Thursday, March 1, 2012

Feminism as a Class Act

Working-Class Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Canada

By Meg Luxton
Fall 2001

IN 1996 THE CANADIAN Labour Congress (CLC) and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) organized a national women’s march against poverty.  With the slogan "For Bread and Roses, For Jobs and Justice," caravans left both the west and east coasts on 14 May, following the CLC convention in Vancouver. The marchers travelled for a month, visiting over 90 communities and participating in events involving about 50,000 women. They met in Ottawa on 15 June for the largest women’s demonstration in Canadian history and NAC’s annual general meeting.

This alliance of the main national union organization and the largest national organization of the autonomous women’s movement was based on demands focused specifically on the situations of working-class and poor women. The demands explicitly linked struggles for both women’s equality and anti-racism with working-class struggles for more equitable distributions of wealth and access to resources. As NAC President Sunera Thobani declared, "women’s dreams of equality can never be realized in a society polarized between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ where the poorer regions of the country are marginalized, racism grows, and the most vulnerable members of our community are abandoned."

In this paper, I argue that the political links between the labour movement and the women’s movement, represented by this march, with its explicit focus on working-class and poor women’s issues, came about because of the existence of a union-based, working-class feminism that has been a key player in the women’s movement, the labour movement, and the left since the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has become popular in recent years to assert that the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s was largely middle class and that its politics reflected the concerns and interests of such women. I think this argument is incorrect in the Canadian context and I suggest that such beliefs are part of a larger pattern in which both working-class women and their organizing efforts, and left-wing or socialist feminism, get written out of, or "hidden from history."

Read this article HERE.

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