Below is the text of a leaflet circulated at the WLM@40 conference at Ruskin College, Oxford, UK, (http://www.wlm40conference.org.uk/booking.html).
Class, childcare and the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Anticapitalist feminists have written a letter to the organisers of the wlm@40 conference, raising concerns about the price of the event and the lack of childcare at the conference.
According to the call for papers
“The aim of this conference is to create a space for debate about the issues facing feminists today and celebration of feminist work. WLM@40 will capture the energy, vibrancy and vision of the first [Women’s Liberation Movement conference held at Ruskin College in 1970], building on the foundations that it laid. This conference will reflect on the historical significance of the 1970 (and later) conferences, share information and skills for contemporary feminist activism, create and celebrate feminist art and look to the future of feminism(s). Speakers will cut across boundaries of age, class, location and sexuality and voices that were originally absent will now be heard.”
It is hard to imagine how a conference that is so prohibitively expensive will cut across class boundaries.
To be working class often means that we do not have access to the funds to do the things we would like to do and many things are put out of our reach.
As women living under capitalism, all our work is undervalued and underpaid and we receive no income for the work as carers we often do. Many of us in the UK are dependent on paltry state benefits and those of us who are in paid work are facing increasing strain on our already stretched budgets.
The feminisation of poverty is something that we are all aware of, and much grass roots feminist activism targets this fact.
Much of feminist activism is unpaid, we do it for free and in our spare time, because we care about women and the conditions we face. The majority of feminist groups, organisations and campaigns are underfunded, if funded at all.
As feminists we recognise the oppressive and inherently exploitative nature of capitalism, we feel its effects in our everyday lives, so we act in solidarity with those around the world who experience the far worse effects of the capitalist nightmare — death, poverty, ecological destruction, etc.
The past few years have seen an increase in feminist activism around the UK, much of it anticapitalist, and it is only right that this should be celebrated. The first conference 40 years ago was dynamic and historically significant, and it would be great if this conference could build on this. We need to rebuild the Women’s Liberation Movement in order to effect the societal change we need. However, we cannot build a movement if only those with the privilege of ready cash get to contribute. We should always be about accessibility and inclusiveness, after all we are organising around the very fact that patriarchal society is not inclusive of women, and actively excludes people on the basis of gender, class, race, sexuality, ability, age, etc.
The means must reflect the vision. How we organise must reflect the vision of what we’re fighting for, anything less is counter-revolutionary. That means that events must be accessible, affordable and always inclusive.
In relation to childcare at the wlm@40 conference
The original conference had a free crèche that was organised by men. This conference will have no childcare, but will instead offer parents or carers a list of registered local childminders with whom they can place their child, and presumably pay for this themselves.
One of the first four demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which, ironically, were formulated at the first Ruskin conference in 1970, was the demand for free 24 hour childcare, because feminists have always recognised that many women have always been unfairly excluded from much of mainstream life by their childcare and caring responsibilities. The demand for decent, free childcare for all has always been one of the basics of feminist activism. How can we demand this of society in general, if our own events are lacking in decent free childcare?
Women who are parents and carers are often in underpaid work, or are dependent on state benefits; the money we do have has to pay for our families, and not just ourselves.
The price of this conference will rule it out for many working-class and lower paid women, especially parents and carers, and the lack of free childcare is a double insult.
Because of the way this conference has been organised, most of us are not here, although we would very much like to be.
Will we be missed?