Woman and her work

A writer in “Reynolds’ Newspaper,” Oct. 13th, 1918, bewails the fact that woman’s wages should be lower than man’s. She complains that


  “Woman has been treated as a sort of lay figure for students of economics. Her value to the employer as a profit-maker, to the community as a potential mother, to the politician as a dispenser of votes, has had the fullest consideration. But who has claimed the right of woman to that payment for her labour which will allow of a full and independent life?”


The writer evidently forgets that in the past the capitalist has only employed women in preference to men because they were cheaper, and if we except those special occupations where women—because of lightness of touch, etc.—excel, men would still be employed in preference to women if wages were the same for both sexes. A woman who does equal work with a man must obviously require and obtain the same amount of the necessaries of life. It does not follow, however, that the employer must pay her a wage that will provide it. Girls living with their parents for instance, look upon the factory as a makeshift to obtain a living until they get married. The capitalists know this, and the girls seldom organise to try and force them to pay for their labour-power at its cost of production, hence the parents have to make up the difference. The employment of large numbers of women sets free men who, competing with their fellow-workers, provide employers with the power to reduce men’s wages; and married women, unable to live on their husband’s wages, take their place beside the younger women in the factory, and the capitalist gets the husband and wife for wages that would not sustain them if they lived separately. But although the capitalist knows that the girls he employs are being partially kept by their parents, he pays no higher wages to the girl who is unfortunate enough to be without parents ; on the contrary, he leaves her to face the horrors of slow starvation or prostitution, quite as a matter of course : there is no room for sentiment or philanthropy in business.


“Should wages be based upon the cost of living, or upon the value of labour to the employer ?” is a question asked by the writer ; and after telling us that “It is one of the greatest fallacies that wages are at present based on the value of labour to the employer,” she goes on to argue for a “minimum rate of pay for all workers,” which “shall allow for not a bare subsistence only, but a decent standard of comfort which shall include joy and beauty in the life of the worker.”


Unlike many writers on economic subjects Elinor Dale realises the fact that labour-power is a commodity. She speaks first of wages, and then of the “price and value of labour,” thus recognising that the terms wages and price of labour-power are synonymous. What she does not do, however, is to show how the owners of this particular commodity, within a system based on the production and exchange of commodities, can be given preferential treatment without deranging the whole capitalist system. For if the ruling class guarantee such a standard of living to all workers, they at once surrender their power to coerce them by hunger, which the pitiless commodity character of labour-power gives them.


The development of industry tends to establish a minimum, reducing the price of highly skilled labour-power by the simple process of eliminating the skill. Machinery, new methods and standardization does this, and while reducing the number of skilled workers required increases the number of competitors. The drudgery of factory and mill becoming ever more degrading and distasteful, induces ever-increasing numbers to avail themselves of the growing facilities for acquiring technical knowledge, with the result that every occupation and profession is overcrowded, has its army of unemployed, dragging down wages and salaries.


Equal opportunities for women to win the plums of the capitalist system will not solve the problem of woman’s subjection. The working-class includes both sexes, equally subjected and exploited by the capitalist class. The great bulk of the workers must take the first job that offers, though it affords no more than a bare subsistence ; it is no consolation to these if they have equal opportunities, so-called, because under the system the vast majority must be condemned to incessant toil and poverty.


Women have an equal opportunity with men to work for Socialism. It is their duty to their class so to work, and through their class to their sex, because it is only by Socialism the workers can guarantee themselves a “full and independent life.” Most reforms have been tried in one capitalist country or another, and have failed to retard the increasing poverty of the workers. Higher education, an open door from the board schools to the university, was going to increase our efficiency, increase the production of wealth, cheapen commodities, and make it easier to live. Instead, it has meant only a levelling down of labour-power, and the standard of living of the workers has steadily fallen while they have produced more wealth per head.


It is true that men increase their efforts and struggle ever more furiously to win the best jobs ; it is true that women have entered the race and proved capable in many spheres. But after all, they only serve sections of the ruling class in the sordid game of realising profits ; throwing the whole world into worse degrees of anarchy, and breeding—as the capitalist system must always breed—new disputes between national groups of capitalists, for whom a plethora of wealth must always mean squabbles and bloodshed over markets.


Socialism must be established by the workers before they can enjoy the fruits of their labour. The madness of excessive competition built up on the commodity character of labour-power and production for profit, can only cease when production is carried on for use. Capitalist anarchy grows with the growth of Capitalism. The system fails utterly to give a full life to the class that produces all wealth. Capitalism is over-ripe. Men and women are needed to awaken the workers to a realisation of their slavery, to expose confusionists, and impart a knowledge of Socialism to those who suffer under the system, that they may organise and work for their emancipation.


F. Foan

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