- Mass working class action can win the change working parents need
Tens of thousands are set to join the ‘March of the Mummies’ in towns around the country this weekend, demanding changes desperately needed by working parents. It is already clear in advance that there is huge support for these protests, showing the potential for them to be a launchpad for a mass sustained campaign, including workplace action linked to the ongoing strike wave.
Such a campaign is long overdue. 54,000 women are sacked every year for being pregnant, another 390,000 working mothers experience workplace discrimination due to having children, and by the time a woman’s child is 12 years old, her pay will on average be 33% less than a man’s. A major factor behind these statistics is the childcare crisis. Astronomical costs in an overwhelmingly private sector-run service keep many women out of work completely for years longer than they would otherwise choose to be.
Those that do go back to work often spend as much or more on childcare as on housing. Due to underfunding, exacerbated by dismal support through the Covid lockdowns, thousands of providers have closed their doors in an already over-capacity system. This inevitably leads to low wages and poor working conditions, making recruiting, training and retaining staff a constant battle.
What are we fighting for?
The demands being raised by Pregnant Then Screwed, the campaign behind the marches, hit on a number of central issues that harm working class parents. The marches call for good quality, affordable childcare for all (including calling for childcare workers to be paid the same as primary school teachers), flexible working as the default, and properly paid parental leave for all parents.
Socialist Alternative fully endorses these demands, which would be a leap forward if won. We also need to go further. There is an urgent need for massive investment into childcare services, but also for the government and local councils to take direct responsibility by taking failing or struggling providers into public ownership.
Leaving public services to the chaos of the ‘market’ in the private sector will always drive down wages, conditions and the quality of services for the majority – we can’t control what we don’t own. Childcare, just as education, should be a right for all which is provided free from as early as – and for as many hours as – parents want and need it.
How can we win?
It is also essential to fight for above-inflation pay increases, as is being done by so many groups of workers taking strike action at the moment. The cost of living crisis will hit working class women and gender non-conforming people disporportionately, not least as the cost of childcare continues to be impacted. The natural link between the two struggles will be obvious to all workers involved in both – solidarity in action must be built. The trade unions should back the demands of the March of the Mummies, incorporate them into their own campaigns and actions, and mobilise to future Pregnant Then Screwed events.
We are seeing an increased appetite for strike action by many, many groups of workers. By using our power as workers – who, after all, make society run – in this way, we can bring things to a halt and force the bosses’ hand. This would be the most effective type of action in fighting for investment in childcare and improved parental rights in the workplace too. Politicians backing the marches this weekend should be asked their positions on these two key issues – the need for public ownership, and for mass strike action, including a general strike.
Capitalism needs gender oppression
Those marching this weekend are continuing a long history of women workers getting organised for their rights both as women and as workers. For example, in the late 19th century working class suffragists organised women workers at factory gates and town squares collecting support for the right of women to vote. But they also fought for the right of working class men to the same and always with the aim of using the vote to change their living conditions, not only using moral arguments as the middle class suffragettes did.
The struggles of workers in the workplace and against gender oppression are not separate. Capitalism requires the oppression of women and gender non-conforming people in order to function and to continue its relentless drive for profit. The situation facing working class parents is a prime example of this – the lack of childcare provision, the low pay of childcare workers, the lacklustre approach to parental leave for the non-birthing parent; these are all justified (whether consciously or not) by deeply embedded misogynist ideas about women’s ‘natural’ role as carers.
The system benefits financially from exploiting and discriminating against women workers, but this is intrinsically bound up with propagating reactionary sexist ideas. One result is the impossible balancing act working class mothers feel between the pressure to be both full time parents, and full time workers, without the support to do either.
An almighty working-class movement is brewing in Britain. If organised effectively and linked to a political struggle against the floundering Tory government, it could win major change that benefits working class people. Struggles through history have transformed millions of lives – just look at the creation of the welfare state. But while the capitalist system prevails, those gains will always be partial and temporary. Just look at the welfare state now!
We need socialist change. Public ownership of the major corporations, banks and utilities under democratic working class control and management management would provide the resources to end the cost of living crisis, including providing services and other things desperately needed by working class parents. Such change would also undermine the conditions that allow misogyny and other reactionary ideas to thrive, opening the potential for genuine equality and liberation.