The Role of Government Agencies in Gaining Equal Rights for Women

(undated but from the early 1970's) A paper written by DARE about the uses and limitations of anti-discrimination laws and government enforcement agencies. (undated, but from the early 1970's )

(Editors Note: DARE (Direct Action for Rights in Employment) was the CWLU workgroup involved with work and discrimination. This paper outlines the DARE strategy for using government agencies to battle gender discrimination. The paper refers to a specific case of gender discrimination at the Stewart-Warner plant in Chicago.)

We in DARE are concerned about fighting for the true equality of women in this society, particularly on the job. Right now we are faced with the problems of thinking about long-range plans for the City Hall campaign, the situation at Stewart-Warner, and how to best implement our information service. To be able to deal with these various cases successfully we must first identify who our main enemy is, and then develop a strategy of how to deal with that enemy The main enemy is not a sexist male here or there, or even a supervisor or foreman who tries to screw us over. Although these kind of people are certainly obstacles which stand in our way, and we must find ways of dealing with them, they themselves are not the root cause for why women are not equal in this society.

The basis of women’s oppression is rooted in the economic system, which revolves totally around profit. Profit itself is based on ownership of private property, such as land, a factory, or a bank. Although many people may work in a factory, for example, the overall wealth or profit from what is produced doesn’t go to the workers as a whole, but to those few individuals who are the owners. It is here that the owning class derives their power, which they use to control Government policy and the nature of our society in general. Working people, on the other hand, derive their power from the fact that they are the real producers; the shoes we wear, the food we eat, are all products of the labor of working people.

The owners make a lot of money but they’re always greedy for more profits, and they need to keep women, along with minorities, as a cheap labor force. They take advantage of our sex, the fact that we bear children are responsible for them, and use it as an excuse to keep us down.

For example, the case of Donna S. at Stewart-Warner wasn’t just an isolated incident of running into a nasty foreman. Women at S-W are consistently in the lowest labor grades with the lowest pay, and even where they do the same work an men are paid less. This is very profitable for S-W, and they try to maintain divisions between men and women. In order to keep women from stepping out of line, the company is constantly harassing them, such as firing Donna when she is a only 2 months pregnant.

Donna as an individual represents the situation of women in general at S-W. In the short-run we mist try to help her in any way we can (such as with her legal case), but in the long-run we will only accomplish our goals when the situation of all women at S—W has changed. This means we must rely on the power of working men and women organized themselves to fight for widespread change.

In Donna’s case (and this is true of many other women as well) we see that we can use her case as a tool in fighting sex discrimination at S-W. We can use these Government agencies to our advantage in several ways:

a. to gain justice for isolated women who are willing to fight
b. as protection against retaliation by the employer
c. to attack the employer
d. to educate women to their rights under the law
e. to agitate wound specific cases in order to raise women’s consciousness and to encourage them to take further action

But what happens after Donna files her case? It will probably take 2-3 years to go through the courts, and she needs a job now. Even if she is eventually reinstated, the position of women overall at S-W will not have changed much, because the profit system, which is the fundamental reason for women’s oppression, still survives. The best that Government agencies can do is put a Band-Aid over the big errors of the system.

Government agencies are supposed to be balanced between the big bosses, who base their profits on discrimination against women and minorities, and working people, who are constantly fighting to improve their working conditions. These agencies were created in the early 60s, during the rising tide of militance shown by black people in the Civil Rights Movement. The Government wan forced to meet demands for justice and equality under the law. However, these agencies really serve the bosses by taking the most vocal leaders out of the workplace and into the courtroom, last year about 5000 angry women filed sex discrimination cases. These are 5000 potential leaders of a working women’s movement who, using their collective strength in conjunction with their co-workers, could gain mach more than they could fighting individual battles with their employers.

In short, Government agencies are a safety valve which we can many times use to our advantage, but which we should in no way use as a substitute for large numbers of women being organized at the workplace to take up their own struggles.