Women and Workers' movement in Italy

Female Department of the CC of the Communist Party (Italy)

In a time, when the disinformation, carried out by capitalist media, is trying to impose the dominant class' way of thinking on the masses, Communists must remind the essential and fundamental role, played by the struggles of proletarian women, in the achievement of economic, social and civil rights, along with the claim of equality principles. Proletarian women's contribution to workers' struggles has been both ideal and practical, before, during and after the antifascist Resistance, in factories, rural areas and, generally, in working places.

The experience of Italian proletarian women, that participated in peasants' struggles and strikes in the first years of the XX-th century, in the great workers' strikes and fights during the Red Biennium (1919-1920), of those women that embraced the cause of Socialism and, in 1921, contributed to the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy, is a chapter of our history, whose collective teaching value is still underestimated.

Therefore, our task as Communists is not to recollect individual memories with a mere celebratory purpose, but to learn the experience of proletarian and communist women inside the main contradiction between labor and capital, taking advantage of it in a class context and from a collective point of view.

Born in a family of Turin workers, strictly tied to the workers' class and grown up in class and internationalist struggle, the life of Teresa Noce is emblematic. In 1921, she was one of the founders of the Communist Party of Italy and delegate to the Comintern. In 1936-1939, she has been fighting in Spain defending the Republic, then she continued the illegal struggle in Italy, but was obliged to emigrate in France, where she become responsible of the Immigrated Workers Section of the Communist Party of France, taking part in armed actions of the Resistance. Arrested in 1943, she was deported to Ravensbrueck concentration camp. After liberation, she was elected member of the Constituent Assembly. As the secretary of the trade union of textile female workers, she drew the Bill for physical and economic safeguard of working mothers, that in the 70's became the basis of the legislation on female employment and equality between women and men.

Other women that became leaders of the Communist Party of Italy, such as Camilla Ravera, Rita Montagnana (Togliatti's wife, founder of the Union of Italian Women) or Adele Faraggiana, had similar lives, made of class struggle, illegal activity, armed fight and, often, prison and torture that never bent their political commitment in favor of the workers' class, as well as many other less known communist women gave the proletarian emancipation cause their contribution and often sacrificed their lives for it.

During the antifascist Resistance, many women, mainly communist women, were fighting in the front line not only with auxiliary tasks as partisan dispatch riders, but also with military tasks and command roles. The first female combat detachment was founded in 1944 in Piedmont region as a part of an already existing partisan brigade, but soon the “Nedo” Brigade was founded, entirely formed by textile female workers from Biella's area. Women not only took the arms, but sometimes were leading partisan detachments and even brigades. They have been fighting along with men on mountains and in cities, participating in military sabotages.

In Novara's area, Gisella Floreanini, member of the Communist Party, after being imprisoned for antifascist activity, escaped from jail and stood in the first line of partisan fight. After the insurrection, as the Chairman of Novara's CNL (Committee for National Liberation), she negotiated the capitulation of German Nazi army in that area. After the end of the war, as one of the leaders of UDI (Union of Italian Women), she has been overseeing policies for children rights, coherently following her class commitment to achieve larger social rights.

These examples highlight the red thread connecting the awareness and the political, social and militant activity of women, educated by the Marxist-Leninist theoretical principles and organized in the Communist Party. These women have been the conscious vanguard in the political and social struggles that after the war led the Italian workers' class and people's strata to the relevant achievements of the 70's. Communist women have been able to relate gender specificity and needs to class struggle, contributing, in a moment of favorable correlation of forces on both the national and international level, to the achievement of economic, social and civil rights for all the people's strata.

Eight hours working day, equality of job access conditions, the Workers' Statute (job regulation), social welfare, public social services, new family law, right of divorce, right of abortion are the main rights have been achieved thanks also to the great contribution of proletarian women. Nowadays all these rights, conquered in decades of years by heavy struggles of working women and men, are being depicted by the bourgeois propaganda as obsolete, conservative and anti-reformist, and dismantled by the dominant class, allegedly in the name of “modernization and progress”, to fit the needs of big monopolistic capital.

Today the proletarian women's condition is deeply worsening, due to both the collapse of the USSR and the socialist countries, that changed the correlation of forces on the international level, and the collaborationist orientation of the trade unions, controlled by opportunist “left” parties, that changed the correlation of forces on the domestic level, not only in our country. In the current stage of weakness of the workers' struggle, women's social achievements, as well as those of the people's strata, are drawing back along with the workers' rights.

The dialectical-materialist analysis of history teach us that, whenever the party of the working class drifts away from the revolutionary theory and practice into the mess of revisionism and opportunism, the whole class, deprived of an essential tool of emancipation from the capitalist yoke, becomes weaker on the material, political, social and cultural levels. That is, in synthesis, what happened in Italy. The opportunist drift of the parties that were referring to communism with words, but not with facts, weakened the workers' class, undermining its ability to resist, face up to the offensive of capital in an unfavorable situation of correlation of forces and prepare the counterattack. Because of this the previous achievements of the workers' class, as well as the women's ones, are being canceled step by step.

This also demonstrates that any achievement as a result of workers' struggles that are disconnected from the question of seizing power and abolishing the private property of the means of production, are unsteady and temporary. Bourgeoisie and capital, in certain conditions, may make temporary concessions, but as soon as the correlation of forces changes, they cancel them by any means.

In the context of ideological vacuum created by opportunism, many feminist movements have developed, gathering essentially bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements. Basing on claims for social and cultural emancipation of women, in collective imagination they took the credit for social achievements that in reality were the result of class struggle. Their interclassist theory and practice are fully focused on gender differences and consider the women's condition as the result of gender contradictions rather than the product of economic, social and cultural contradictions of capitalism, based on exploitation of man by man, profit and violence. Essentially, they deny class differences inside the gender and are an important tool in the hands of capital to mislead proletarian women, diverting them from class struggle. Unfortunately, these feminist tendencies caught on also in some communist parties even after eurocommunism and must be fought with determination.

Allover the capitalist world the condition of working women is rapidly worsening, due not only to the capitalist crisis, but also to the weakness of the workers' class and the other people's strata that undergo a process of proletarianization. To the powerful attack of capital, they are for now able only to oppose a rearguard resistance in defense of conditions that have already been eroded by the capitalist aggression.

The examples are in the eyes of everyone: the counter-reforms of the pension system, education and health care, have affected all workers, but especially women. Their retirement age was prolonged more than the men's one; they underwent a kind of mass deportation, imposed by the educational system reform, that resulted in the dismemberment of thousands families; their right to conscious, free and aided procreation is almost fully canceled. We could bring many other examples.

Concerning economic aspects, at the beginning of this cycle of capitalist crisis, in Italy one could expect that layoffs and dismissals would affect mainly women, pushing them back from production and work places to housekeeping and subsidiary functions in replacement of a social welfare in the process of disintegration. On the contrary, the State Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) reports that male employment in Northern and Central Italy has decreased by about 2% from 2004 to 2016, while in the same period female employment has increased by about the same percentage. In Southern Italy male employment is in free fall (from 62% to 54%, -13% in the same period), while female employment has remained very low, but stagnant on 30%.

We should cross these data with another relevant index: wages for the same educational level.

In Italy, the average salary of a female worker with lower degree amounts to 64% of the salary of a male worker with the same degree. This gap decreases for female workers with high school diploma, that receive 72% of male workers' salary, but becomes again very high for women with university degree, receiving 66% of the salary of a man with equivalent degree (OECD data). Although percentages are different, this gap can be found in other countries also (Germany, Greece, etc.). At this moment we do not have enough data to analyze this aspect of the condition of immigrated female and male labor force, that with no doubts became a very important category.

The data above show us the following situation: 1) a decrease of male employment, replaced by less paid female labor force; 2) a further productive desertification of Southern Italy. What said confirms that the contradiction between capital and labor is of the essence also in respect of the question of women's position in the work's world and the society.

Because of and starting from this, we must develop our political activity taking into account the gender specificity. We must promote and organize a strong class movement starting from the specific conditions of proletarian women, a class front, where gender differences must be put back together in the common struggle. Therefore, we must counteract any misleading tendency that focuses only on women's individual rights in the attempt to hide the class essence that data on work and life conditions of women show us. we must oppose with firm determination any old or new feminist drifts, their sexist and thus interclassist concept of society that does not aim at overthrowing the capitalist system, but, on the contrary, helps to conserve it. In fact, the feminist groups in Italy have the same approach of bourgeois governments and media. They highlight individual cases of abuse or rape, but keep silent on the daily class violence, exerted by capital on both female and male workers through their brutal exploitation. A woman dead of fatigue while harvesting in the fields of Southern Italy, or a woman obliged to sew shirts up to 16 hours a day for 3 euros per hour do not make headlines and is dangerous because unveils the true face of capitalist exploitation, while a case of rape provokes the sanctimonious curiosity of petty-bourgeoisie without involving any criticism against the dominant social-economic system. We as well have always condemned any rape, abuse or mistreatment against women. In the current increase of such despicable acts we see and denounce one of the most evident aspects of social and cultural decline of civilization under capitalism.

One of the outcomes of feminist theories applied to politics are the so called “pink shares”: the number of women in the electoral rolls and bourgeois elective institutions is fixed by law. We think this rule, exhibited as a success of feminist movement, is humiliating women, as they are included into rolls and institutions not on the basis of their real abilities, but just because it is mandatory. Under Berlusconi, as well as under Renzi, this rule resulted in a proliferation of female personalities in the ranks of bourgeois parties, totally lacking in political culture and very far from the problems working women are facing in our society and thus completely subjected to the political system, imposed and managed by monopolistic capital. For us, on the contrary, women and men should be evaluated and appreciated, on the basis of total equality, only for their real political abilities, what in communist language means for their commitment and contribution to class struggle.

In Italy, women's conditions are worsening not only on the work level, but generally in society. Religious bigotry is spreading and establishing the egenony of its sexist subculture, specularly similar to feminist theories. The most reactionary catholic circles are trying to put into question the right of divorce and aided abortion. These tendencies also must be firmly condemned and fought.

As to us communist women, we are currently developing our political activity in working places to reconstruct the seeds of struggle among proletarian and people's women. We pay particular attention to workplaces, where women are the majority, mostly connected to providing lacking social services, such as elders and sick assistance, immigrated women integration and aid, etc.. As an example, let us provide some data. Cooperative Lookout reports that in 2014 in social cooperatives that replace public welfare in providing social services, 285,600 women were employed out of 385,500 total employees (more than 74%). If we take data from trade unions source, we see that such sectors as public administration, health care and education historically employ mainly women, with different percentage from North to South. In public educational services of Northern regions, employed women's incidence varies from 60% to 63%, while in Southern regions it does not exceed 30%.

Social cooperatives stand out for low wages level and brutal exploitation of the labor force in terms of working time, safety, job insecurity, failure to comply with social security standards. The policy of privatization of public services and the outsourcing of many public functions gave a powerful push to the proliferation of such cooperatives. The results are a decrease of employment, the worsening of the provided services' quality, higher costs for both users and public bodies that outsourced the service, deeper exploitation of the labor force employed. In such a situation, when almost all the economic and regulatory achievements are being canceled and public services are being privatized, the condition of working women carries in itself the worst aspects of the exploitation system: loss of rights, discrimination on gender or racial basis, need to accept black work, progressive lack of means of assistance and often of livelihood, sometimes resulting in disruption of family relationships. We are committed to better analyzing these dramatic conditions in order to elaborate a political proposal, in the frame of the class confrontation, that would be able to connect the every-day struggle for find an immediate way out with the final goal of the proletarian revolution and the construction of socialism-communism. This is the distinctive feature that differentiates communist women from other women's movements.

Communist women today follow the thought, developed by Friedrich Engels, Klara Zetkin and Aleksandra Kollontay, according to which female issues with their specificity must be necessarily considered in the frame of the proletarian struggle against capital, as civil achievements establish only a formal equality, but do not eliminate the material conditions of exploitation and subordination both in the production and the family.

In the 1st tome of “The Capital", Karl Marx writes that the main characteristics of capital are the control over the surplus labor and the private appropriation of the surplus value. By the abolition of private property on the means of production and its transformation into social property the working day will tend to correspond to the necessary labor. Therefore, the stage of transition to communism will be characterized not only by a decrease of the working time itself, allowing the free material and intellectual development of the humankind, women and men, but also by a collective, social use of the still remaining surplus labor. In its work “The origin of family, private property and the state”, Friedrich Engels adds that the condition of men and women will relevantly change. When the means of production become common property, the single family ceases to be an economic unit of society.

As we have seen, only socialism-communism can really and definitely free women from double exploitation, in both the production and the family. In order to achieve this goal, women should organize themselves and fight alongside men. In “The State and Revolution”, Lenin teaches, that a whole generation of men and women will grow up not by postponing revolution till the time, when men will have changed, but rather joining the proletarian ranks, the armed vanguard of all the exploited workers. Only by organizing themselves in the international labor movement, proletarian women and men can break the capitalist yoke and lay the foundations of socialist society, eliminating exploitation of men by men and subordination of women to men.

The Great Socialist October Revolution, whose 100th anniversary we are celebrating, canceled thousands of years of oppression and gave women real freedom, equality and social support in family, education, health care, social services, work and political life.

Today, with the current development of means of production, science and technology, working women are more educated, specialized and competent. They can contribute with new vitality to political struggle, social work and the construction of a new society, where everybody, men and women, will be free and equal. Nevertheless, the opportunity to satisfy social needs is prevented by private property on the means of production and the capitalist profit. Only the socialization of the means of productions and the centralized planning of economy under workers' control will allow to free and fully use these enormous resources to satisfy the needs of the people's masses.

So, in our opinion, proletarian women's political activity should be aimed at the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Only socialism can ensure not only the basic social and economic rights of women, but also their full and active participation in political life, production and plan workers' control and state management. This way women can contribute to strengthen and improve the proletarian dictatorship.

By eliminating the material conditions of exploitation and subordination of proletarian women, we will also lay the foundations for a new cultural approach to gender specificity, able to overturn the reactionary concepts that are today permeating the whole capitalist society and generating abuse and violence.

We are sure, that the women's movement will more and more engage in class struggle and give the epic battle against capitalistic barbarity a valuable contribution, for the establishment of the revolutionary power of the workers' class and its allies, for the bright future of socialism- communism.