Women's Liberation

The uprising of the 30,000

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Migrant workers have historically found it difficult to organise and fight. John Newsinger writes of a furious strike over conditions in New York, 1909, waged by newly organised migrant women garment workers who fought bitterly to the brink of victory, despite hired thugs and conservative union leaders

The Local 25 branch of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) had some 2,000 members working in the shirtwaist trade in 1909. They were mainly young Jewish women, immigrants from Tsarist Russia. On the evening of 22 November the branch organised a mass rally at New York's Cooper Union hall. The turnout took the organisers completely by surprise. Thousands came, both union members and non-members, and overspill meetings had to be arranged hastily in another half a dozen halls.

K is for Kollontai

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The success of the Russian Revolution of 1917 enabled the radical ideas on women's liberation that had been germinating in pre-revolutionary times to develop, and be widely discussed and materially embodied in the real world.

A revolution turns all preconceived notions upside down. When profit held sway in the old society, it suppressed the needs and desires of the masses from whom it was extracted. These very needs and desires were to become the motive force of production in the new socialist society, both satisfying material requirements and, even more fundamentally, nourishing the human personality.

Abortion: their morals and ours

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We need to get ready for a big battle over abortion rights, argues Judith Orr, and the deluge of moral outrage about women's lives that will accompany it

The right is seriously mobilising around the issue of abortion. Tory leader David Cameron has stated that he wants to bring the limit down to 20 or 21 weeks and Tory ex-minister Anne Widdecombe has been taking her "pro-life" road show around the country in an effort to rally the troops. This is not something a Tory has been confident enough to do on any issue for many years - though, thanks to local activists, these meetings did not happen without noisy protests outside.

Solidarity, struggle and resistance

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Iraqi-born writer and activist Haifa Zangana talks to Judith Orr about the struggle of Iraqi women still fighting for the liberation of their country.

Your new book, City of Widows, looks at the history of Iraq and in particular the role of women, which is often hidden in official histories.

During the period of Islam and the emergence of Islam and the building of the Islamic empire, there were always women leaders, poets - quite influential women in society.

Prominent women are more common at times of expansion, and when there have been struggles for national liberation women have been there, and have been quite powerful. So it varies from one period to another historically.

Women were braver than a hundred men

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Resistance to the neoliberal policies of the Egyptian government has led to a strike wave involving thousands of workers. Anne Alexander describes how women have played a key role in the struggle and Farah Koubaissy visits a tobacco factory where one woman, Hagga Aisha, has led the strikes.

"Egypt: open for business" runs a headline on the Egyptian government's investment website. World Bank officials appear to agree. Last October they named Egypt "Top Performer in Doing Business 2008". Economic growth is strong, averaging 7 percent per year over the past three years. At the urging of the International Monetary Fund, the government began a privatisation programme in 1991 which has led to the sell-off of hundreds of state-run firms, while cuts in corporation taxes have made life easier and more profitable for both foreign and domestic investors.

Abortion rights

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When even David Steel, the man most closely associated with the 1967 Abortion Act, has been quoted as saying there are "too many abortions" it is clear that abortion rights cannot be taken for granted.

This month the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will continue its passage through the Lords with anti-abortion politicians proposing amendments to it. There may also be amendments that make access to early abortions easier, which should be welcomed, but not at the expense of a cut in the time limit. Less than 2 percent of abortions happen after 20 weeks but the women affected are some of the most vulnerable. Abortion Rights has organised a public meeting: Defend the Abortion Act, Wednesday 16 January, 7.30pm, Committee room 10, House of Commons, nearest tube Westminster.

Defending abortion rights

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This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the private member's bill which led to the Abortion Act of 1967, allowing abortion up to 28 weeks of pregnancy, that was lowered to 24 weeks in 1990 by the Human Fertilisation Act.

The 1967 act ended 164 years of misery for women with unwanted pregnancies. In 1803 abortion was made a capital offence, after centuries when abortion had been legal until foetal movements could be felt. Countless women died agonising deaths as a result of illegal abortion. Fear of prosecution prevented them from seeking medical help. Since the act came into force, the number of abortions each year in Britain has increased from 54,819 in 1969 to 193,000 in 2006. One in three women in Britain can now expect to have an abortion.

Material Girls

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Lindsey German, Bookmarks, £12.99

I came into socialist politics in the early 1970s through the women's movement. At that time I remember a great sense of optimism about the possibilities for women's liberation. Legislation in the late 1960s to decriminalise abortion and homosexuality, and easier divorce laws opened up the possibility of much greater personal freedom. Anti-discrimination legislation and the Equal Pay Act promised equality at work. Issues such as rape and domestic violence for the first time appeared on the agenda as political issues.

Afghan Women

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Elaheh Rostami-Povey, Zed Books, £15.99

There are few subjects more timely than this study of Afghan women and few people more qualified to examine them. Elaheh Rostami-Povey is a British academic of Iranian origin, a socialist and feminist who opposes imperialism in the region. She has talked to Afghan women in their own country, in exile in Iran and Pakistan, and in Britain and the US.

Still looking for liberation

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Lindsey German has written about and been active in struggles for women's rights for many years. She looks at the changing lives of women and explains what stimulated her to write her new book, Material Girls - women, men and work.

What took you so long? That's a fair enough question about a book which has been seven years in the writing. I first made time to sit in libraries back in the beginning of the new millennium. It seemed that a great deal had happened to women in the decade since I finished Sex, Class and Socialism, and I wanted to write a new book which took into account those changes. It seems incredible now that in the seven years from starting to finishing the book so much has changed again in women's lives.

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