The role of Communist Parties in organising women workers, unemployed women, urban and rural self-employed women, young and old

Bulelwa Tunyiswa, SACP Central Committee member


System of patriarchy and gender discrimination, the culture that no one ever thought would be dismantled. It was originated from apartheid and the introduction of colonisation of a special type. This system which was so cruel and brutal to our society where women were treated as servitude to produce children, house-wives and being barred to any formal education and literacy, being deprived to execute any formal work duties. Women from white community get opportunity to formal education, literacy and better positions to any work. Poverty, inequality and unemployment were so rife to women. They made them to be so vulnerable to evil actions, like being sex-workers, cheap-labourers, subordinates, illiterate, deprived to be part in economic mainstream of the society and being the oppressed even by white women. The serious struggles including women and gender struggles played a pivotal role in making sure that women being recognised in all forms of struggles towards human rights and women dignity. Fully participation of women in socio - economic transformation agenda has been recognised.

SACP role towards women struggle preparing them for upcoming world dispensation

South Africa achieved what the South African Communist Party characterised as a democratic breakthrough in April 1994. That delineated the modern history of the South African society into two major epochs, before and after 1994. The position of women in the South African society can best be looked at, at least, from the point of view of this periodisation.

Prior to 1994, and as part of apartheid articulation of patriarchal domination, women in South Africa across all races were prohibited from certain occupations, such as engineering professions, industrial managers and so on. They suffered from male domination within their own national groups. In addition, African, Coloured and Indian/Asian women, who formed part of the nationally oppressed, referred to as Black people in general, were the worst affected. Their White counterparts were relatively in a better position, because of the regime of White superiority unlike Black women who suffered the triple oppression of the worst of class exploitation and exclusion, racial oppression and male domination.

Racial discrimination was abolished as the direct fruit of the 1994 democratic breakthrough. In 1998, employment equity legislation was adopted to give effect to the correction of centuries-old racial imbalances through affirmative action at the workplace. The legislation covered women of all races, identified along with Black men and people with disabilities as designated groups that must be affirmed to correct historical injustices of patriarchy and racial oppression. However, consistent with the colonial structure of economic control that remained intact, in terms of which White capitalists of South Africa and their imperialist counterparts were in charge of the country’s economy, White women were to benefit the most from employment equity than all other designated groups. Decision-making in industry, including Human Resource practices such as recruitment and promotions remained, in other words, under the influence of racial domination involving the suppression of the historically oppressed Black people.

This can be traced from the theory of colonisation of a special type. Its reflection has carried to extremes under the cruel regimes being informed by the national and racial oppression, which has been practiced so nakedly and shamelessly with such systemic brutality and disregard of human rights and dignity. Its cruel type of system which started during the arrival of colonisers to our land with the introduction of structural living patterns where exploiters live with the exploited, one man being exploited by one another, division of working class and the poor on various racial lines. The very same system that gave colonisers(minority white capitalists) power to control the greater percentage of our land with its mineral resources/wealth, where division of labour patterns arrangement occurred, women being remains incapable to occupy any high/formal working position as same as those from white community

A series of employment equity reports published annually by the Commission for Employment Equity show that the private sector remains virtually White dominated, mainly by males at the top, while Black workers are at the base of the pyramid workplace structure. Professional occupations in the private sector also remain White dominated. Working class women, particularly Black women, are on the receiving end of deeper forms of class exploitation, followed by their male counterparts. They are the ones affected most by the modern slave system of labour brokering, by casualisation and all manner of temporary forms of employment relationships. They are the majority in worst paying jobs such as in restaurants where they increasingly rely on tips. They are also the majority of the unemployed.

Politics of women issues are dominated by the aspirations of elite women who project themselves as the representatives of working class women in leadership, management at various levels and professions. In other words we are told that the affirmation of the elite represents the liberation of the working class women who, in contrast, remain marginalised and deeply exploited.

It is the reality that women are triple (class, gender, race) oppressed in society where white women, men are dominant in any economic sectors, have been privileged in all societal strategic programs. Black women defined as like servitude, house-wives, not having access to any form of formal education, subordinates to men and white women.

The politics of gender parity are hijacked to advance elite interests by both elite women and elite men. In class terms, they are underpinned by bourgeoisie aspirations. The bourgeois interests of elite women, frequently behind them competing sections of elite men, for ascendency into structures of capitalist control are elevated as the interests of all women. This is what happens when the necessity to advance economic transformation is put to the front. Gender parity in itself is not necessarily wrong. It is, on the contrary, desirable. However, it loses its progressive purpose when it becomes a front of patriarchs and the bourgeoisie to dominate and exploit society. It becomes an anti-thesis of what it is meant to achieve.

Society will not succeed in the emancipation of women unless it appreciates the economic basis of patriarchy and confronts vexing questions such as the role played by tradition, culture, religion and etc. in reproducing women subordination. In South Africa, as in many other societies, there is a general tendency to avoid directly analysing these superstructures and to part ways with the entire regime of patriarchy that they are involved in reinforcing.

On the contrary, organising women from a point of view of advancing a politics of emancipation requires decisive leadership in clearly identifying all the sources, structures and drivers of their domination and subordination. This must be an all out struggle to tackle both the symptoms of the problem and their root causes, and that is the role of Communist Parties in alliance with progressive forces.

Communist Parties should be alert to the weaknesses and unintended consequences of sectarian women organisation. The organisation of women, young and old, must be guided by their class position and class location. It cannot be an activity outside of class struggle. It therefore has to be articulated according to the principles of inclusion and integration, as opposed to separatism and disarticulation. The organisation of women at the workplace must be seen as an integral and inseparable component of trade union organisation of workers. These principles must apply everywhere in social relations of production and society at large in order to avoid narrowing the women question to a sectarian or otherwise "by the way" question.

On 8 October 2017 the SACP launched its annual Red October Campaign focusing on the women question and the struggle against gender-based violence, both hidden and open forms of violence, as well sexual violations. Females are not the only ones who face such malady. Rather they are the majority of the affected. The format of the campaign requires the activism of everyone irrespective of their sex or sexual orientation. This inclusivity and integrated social mobilisation and cadre development is essential in Party Organisation and the Party Programme, regardless of the item on the agenda of class struggle at any given point in time.

In conclusion

Communists must foster the revolutionary spirit of comrades plus class brothers and sisters in all forms of their organisation and when considering all problems and solutions. This includes political education and ideological training, the fight against patriarchy in the community and at the workplace. At the end of the day, the material basis of the problem of patriarchy under capitalism is the exploitation of labour by capital and its regime of divide and rule. This finds one of its profound expressions in socially constructed gender differentiations, including gender division of labour and its relations of economic ownership and management control. The class struggle to bring this regime to an end requires women and men comrades plus class brothers and sisters fighting as a united force:

Workers of all countries unite!!