a big salary, however,
can contentedly stay at home and
accept the pocket money. And so
women are again made financially
dependent on men.
The pigavdrag and the vårdnads-
bidrag are both solutions only
for the upper classes, who don't
want to pay the real price for a
maid or send their children to
a kindergarten. They represent
the government's mobilization of
several types of oppression, which
they have the guts to call a new
"gender equality politics".

Stopped from two directions

All the collective systems that
we have today, like public kin-
dergartens and well-functioning
women's shelters and support
groups, have one thing in com-
mon: they are the result of politi-
cal struggles. As the present right-
wing government smashes all this
to pieces in the name of "gender
equality," it simultaneously pus-
hes the everyday problems faced
by women back to the personal
level. Women's struggles for col-
lective solutions are not merely a
fight against the Right, but have
often involved fighting the men
of the labour movement. Just as
the capitalists have tried to stop
any reform that would diminish
their power, working-class men
have done exactly the same thing
when it comes to women's auto-

Even so, women have always sup-
ported the struggles of working
men, because they rightly regar-
ded these struggles as their own.

"A feminist and/or leftist movement
with no insight into the way issues are
interrelated is doomed to fail."

Solidarity - but only in one direction

A telling example is the 1899
bookbinder conflict in Stockholm,
where women played a leading
role. The workers, half of them
women, went on strike deman-
ding higher wages. The employer
agreed to raise the wages for the
women but not for the men. The
women wouldn't accept the bid,
but instead continued the strike
until the employer caved in and
raised the men's wages as well.

Unfortunately, men didn't show
the same level of perceptiveness
when the situation was reversed.
In the early 20th century, the
Swedish government wanted to
prohibit women from working at
night. This affected women who
worked as bookbinders, seamstres-
ses, and typographers. Women
in the Social Democratic party
and in the trade unions deman-
ded that the worker's movement
should fight for women's right to
work under the same conditions
as men. The men responded by
accusing the women of running
the conservatives' errands.

As a result, these jobs, with pay
slightly above average, were no
longer available to women. The
prohibition of female night work
did not, of course, include badly
paid jobs, which women were
still allowed to perform. The law
was not repealed until 1962.

Capital is gender neutral

To understand why working-class
men have colluded with capita-
lism, we must understand the
logic of patriarchy. Men gain from
the subordination of women, in
the first place through the divi-
sion of labour between men and
women, but also in terms of the
big share of unsalaried household
work carried out by women, and
in terms of the sexual subordi-
nation that women are subjected
to. Despite all this, we claim that
men also lose something when
they choose to participate in
patriarchal society.

The working class can never real-
ly move forward if those who find
themselves on its lowest rungs
are forgotten. Capitalism wants
the greatest possible amount of
work carried out at the lowest
possible cost. This is facilitated
by a white, male and Eurocentric
labour movement which fails
to practice solidarity with, for
example, women and undocu-
mented immigrants. Capitalism,
in and of itself, is gender-neu-
tral. It doesn't matter if a man,
woman, or undocumented immi-
grant does the work as long as
someone is exploited. However,
capitalism makes use of exis-
ting structures to legitimize the
exploitation, divide the working
class, and render certain forms of struggle ille-
gitimate. ??

The personal is political

One of the main slogans of the women's move-
ment of the 70s was that "the personal is poli-
tical." This parole put many "new" questions
on the agenda. The personal experiences of
women were lifted to a collective level, which
made it possible for these experiences to be
articulated into demands. The main point was
to make clear that women's personal subordina-
tion had nothing to do with personal failings,
but was instead the product of structural ine-
quality. The relationship between men and
women wasn't given by natural laws, but rather
created and organized by society. To realize that
this relation was not a biological fact was to
realize that it was possible to change it.

We mustn't forget how it is all connected

The autonomous Left in Sweden has, in its
eagerness to throw out identity politics and
sectarian tendencies, also thrown out a deeper
understanding of how things are connected. We
have thereby lost the capacity to understand
that solidarity is more than an empty word.
Solidarity implies supporting groups that you
aren't a part of and fighting for questions that
at first glance seem not to concern you, because
you understand that doing so accords with your
long-term interests. We are never stronger than
the weakest link, and if we struggle to advance
the positions of the most oppressed, we will all
move forward. We can only win if we see how
things are connected and work together. Attack
is the best defence!

Radical Women´s Assembly Utkanten, 18/9 kl 14.00

f you want to discuss this text and other issues with
us come to our seminar! It will be an assembly on the
situation of women in Europe. We will start by talking
about the myth of Sweden as the paradise of equality
for women, and then invite you to describe the situa-
tion of women in your country. How is the situation
of women on the labour market, in unwaged work,
everyday struggles (childcare etc), sexuality.
We wish to focus on the issues where class struggle
and feminism meet. What collective solutions exist
for women in your country? What do you need?
What types of women's organization exist? In what
way do women take part in workplace struggles and
the trade unions? After these presentations we will
discuss in smaller groups how we can act together:
actions and cooperation now during the social forum
and in the future.
A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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