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The Women Across Experience

April 1998

This text in Spanish - This text in Spanish and French - In French

1. The theoretical basis for the way we have developed the trade union struggle among women and trade unions that are predominantly female

2. Historical background for developing the movement

AKP participated actively in women's liberation struggle already during its own birth in the early seventies, and participated in founding The Women's Front. It was essential for the further political development of the party and the mass movement that women had their own organisation. It was also essential for developing theory that women had their own organs inside the party. In the beginning of the 1980s the party statutes were amended so that all leading bodies of the party must have 50 % women. The party members partook actively in the mass struggles on women's issues (six hours working day, no to pornography, free kindergartens, self-determined abortion, "minimum-wage guarantees", solidarity with 3rd world women etc.). At the same time we developed new theory based on these struggles and studies of Marxist classics (especially women's groups in the party that studied The Capital) and feminist authors. Because of this we developed both strategic and tactical policies that have been important for the party's work in all fields. As women make half the population and more than half of the working class, developing correct theory and politics on this question necessarily has impact on all social questions. During the 1980s the party developed the theory of two main forces in the working class: the industrial proletariat and the women workers. The essence of this theory is that alongside the importance of the industrial proletariat the women in the working class are just as important. Women today are both wage-earners and still have the main responsibility for reproduction in the households. This increases the oppression of women and at the same time gives them extra reason for struggle. And the possibility of organising the struggle of the women workers has changed as they now are "socialised" into the labour force. This theory helped put the question of how to develop the struggle of the women in the workplaces in focus.

3. Starting up Women across

One Saturday in May 1982 The Women's Front group that dealt with the issue of women and employment gathered 10 to 15 women from different trades, from both public and private sector, some shop stewards, some without trade union experience. The round where everyone told about their conditions concerning wage and work was the most important thing about this meeting, and the following meetings. By getting women together from such different environments we were able to overcome the divisions in understanding reality. The terms we use are different; time pay, weekly pay, monthly pay, salary scales, regular and additional pay, different shift systems. The vocabulary itself makes it difficult to understand what the others earn and to compare. Through discussion we found out how much we had in common, concretely.

During these years many nation-wide trade unions supported the claim for a six hours day, and in the wage negotiations in 1986 the working week was regulated down to 37 1/2 hours week.

In 1987 The Women's Front initiated Women's wage negotiation campaign. We gathered female shop stewards, women's lib activists and women without experience from trade union or feminist movements. The goal was to make a policy on wages with both a trade unionist and a feminist base. The aim was also to have a policy that was easily understood for people that aren't familiar with the internal language of collective bargaining.

Women's Wage negotiation Campaign launched the term: Women's Wage, and the slogan: A wage to live on"We want a wage to live on and a working day to live with."

In addition, the political platform of the campaign stated that women earn less, but also that there is less wage-differentiation between women than between men. The low wage of women is more dependent on gender than on education or profession. We also emphasise the fact that the reason women get lower wages is not because we are stupid, have chosen the wrong education, or the wrong profession or are organised in weaker trade unions. We are paid less than men, because we are women.

We have experienced that the term "Women's Wage" is important because it makes it clear that this is a common problem in our society, not chance differences between individuals. The common interests among women are not biological nor mythological, but based on the reality of women's situation in society. In this perspective we consider the struggle for legal abortion, the struggle against pornography and sexual harassment to be of importance in the struggle for higher wages and the 6 hours working day. They are different sides of combating the oppression of women. The debates on the term "Women's Wage" created an understanding and unity between women with different wages, and from different classes, and from both the private and the public sector.

In 1993 The Women's Front, together with seven different trade unions from both public and private sector initiated a women and trade union conference in Oslo. The campaign on "women's wage" and 6 hours day were the common background for the initiative. Since then there have been conferences in Oslo and in other cities all over the country. There have been approximately 200 participants at the largest meetings. The 1997 conference in Oslo was initiated by 20 different organisations. Both local trade unions and women's organisations. In Norway there are four national trade union confederations and some independent unions. Women Across organises across the borders, and as pointed out above, organises trade unions and women's lib organisations together.

Oppression of women and a common consciousness of this fact unites. The way we organise and work leaves no place for the traditional male games of power and rank.

We are still working to broaden participation on these conferences. Women's politics and consciousness gives us possibilities to reach agreements across controversies between trade unions. We want Women Across to be co-operation between women with positions in the unions and grass-root women in the same unions. Unorganised women are also welcome. Also women that aren't wage-labourers are welcome. We can mention that an activist group for single mothers has participated in Woman Across conferences. In the preliminary works we create room for disagreement and sharp debates. At the same time we hold onto and develop the political platform of the co-operation.

The Women's Front plays an essential role in Women Across. We promote feminist issues and arguments, and thereby prevent narrow trade unionist thinking and organising. Besides debate on wages 6 hour day and strategies for the forthcoming wage negotiations, the conferences have discussed sexual harassment, EU membership, a report from the women's conference in Beijing, destruction of the welfare state, and the new attack on women through the ideology of socio-biology. The conference in the autumn of 1997 discussed among other things racism. This was prepared by women from the third world countries in The Women's Front and the local branch of the Hotel Workers' Union.

The main characteristic that the shop stewards and the feminists give this work is that it is FUN! The union representatives love the meetings as sanctuaries. When anyone gets a good idea, they can realise it, without any leadership having to recognise it first. It is possible to discuss topics that generally are not discussed in the trade unions. The mutual understanding strengthens the shop stewards in their work for women's claims in the trade unions.

Women Across is a co-operation with room for women's reality and claims. A co-operation which allows space for thinking and acting untraditionally. An informal co-operation not tied up to the main confederation leaderships or other structures. A co-operation where women aren't defined as problems, but are regarded as strong because we are women.

4. Impact of the Women Across movement

The development of the women's struggle in the working class, has strengthened the power of the working class as a whole, and strengthened the positions of the oppositional forces in the social-democratically controlled confederations. (Only one confederation has formal ties with the Norwegian Labour Party, but all the confederations have, more or less, social-democratic programmes.)

Another impact in the trade unions is that the method of co-operating across borders between unions, professions, and competing union confederations has become more common. This has gained so much strength that the social-democratic leadership of the largest confederation, LO has been forced to condone these conferences, while only a few years ago they were considered to be "factional" and undermining the rules of the unions.

But the main impact has been in the area of wage struggle. The concept that there is a women's wage that is based solely on the fact that women get less wages than men is now widely accepted. Officially "everyone" wants to close the wage gap. Women's unions on the national level have also demanded the wage gap to be exterminated by the year 2000. And the question of raising women's wages is central in the rhetoric surrounding the national wage settlements. Many female dominated trade unions are the most willing to take strike action in this years wage negotiations and the positive mood in the women's unions poses problems for the bourgeoisie's strategy concerning wage-differentiation, individualisation of wage structures and negotiations etc. The women's wage issue is the most "dynamic" force in the movement concerning the wage negotiations today. But as the oppression of women is an inseparable part of capitalist society itself, there is no doubt that this struggle will, sooner or later, develop into putting the question of an alternative society on the agenda.