The Western Socialist
Vol. 28 - No. 222
No. 4, 1961
In her address to the Canadian Welfare Council's annual meeting held at Ottawa on May 30, 1961, Joanne Duval (a social worker) suggested that the Government (of Canada) make a "maternal allowance" in order to keep working mothers at home to look after their children, payment to be proportionate to the number of children in the family. Justification for this suggestion is based on the assumption that "we believe that the education of the child is of first importance for the nation, and that the mother is irreplaceable in carrying out this task." (Toronto Daily Star, May 31, 1961).
Miss Duval also states that the "work of the mother outside the home makes her child a "half-orphan." Left with a neighbor or relative, his whole equilibrium is dangerously compromised."
This writer would ask Miss Duval, "why do mothers of the working class go to work in the first place?" And, as a working mother, would reply, "not necessarily because they do not like looking after their children, nor necessarily because they do not like keeping house," as Miss Duval implied, "but mainly because they need the money." In other words, their husbands' wages are so low that they cannot obtain a sufficiency of the necessities of life and, consequently, these mothers are forced to obtain work outside the home in order "to make ends meet." Needless to say, for most workers, ends never do meet. At the end of a lifetime of toil they usually leave behind them debts to be paid off with their insurance.
There may be, of course, women who like to get out of the house, firstly, because they cannot stand (to them) the deadly monotony of housecleaning and, secondly, because by such means they can enjoy a certain independence of their husbands.
Until the outbreak of the First World War, women had been relegated to the kitchen and to the bed. After 1918, they entered into industry and until the outbreak of the Second World War they competed with the males of the working class and constituted a threat to the established conditions and rates of pay, as employers often engaged them as "cheap labour" in preference of the men. During the 1939-1945 holocaust, the various governments, whose workers were engaged in the prosecution of the blood bath, set up creches and nurseries in order to "care" (at a charge, of course) for the children while their mothers were at work. In England, the Government advertised, cajoled and coerced the mothers to get into industry without giving a thought then for them being "irreplaceable" in the home. As long as they needed workers' energies in the prosecution of the war, consideration of the effects of mothers' absence on the children was non-existent.
Could it be unemployment, which looms large in the days ahead, that causes well-intentioned but misguided social workers, along with other supporters of the status quo, to advocate the return to the hearth and home of working mothers? Could it be that the capitalist class and the governments that represent them are genuinely concerned about the children of the working class? If so, what of the children of the 5½ million unemployed in the United States and the 800,000 unemployed in Canada who are receiving only that amount of relief to enable them to exist at subsistence levels? What care or concern is shown for the children, half-starved, ill-clad and ill-housed, of these unemployed? What of the care and nurture of the children of those impoverished workers whose condition is such that they have to break up the family and let their children go into aid societies and foster homes because they cannot "make ends meet"? What of the care and nurture of the young throughout the world whose parents (both mother and father) were obliterated as a result of the bombings of working class districts throughout the world during the war? What of the care and nurture of the children of those workers who are killed in industrial accidents in the mines, on construction, etc.? What of the care of those children whose widowed mothers are forced to sell their labour-power in order to provide for their youngsters. Talk of governments caring for the children of the working class is sheer cant and hypocrisy.
Are we to assume that Miss Duval's remarks on indispensability of mothers to their children apply to the mothers of the wealthy? Obviously not, for the wealthy mother is free, almost from the moment of birth of her children, to hand over her responsibilities of child-raising to a hired nurse or nursemaid. Do these children suffer from this lack of mother-care and grow into serious problems as a result of this "half-orphanage"? Could this be why so many of the national leaders, products of such a background, are unable to cope with the world dilemmas, that if their mothers had looked after them better when they were young the world would not be in such a mess? How about it, Miss Duval?
To the capitalist class and the governments that represent them, the children of the working class are regarded only as fresh supplies of labour power to replace those workers who, work-weary and exhausted, finally die, leaving behind them a heritage of wage-slavery for their children.
No, Miss Duval, "maternal allowances" will not solve the problem of adequate care for the children of society. For the working class all payments, whether they take form of "maternal allowances," wages, baby bonuses, unemployment pay, food vouchers or just plain old-fashioned charity, will leave workers in the same position as that in which they were previously, that is, they will receive just sufficient to enable them to continue their existence as wage-slaves. These payments are merely a re-distribution of the poverty of the working class and cannot solve the problems with which working mothers, and the working class in general, are faced.
From an analysis of our social system it should be apparent that it is not concern for the welfare of the children of the working class which decrees whether or not working mothers should stay at home to look after their children. Rather it is that the attitudes and morals of capitalist society must change to fit in with the changing needs of the capitalist class to maintain their profit-seeking system at all costs. And at the cost to the workers of being denied the right to live full and happy lives, the right of individuals to develop freely their artistic and intellectual capabilities and the right to live in harmony, each with the other, whether child or adult.