The invisible working class feminist

Posted by in Activism, Culture, Feminism, History

A classic article from New Zealand’s Broadsheet magazine December 1983, still so relevant today – Christine Bird with help from Lana Le Quesne:

I’m a working class feminist. But I’ve been told by feminists that my ideas of class are “male derived” and socialists have said that I’m not “really” working class.

I know I’ve listened in vain for the voice of working class women in both the feminist movement and among socialists. I’m writing this article because I feel that working class women at present have no legitimacy in the feminist movement. Our values and priorities aren’t seen as distinct; we are misfits in a movement which claims to represent all women. Most feminists will claim to be “against” classism, but what do they mean?

What attempts have been made to understand the roots of an economic system based on class? How come the language used to describe classism worries feminists? What discussion has there been on how class feels to different women, how it creates different ways of thinking, different priorities? How we benefit from or are disadvantaged by those differences?

The class you are born into will affect your whole life, your education, health and life expectancy, where you live, your interests and work, your treatment in courts or in doctor’s surgeries, the things you attempt, the choices available for your children. Though an individual may step outside their class, the basic economic stratas remain the same. The system is a constant.

I thought for a long time about whether to include in this article my own experiences. My natural inclination is not to, to avoid exposure. But in order to speak out on how I see things, I should show the foundations of my beliefs for other women to understand. Perhaps the experiences I relate can be seen as examples (not particularly distressing or representative) of class consciousness. I’m conscious of the language and terms I use and make no apologies for them. And I’ll add that this is no life story, I’m only showing some relevant personal examples.

Working class:  The children in my family were brought up to accept without question that sometimes there wasn’t enough money for food, clothing, school books and uniforms, and outings. Evictions and repossessions were unsurprising facts of life. We learnt to back out of school trips, not to talk about holidays or hobbies we couldn’t afford – we learnt to narrow our horizons and expectations. Things that other people could choose were not for us. Perhaps in self-defense, or family loyalty, we learnt to despise those other people and their lives, to ridicule their pastimes.

It has taken me a long time to break into the realisation that I too can try anything my means may permit. A friend with children has decided to curb her sneers at certain things like skiing, being middle class, when she noticed her kids starting to rule out some activities as being not for them.

My parents took me from school before I’d reached 15. I was in a grade that prepared its pupils for a university career. It was a schooling that taught arrogance and high expectations despite the realities of some pupils’ chances of fulfilling them. My family saw it this way: I was the oldest of five children, it was time I got a job to help support the family, or at least pay for my food and board. University was way beyond the family resources, and anyway, as a female, I would only get married. Though my schooling had left me totally unprepared for my work life in shops and factories, my future had been decided not by my abilities, but by my sex and the economic status of my father.

At work I found (to my surprise!) that  I wasn’t expected or supposed to think or use initiative, that was left to males and management. I was supposed to be obedient and preferably silent. It wasn’t only my sex that decided my role, but also the assumption that I wouldn’t be doing such boring, statusless work, unless in some way I deserved it. I felt as though there were two separate ages existing side by side. One medieval with numb serfs rules by bullies, the other a world of opportunities, with access to ideas and personal development. But the “free” world seemed to condone the other, saying, “We must have blue ants to do the basics. It must be what they want anyway or they wouldn’t do it. And our life is hard too.”

Work relations are all about power. The power of employers when jobs are hard to get. The power a person has over you when they can hire or fire you. The power that confidence and higher job expectations give to men, as well as the social approval they get throughout their working lives. The powerless are those with least to sell, to bargain with – the less educated, women, other racial groups. And women’s paid jobs are never considered important, they can always be given away to some man.

There are supposed to be safeguards against some forms of worker exploitation. They rarely work, and even these few are being eroded. Each time I asked for help from the union, I risked being branded as a stirrer and getting edged out of my job. Most of the people I worked under were paranoid about unions. The union award with work conditions is supposed to be kept on display in the work place, but I never saw this. Information from the union to its members was usually put on the lunch table and taken away the same day. If “foremen” (they almost always are men) lunch with the workers, they put their own interpretation on someone properly reading the award – you’re supposed to casually skim through it. It’s taken note of as potential trouble-making, and if there’s any disagreement between management and workers (and there usually is) the reader becomes a target. It’s the same if you’re noticed talking to the union rep for more than minimal time when subs are collected.

Regardless of management disapproval, I went to the union several times. This decision was easier for me to make because I have no children, and because I’d gained a few saleable skills, ie I was taking less of a risk, and the bosses found me a bit more profitable. But my work mates put up with failure to pay wage rises, sick pay or meal money, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and refusal to improve working conditions and safety standards. They’d looked at the risks if they complained and decided they were too high.

Sometimes you can make an anonymous complaint but usually the enquiries you’ve made beforehand will mark you out as the likely source. Suspicions are enough to get you fired. I learnt that the union can only improve conditions if all the workers are behind it. Conditioning, economic pressures, and management power make that rare.

I learnt that acting alone was risking reprisal, or at best would improve only my own situation. I learned that if I wanted to act, it was important to analyse who stood to gain from what, and how. It was digging for the roots and following them up. But this is our strength, learnt through our experiences.

I once worked with a woman, a grandmother with an ailing husband, she was also raising a daughter’s two children. She came down with phlebitis, a dangerous and very painful condition. Her doctor rang our employer to tell him why she was not at work. She dragged herself back a week later and working beside her, I could tell she was still in pain. The next pay day she told me she’d not been paid for her time off. She was very upset but couldn’t bring herself to ask the office worker for an explanation. I offered to ask for her and she agreed. I was told that since her doctor hadn’t actually written out a sickness certificate, she wouldn’t be paid. The boss got to here of this incident shortly after and burst into the workroom enraged. He bawled me out and called the other woman into the office. He didn’t speak to me for days, blaming me for her trouble. I assume our “boss” paid her something to seal the point. I blamed neither her nor myself for what happened. It was a perfect example of divide and rule, and very sad for both of us.

Two other examples taught me a lot too. I worked for a Christchurch furrier for eight years. After the first two as a machinist, he taught me to cut fur because at that time he couldn’t find a male cutter. World-wide, there are few women fur cutters. Perhaps because women can’t be trusted with a knife. Actually it’s because cutting gets higher wages so is a skill taught to men. I couldn’t do an apprenticeship because they were then only for males. However shortly afterwards my boss did take on a male apprentice. This boy didn’t have much aptitude for the job, yet years later I heard that he told the union rep that I could “do anything”.

I churned out coats for six years. After a fight I eventually got a cutter’s award wages. Next my boss employed a male cutter newly arrived in New Zealand. By this time the apprentice had got his trade certificate. This fact, plus the difference in wages, treatment, and status (the apprentice had been made a personnel manager, the other the manager) made me think about my future. Soon after, I heard that such situations were being looked at by a Trade Certification Board. They required the details of your case, plus a letter from your employer saying you’d done that work for your boss for no less than five years, in order to award the trade certs. My boss refused. He said I wasn’t really a proper cutter, and “you’ve got equal pay, what more do you want?” “I haven’t got a trade cert” he said, “and look where I am” (his father had bought him the business). I now realise that I’d asked him at a time when I needed him more than he needed me, he already had two other cutters. And the certificate required you to be put on a higher pay scale. Since then I’ve always tried to determine the strength of my position before trying to improve it – regardless of what my supposed rights are. Also to realise that when the battle is over you still have to work with the people you’ve been fighting, any old excuse will serve to fire you. Now I would take such a case to the Human Rights Commission, but I can understand why many would let it be.

Another example shows what happens when times are hard. Three years ago I started work in a small sheepskin factory in town. We had a foreman, a male manager, and ten women workers. We had our lunch and tea breaks together. The atmosphere was easy going, but we filled our orders. We didn’t dread each day’s work. Then the owners, a group of JCs, decided to bring their businesses together in one complex, out of town. They leased a huge building, but our section remained separate, the ten women stranded on a large factory floor. But now there was an office “lady”, a forewoman, the foreman, two managers, and a boss. The office worker, managers and boss ate separately from us. A clocking-in machine and a siren were installed. This was still with the ten women drones.

The firm honed in on export incentives, and we started getting lectures about how we must all work hard since our jobs depended on it. The bosses set up a system of books for each worker. Every time you took a pile of skins for a job, you had to write down the number, keep an account of the footage used, enter that, count the footage left, enter that, then add up the new total. There was a book for each grade of skin and each colour. The opportunity for chaos should have been obvious. Hours were wasted in bookwork, especially in trying to find the source of errors. Workers would juggle figures to get their books balancing, though getting found out would lead to accusation of staling or wastage. The older workers particularly found it exasperating, and we could all see how our work had been slowed down. I was amused to see how management dealt with this problem. They brought in time sheets. Now we had write down how long it took each of us to work each article.

We slowed down even further and there were arguments and more lectures. Now we were always late with orders, and I cut fewer coats per day than a year previously. When we were told not to talk to each other in work time, I left. We worked at large, wide tables so our backs would ache with the constant bending and stretching over them, so we’d straighten up every now and then and exchange a few words.

I now had no job to go to but hoped I’d get through OK, anything was better than that place. I was six months out of work and got down to having one meal a day and trying to sell things. The irony is, that the day before I walked out my boss rang the union to ask whether they’d have to pay redundancy because I’d refused to work extra hours and they weren’t happy about that. I now wonder about the spontaneity of the argument which led me to leave. As a postscript to this story, I went back recently to see the place and discovered that most of the people are now outworkers, less protected and more exploited than ever.

Employers can pick and choose among the throngs of anxious unemployed. Where so many compete for so few jobs, we’re lucky if we get even what we’re entitled to. Unless its profitable to do so, decent wages, good conditions and opportunities to learn are left behind. Abuse of power begins, with those at the bottom suffering most. But those who are powerless can experience oppression differently and to differing degrees. Born white, I already had something going for me. The system that oppressed me was familiar, and white birth gave me access to some of its benefits. Every time I start to imagine I’ve a prescription for all that ails, I must keep to that realisation.

Though we are to some extent all ground by the same mill, it is the most oppressed and least powerful who must define and control any movement for change, otherwise any change is superficial. At present, the feminist movement is directed and dominated by middle class women.

As a working class woman, I’ve got to reach out to the women I’ve worked with, the women I grew up with, the women who are my oldest friends. I can’t stay closed in with a safe group. I judge feminist theories and attitudes in terms of their application to these women’s experience and my own. That’s my bedrock and it’s good to have it.

Feminist: I got involved in radical politics in order to understand why life was so bad for so many, and what I’ve learned has helped me live. Since my involvement in women’s groups I’ve been continually hearing and reading about middle class women’s problems, guilts, and ideas, and for a long time I associated these with feminism. Now I question whether they are apt or relevant for all women. My activities around and comments on class have usually been dismissed or dropped from discussion, despite or probably because, there are so few working class women among feminists.

In what follows I ask you to remember I’m speaking from the point of view of class consciousness. I’m not suggesting that all members of the working class are necessarily class conscious. Working class people like pretending they’re “equal”, they can feel it as their shame if they’re not. I know that to call a woman middle class is to denigrate her, it’s been taken as a moral judgement. But I’m talking about class differences, not moral superiority. I know my own class has its own prejudices and absurdities.

When I talk of middle class feminists, I’m not only thinking of the career-oriented, skirt wearing feminists, who would not deny the term, but also of those assumed radicals who dash miserably from group to group, cause to cause, struggling to stay in the forefront, politically and personally rootless. I use the term working class as it is commonly meant and understood, putting aside the largely irrelevant argument about individuals who combine low wages with middle class status. We are all affected by a system where the basic necessities are bartered to those who can afford to buy, and charity will make up the deficit. It’s always been an unjust and wasteful system, the present depression just more clearly reveals what’s always been here. If economic and political structures deny people control over the basic forces in their lives, the more rarified freedoms are superfluous and unaffordable. I was fired from a job because of a book I was caught reading.

Assertiveness and Feelings: Working class women are the women of the women’s movement. They are generally the ones who keep quiet, who do the statusless work, who keep things going, who avoid conflict.

You’re at a meeting of feminists, and supposed to be assertive and responsive. You’re sitting in a circle, while women take turns talking about their opinions and feelings, but you notice one woman hangs back. Do you automatically assume she’s emotionally repressed, or do you consider it may be her working class discomfort at this unfamiliar and contrived way of discussing things. The social worker or counselling terms and techniques commonly used, though with the best of intentions, can be interpreted as cold and alienating. Assertiveness training too, takes on a different meaning, when you analyse its aims and methods in terms of class and race. Confident and articulate women can be overwhelming to working class women, who receive a message through the torrent of words “You have to be pretty confident and clued up to argue on my level”. And they can feel that they have to reach that level before they can open their thoughts. Non–verbal communication is stronger among those who’ve had to keep quiet. If you’ve been brought up so that no one has ever taken much notice of your opinions, treated like a machine at your work, it’s not easy to suddenly start turning it on. I was once criticised for being reluctant to criticise other women in a collective. It was only then I realised I was still operating according to a rule I’d made for myself, never to attack my workmates.

I’ve watched working class women when confronted by a roomful of loud, assertive women, they go silent, they disappear from sight. It’s not easy for us to talk about our feelings in that sort of atmosphere. A common attitude is that personal feelings are to be shared between friends, not broadcast indiscriminately, whatever the consequences. We don’t automatically trust all women, or make out we do. Perhaps it’s being cautious long after there’s a need. But today’s ally may be tomorrow’s social worker. Or she may step into some cushy and interesting job that you could never get. It makes a difference.

Middle class women assume you live the same kind of life, with similar ideas, approach, and priorities. A friend who lives in institutionalised poverty (the Domestic Purposes Benefit) with several children was for a time part of a feminist collective. She’s intelligent, humorous, and opinionated, wise to the reality of her situation. Although frequently at the houses of the other collective members, she avoided inviting them to her place. She felt that her home reflected that she couldn’t “cope”, and she didn’t want the others to know, or their sympathy. For all the ideals of equality, trust, and understanding none can be reached when the real world forces those kinds of decisions.

I often find middle class women irritatingly obsessive about delving into their psyches, or yours, or some other momentarily intriguing woman’s. OK. Tracing our grievances helps to reveal the social structures and attitudes that form our personalities and shape our lives. But sooner or later if your own situation is not so desperate we have to challenge and attempt to change the structures that oppress us. Dissecting the minutiae of interpersonal conflict in a small group of women is not that high on my list of priorities. For example, we might spend hours thrashing out one woman’s difficulties in taking responsibility for collective decisions, but when asked for a feminist analysis of how government cuts will affect women in this country (to present to a large gathering of women), suddenly everyone’s got a reason not to do it.

Avoidance of the intensely personal is partly political but also partly a common working class prejudice. It can be a justifiably defensive reaction to the typical middle class professional’s attitude of pick up, examine, and put down. Getting picked over by some professional who doesn’t really know your situation and isn’t about to make any beneficial changes, who may agree, yes the system is rotten but never seems to risk much to do anything about it, makes you wary. Remember working class women are the largest target population of those in the “caring” professions. We can’t afford to be quite so open about our conflicts and reactions.

Nevertheless, there is a working class prejudice against theorising and introspection. These can be interpreted as marking yourself off or cutting yourself off from those around you. Certain interests or bookishness can be seen as a betrayal of family and class, they can be judged “showing off”. Though a family may take pride in a child’s intellectual ability they feel the discomfort of a testing of class barriers and imposed limitations. One of the things I most enjoy and admire about middle class women is the ease and fearlessness with which they explore ideas. It makes them interesting and vital companions. Though some scorn this facility, I think these are qualities more of us should and could develop, were we only given the opportunity. I’ve known some middle class feminists whose tenacity and ability in their work for women has been remarkable, and I would hate to think that through some part of their aims or methods of working being criticised, their entire contribution may be devalued.

It is the extra leisure and opportunities of middle class women that make them useful allies for women denied these benefits. In all movements for liberation, the middle class have played an important role for this reason. They have the contacts, resources and abilities needed by those who don’t have them. It’s when the middle class attempt to control and define any broad movement for social change that they become oppressive, since they undeniably benefit from the exploitation of those below them, and therefore cannot and will not formulate the changes necessary to end that exploitation.

Validity: What right have I to say the things I’m saying? This question has come up in many different forms. When I was told I was “not really” working class, I’d worked nowhere but in factories and shops for nine years. The “not really” was because of the way I spoke my interests, and my politicisation – all self-taught. I felt very resentful at being taken from school before I was ready, so I fought to educate myself and keep up my self-respect. I politicised myself because I had to understand my situation and attempt to change it. But in doing so I found that my middle class allies would no longer recognise me for my background and commitment to it. I’d taken for myself some of the benefits of the middle class, and for my presumption, I had to be redefined. But then the middle class have such caricatured ideas about the working class, they really do believe we are stupid, though they don’t have the honesty to come out and say it.

“It’s the view of the middle and upper classes that working class people don’t have brains. If you’ve got brains, you’re with them, you must be. They can then claim that the whole justification of their oppressing you is shot down. After all, who’d be working class if they could think their way out of it? The middle class like to believe they’re all self-made, you see,” says Lana, “and they think we’re just too stupid to know how to better ourselves.”

I think it’s ironic that when I’m awkward and incoherent, I’m angry with myself for failing my own standards. But if I’m articulate and confident, the middle class will redefine me as middle class, and will therefore ignore my criticisms about classism (I also find interesting that it’s only after being two years away from working in a factory that at last I’ve been able to write about my experiences there, even though I’d been asked long before to do it. I just couldn’t touch it till now. I had a feeling that I’d explode into a delirious tirade of hate, harming mainly myself, enlightening no one).

For those feminists who’ve said that my ideas of class are male-derived, I ask, where then is the voice of working class women among the feminists? It seems that for most feminists, class is just one more item in the list of oppressions they are “against” but one they don’t bother to analyse in contemporary forms, or to educate themselves about. I remember that those whose ideas are unwelcome have always been told they’re pawns.

Politics: Classist judgements and assumptions don’t arise out of thin air, or come about because ignorant people suddenly decide to be nasty to the working class. Though middle class women may make classist assumptions about other women’s intelligence and “awareness”, they rarely see the crudeness of their judgements about working class lives, or the blind spots in their perceptions of this society. This is because they rarely include themselves when they think about classist society. Class is something that happens out there, to those others. Or they have this vague idea that the “system” is to blame, it’s the real baddie. And since they want to be the goodies, they must be against the system or even outside it. Once again they confuse political analysis with weird moralistic judgements. I can’t conceive of anyone being outside the system, and I certainly can’t see the possibility as a useful tactic in changing how this society functions. Don’t we all have our little niches – academic, dole bludger, stirrer or solo mum – and hasn’t capitalism a capacity to absorb and adapt us all? Certainly it has if we fool ourselves as to our true situation.

Most middle class feminists will ascribe their lists of oppressions to the vaguely understood evils of patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism. You could assume that if these are seen as the causes, then some study and analysis of all three would be in order. But you would usually be wrong.

Most middle class feminists seem to believe it’s only necessary to investigate the workings of ageism, racism, sexism etc in ourselves. They think that by doing so, we somehow destroy the system that thrives by instilling these prejudices. I don’t say that such investigations are wrong, but that they’re not the whole answer. Born white, into a system of white power how can I decide not to be racist? As a working class woman, how can I decide not to be exploited and patronised? I have no faith in the politics of perfecting oneself when I know that I must have power to succeed. While colonialism and patriarchal capitalism operate in this society, what choices do we have? We must have power to have choices. And the power is that of people together, teaching each other and fighting against that which limits us all.

It frustrates me then to find that feminists generally make little effort to gather allies, to reach out to other women, to act. This is essential. It’s more important than looking after our own survival. And how often too does political commitment give way to personal development?

Middle class women are too impatient to see results for what they do, they are easily demoralised, they haven’t been so far down that the slightest changes are incredible. They don’t truly understand what they are up against, they haven’t had the experience. To go and talk with non-feminists usually terrifies them, they say it’s too depressing. But have they considered what they’ve got to offer of benefit. No one will risk what they have unless there’s something better to fight for, however morally correct it may be. If the majority can survive under and adapt to the conditions as they are, why should they fight? Its only when the majority are threatened, or have something essential to gain, that they will do so. Our job should be to show that this is the situation.

But how can you do this without trying to understand the forces that keep a sex and whole races, in bondage? I don’t know. I can give an example of the stupidity that results if you don’t. Eighteen months ago I took along to a feminist group notice of a public meeting at which a well-known peace researcher would talk on nuclear arms build-up. The only discussion centred on the propriety of advertising a meeting at which a male would speak. None of the women present went to the meeting. Now that feminists have realised they aren’t exempt from nuclear holocaust, and the Greenham women have made peace fashionable, the debate remains nearly as facile.

At a recent Women for Peace day in Christchurch, I heard all this stuff about women being naturally peaceful. Well I’m not. I’m a mean woman with extremely limited nurturing abilities. I nearly spewed when one of the speakers said that unless we want to be accused of hypocrisy, we should also be the peacemakers at home and in the workplace. That’s not my aim at all, and I dread to think where that attitude would have got my family, friends and myself. Once again, the assumption that by choice we can free ourselves from the evils of our society. The personal behaviour of the powerless is confused with a foreign military and industrial complex motivated by profit.

The differences in political approach relate not only to long-term aims, but also to which ideas and actions get priority. For example, use of the news media is an area where I believe class priorities conflict. Some feminists see any contact with the media as contaminating, they cite instances of sexist language or abridged statements as proof that such contact is worthless. The popular media cannot be a forum for feminist ideas. Feminist papers and magazines are the source for theses, not the monopoly-owned and controlled media. But if I’ve information that female outworkers are being paid $2.50 an hour or that a commonly-used drug has serious side effects, then I want as many women as possible to know about it. I know I won’t be able to get the message across in just the way I want, but my priority is to let women know what’s going on. If the alternative media aren’t sufficient for that purpose and I believe that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, then I’ll use the news media. My differing class priorities come into this example because I don’t consider I can afford not to use any existing means to reach out to women. I don’t consider I can afford to wait till circumstances favour my purposes, especially when the situation for working class women is worsening in every respect.

Those who can afford to choose political purity over political effectiveness have generally opted for what I would call middle class radicalism. I would rather work with a middle class reformist who gets stuck into something I think is useful, than a radical, paralysed with the quest for personal purity, whose main activity is controlling and criticising the lives of those around her. I know where I am with the reformists. But if often seems that criticism of others forms the radical’s only activity, which is so easy to do when politics are personalised to the degree they are within the women’s movement. Easy too, if you believe a people or a sex are to blame for your oppression.

Some feminists believe that men are inherently evil and women inherently good. This has always been to uncomfortably like a religious stance to me. It also teaches me very little about colonialism, class, and economic and cultural systems, giving me little for the future.

Where can that line of thought take me? Where are the strategies for change, where do I go from there and how? Conclusions that may arise are bizarre. Women are inherently good, yet they withdraw from their sisters who associate with men, and they discuss the rejection of male children, and the mutancy or obliteration of a sex. How do Maori and Polynesian men fit into the catalogues of evil, as victims or perpetrators? Are male relatives, and (ex of course) friends, less my allies than women who hire and fire and talk of dole bludgers? Should we go, baby booties in hand, to sing the American military machine away, because doing anything more direct means adopting “male tactics”? Should we suspiciously refuse to work with women who live with men?

We face: the threat of nuclear war between the super powers; our specific military entanglement with America; the control of our economy from the outside; the local ruling caste; the power of the law; a whole economic system and culture dependent on that system. All women fear male violence against them, discrimination against them because they have children, economic dependence if they work in the home, loss of their right to a job outside the home, increasing difficulty of access to health care, education and social welfare. But Maori, Polynesian and working class women are more likely to experience these oppressions. If I refuse to work with or listen to any but working class women, if lesbians only work with lesbians, black women with black women, and men have no place of any kind in any activities, there seems little hope that any but the most fragmented and superficial changes will take place. If we agree that the roots of our differing oppressions lie in colonialism and patriarchal white capitalism, then we support all those fighting for their liberation from these forces, while allowing them full control over their struggle. They know their own oppression best and the goals they must pursue.

Middle class women experience sexism differently. An example is their propensity to anorexia. I don’t deny them the right to define their own struggle but I resent their taking that right away from me. They look askance at involvement in the struggle against voluntary unionism and youth rates. But if you oppose classism, can you oppose the forms that a struggle against class takes, and the tools, language and working class organisations involved? Though I would no more expect the trade union movement to express the aspirations of all those fighting for change than I expect parliament to represent democracy, it is an arena for working class struggle.

I consider that educating yourself is the responsibility of anyone committed to social change. I am not providing some dainty chronicle of class structure and contemporary analysis in this country for this reason. You can do it.

The main points I want to make are these. If you really want to do something about classism, you must look at its fundamental causes. You must also consider the forces which work to effect or threaten change. Consider ANZUS [military agreement] when you discuss Maori sovereignty, or CER [economic agreement] and the effect it will have on women’s social and economic status. Hopefully you’ll make use of what you learn to act and to write with those supporting those actions and goals.

Working class feminists will not have the same priorities as middle class feminists, will not speak or behave like them, and will frequently get up the noses of their sisters. But they will be thinking and acting on the needs of their mothers, daughters and themselves.

I hope that feminists will use any discussion on class to learn to understand each other, and to work together more effectively and not as a stick to beat each other with.

As for me, no-one will divide my commitment again.