Made in Dagenham review

Nigel Cole, director of Made in Dagenham, commented in the Socialist Worker, “I hope that people come out of the film thinking, maybe we don’t need to be pushed around, maybe we can stand up for ourselves.”

Last year’s release may have been perfect timing for us here in the US: the intensifying attacks on the public sector, declining union density and limited (if inspiring) fight backs, made it a good moment to reflect on accomplishments of workers movements and on collective action generally. Now, the Verizon strike, which involves 45,000 workers up and down the east coast, gives us another reason to contemplate our political moment.

Made in Dagenham recounts the 1968 Ford sewing machinists’ strike in England. The strikers, who sewed car seats at the world’s largest Ford plant, were galvanized by management’s effort to classify of their work as unskilled. While this resulted in lower wages, the issues of respect and workplace control were the driving factors. Ultimately these women, a tiny minority of the plant’s workforce, were able to halt production entirely.

The film has plenty of Hollywood-esque qualities. For one, it attributes a lion’s share of the strike’s leadership to single individual: the protagonist, Rita O’Grady played by Sally Hawkins). In fact, her character is a composite of several real-life strikers.

The film’s depiction of O’Grady’s personal transformation is predictable at times. For example, there are a couple of “Mr. Mom” scenes — which seem obligatory in this sort of mainstream feminist historical drama — in which her husband Eddie (played by Daniel Mays) ineptly prepares lunch for the kids after O’Grady ditches them to attend to the strike.

In another, more telling scene, Eddie vents his frustration at what he perceives to be her lack of appreciation for his role. “I don’t slap you around,” he pleads with her as she looks on in disbelieving rage.

The film does a fairly nuanced job of portraying the complicated and duplicitous relationships among union officials and management. There is the well intentioned union rep (played by Bob Hoskins), who tries to support the women while operating mostly in the universe of company-union collusion.

Ultimately the work of the women strikers inspired the Equal Pay Act of 1970. Here in the United States, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that strikes are about far more than immediate issues that spark them.

Reproductive Justice Conference Report

This year, Hampshire College’s annual reproductive justice conference –held from April 9 to 11– seemed to come at a ripe moment. Just two weeks earlier, President Obama had signed an executive order affirming that the new health insurance exchanges would have to conform to the existing rule prohibiting federal funding from being used for abortion. Feminists — from those who had advocated compromise to others who were continuing to fight for single payer — were debating the worth of the healthcare reform bill.

In the opening plenary, Marlene Fried, Director of Hampshire’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program, which hosted the conference, called for activists to “demand that President Obama rescind the executive order…[and to] demand that we get a Justice [to replace Supreme Court Justice Stevens] who stands for justice,” but for the most part Obama’s policies and the right in the US figured far less prominently than they might have.

Instead, the conference focused broadly on the ongoing struggles that simultaneously confront intersecting oppressions, such as better treatment for women prisoners, health justice for immigrant communities and reproductive self-determination for teenagers.

One exception was the workshop “Resisting the Right.” This workshop featured a predictable presentation that attributed far more power and significance to the Tea Party than I think it deserves. By far the best panelists at this workshop hailed from an abortion clinic defense project in Kentucky . These two young women described how the murder of Dr. Tiller and the closing of abortion clinics in the state impacted their work. This provoked some strikingly thoughtful and honest comments from audience members — one of whom was a studying to be an abortion doctor and another of whom worked at a clinic and started a website to honor the work of Dr. Tiller and his colleagues–about lack of support, even among activist communities, for abortion practitioners.

The intersection between disability rights and reproductive rights received a refreshing amount of attention at this event. Mia Mingus and Sebastian Margaret led a two part workshop called “From Disposable to Desirable Bodies: Beyond Access and Abortion” that included a discussion about the recent anti-choice “black children are an endangered species” billboard campaign in Georgia. Most workshop participants couldn’t imagine an ad campaign with the message “disabled children are an endangered species” or “queer children are an endangered species” (much less “disabled Black children are an endangered species!”). This led us to explore how the misogynist and anti-Black subtexts of the ad mingle with a eugenicist one.

Immigrants’ rights were also a major focus. In the closing plenary, Liza Fuentes from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health rebutted the common liberal argument that the health care bill’s upholding of the five year Medicaid waiting period for legal immigrants was simply maintenance of the status quo. Instead, she argued, it represented a defeat, because it set a clear precedent for compromise of immigrants’ rights.

Next year is the conference’s 25th anniversary. Save the date. It’ll be April 8-10, 2011.

If you need more reasons, check out a clip of the presentation of Theresa Martinez, an activist who founded her own feminist anti-prison organization, Justice Now, while in prison herself:

Democrats join Republicans in giving reproductive rights the finger

Of all the miserable aspects of the healthcare bill – the lack of a public option, the exclusion of undocumented immigrants, and lack of real insurance company regulation – the anti-abortion provision is near the top of the list.

On Sunday the White House released the text of an
executive order reaffirming the bill’s consistency with the Hyde Amendment. Hyde, passed in 1976, prohibits federal funding for abortion, thereby preventing Medicaid recipients from accessing this essential service. President Obama’s order satisfied virulent anti-abortion Democrat Bart Stupak and brought 6 more Democrats in line behind the bill, ensuring its passage.

Less than three years ago, in July 2007, Obama shared these words these words with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund:

In my mind, reproductive care is essential care. It is basic care, so it is at the center and at the heart of the plan that I propose. Essentially what we’re doing is, we’re going to set up a public plan that all persons and all women can access if they don’t have health insurance. It will be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services, as well as mental health services and disease management services, because part of our interest is to make sure that we’re putting more money into preventive care.

The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) emphasizes that the anti-abortion provision of the healthcare bill will devastate poor women most. According to NNAF, 200,000 women a year are forced to make major sacrifices to obtain abortions due to the Hyde Amendment.

To be precise, the bill requires segregation of funds used to pay for abortion insurance, to ensure that federal money does not pay for the procedure. Federal subsidies –designed to help lower income people buy insurance on the exchanges – could not be used to pay for insurance that covers abortion.

Additionally, no plan would be required to offer abortion, and people who want abortion coverage and are able to pay for it would have to write a separate check. This confounds the purpose of health insurance, since it requires that women plan for an unplanned pregnancy.

In sum, the bill will force women to buy private insurance that does not cover basic reproductive care and will lower the standard for insurance plans across the board.

Irish Queers protest St Paddys Parade in NYC

An organization called Irish Queers protested the St Patrick’s Day Parade – which bans gay groups – yesterday in New York City. Despite the illegality of anti-gay discrimination, the NYPD, FDNY and public officials like Mayor Bloomberg participate in the parade. Irish Queers is pursuing a civil rights lawsuit.

The protest was covered by Europe’s Pink News and was mentioned in WNYC’s parade coverage.

Ireland loves its dykes and so should you

Does this Leprechaun look straight to you

Anti-gay bigotry is not christian

Disability and socialism

I recently attended an event at Bluestockings organized by the Rock Dove Collective, which coordinates a network of radical health practitioners who offer services on the basis of mutual aid. They self-published a scrappy compilation of short pieces by radicals, mostly anarchists, struggling with issues of disability and radical change. For example, one young woman wrote about how her battle with ovarian cancer put her in the position of taking explicit advantage of her class privilege.

At that same event, I got another journal called “Sick: A compilation zine on physical illness”, which explores the experience of being radical and ill. It’s available online. I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in thinking more the connections between illness, disability, and radical politics.

Both of these events caused me to think about the disconnect between many socialist activists and these issues.

Socialists tend to talk and think a lot about work. That makes sense: after all, working for wages is a prime cause of class consciousness. Nothing makes the source of your oppression clearer than when the boss pops in to your cubicle to request that you come in on Saturday, or demands that you stay later washing dishes because you broke that coffee cup.

Feminists introduced the concept of social reproduction, allowing us to understand how the childrearing and the other unpaid labors of day-to-day life are also work and, like wage labor, are a source of exploitation. This was extremely important because it helped explain women’s oppression.

Socialists – even socialist feminists – understandably put a huge amount of emphasis on labor, especially physical labor. There is a lot less theorizing about how capitalism treats disabled bodies – and even less on what roles people in these bodies play in bringing in a socialist world.

What does it mean to be a revolutionary socialist if you need help wiping yourself after you shit?

The lack of good answers to this question – at least the lack of answers in the socialist world I circulate in – is a problem. The implication of our non-answer is that the sick and disabled are non-actors in the project of human liberation. Maybe those crippled bodies would benefit from socialism, but they’ve no role in making it happen.

We should change this. There are a couple of reasons why.

First, a world that’s organized according to the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” necessarily appreciates that human abilities, including the ability to do mental and physical labor, vary. Some of us will only need our diapers changed for us once, as infants, and some of us will need our diapers changed forever.

Most socialists accept this statement in theory. But it has relevance for day to day life, too. In practice I think it should mean, among other things:

  • Joining in struggles for accessibility that allow disabled people to participate fully in society, and bringing these issues to the forefront in movements like those for health care, public transportation, and public education.
  • At the same time, we should incorporate access into the planning of every event from the beginning. The role of disabled activists shouldn’t be limited to events with wheelchair access or sign language interpretation, and their role in organizing shouldn’t be limited to reminding able-bodied activists of these issues.
  • On an individual level, making people who are very old or very young feel welcome. Similarly, not dismissing the contributions of older people because they are frail or can’t hear well
  • Understanding that sick or chronically ill comrades might not be able to attend every event or go to every meeting that you would expect them to (even if their sickness isn’t visible to you)
  • Recognizing that the experience of being sick and disabled — or caring for those who are — can be radicalizing (more on this later)

Another reason why socialists should pay attention to this is that various disabled communities have histories of struggle that able bodied revolutionaries could learn from.

For example, the more militant disability rights formations of the 1970s challenged the dominance of charitable organizations and embodied a true “from below” politics, according to the analysis of activist Ravi Malhotra.

(He calls the contrast between these disabled militants and disability advocates the “two souls of disability liberation politics,” paraphrasing the title of Hal Draper’s seminal essay, “The Two Souls of Socialism,” which drew a distinction between grassroots socialism and socialism that is imposed from above.)

Another good example is the Deaf community, whose members – in contrast to those who are hard-of-hearing and function in the world of hearing people– consider themselves linguistic minorities, not disabled. It would be fairly easy to argue that a Deaf nation exists: there’s certainly a distinct language and several geographical centers (mostly focused on Deaf schools), and a strong separatist current.

Deaf people also have a strong legacy of actively fighting for the preservation of American Sign Language education over mainstreamed (lip reading) education. The movement to install a Deaf president at the helm of Gallaudet University, which emerged victorious as a result of a well-coordinated campus occupation, is the most famous example.

Third, the experience of disability – of being unable to “work productively” – can bring about class consciousness, too. Helen Keller, whose life story has unfortunately been reduced to pabulum in mainstream histories, understood her life trajectory through a lens of class analysis. “I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment,” she said. Keller became a member of the radical Industrial Workers of the World, a suffragist and an anti-racist activist.

How many gender problems can you count?

Yesterday’s NY Times article
about the US Marines’ “female engagement teams” was a good reminder that, despite the war’s recession to the background of mainstream US political debate, the gendered contradictions remain fresh.

The article describes how American female soldiers are being trained in cultural sensitivity (i.e. wearing headscarves) so that they can better obtain intelligence from women villagers. Apparently this is the first Marine effort to train women exclusively for participation in these teams.

This is how the article describes it:

A [female engagement] team is to arrive in a village, get permission from the male elder to speak with the women, settle into a compound, hand out school supplies and medicine, drink tea, make conversation and, ideally, get information about the village, local grievances and the Taliban.

In this article and elsewhere, military spokespeople discuss the importance of female Marines’ work, implying that their participation in the war in a reflection of gender equality in the US.

It’s not the first formal US program of this sort. In Iraq there is a Team Lioness Program, in which women soldiers accompany men on house raid in order to search Iraqi women. This is another place where the US congratulates itself for showing cultural sensitively towards the population that it’s occupying.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, it’s worth it to remember that the day’s founders — including German socialist Clara Zetkin — were far sighted enough to see the connection between imperialist war and gender oppression at home.

Non-Violent Palestinian Activists Targeted

On December 16, Jamal Juma, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, was arrested by the Israeli police. This followed on the heels of the arrest of Mohammad Othman, another anti-apartheid activist from Jayyous, and Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, active in the Bilin popular committee against the wall.

These men are activists are advocates of non-violent popular resistance with strong international connections. At the time of his arrest, Othman was returning from Norway, where he met with government officials about Israeli human rights abuses. These men’s arrests reflect the Israeli government’s fear of the potential of international solidarity and effective non-violent action.

As of December 24th, Juma continued to be held incommunicado. A military judge granted the Israeli government’s request to hold him for another 12 days of investigation before a scheduled hearing. He has not been allowed to meet with his lawyer or see his family. Othman was detained in September.

In November, local actions against the wall took place in South America, North America and Europe.

Other recent Palestine solidarity actions include an effort to break a deal between an Israeli water carrier and a Portuguese water company.

Mayor Bloomberg's war against the homeless continues

The June 24th New York Times reported that, in yet another effort to apply a “market based philosophy” to the problems of the poor, NYC’s Bloomberg administration would seek to decrease funding from nonprofit shelter providers unable to place their clients within 6 months.

By the same token, the clients could be ejected for infringements such as refusing to accept a subsidized apartment. Apparently this rule holds even if the apartment has poor conditions or isn’t large enough to accommodate the client’s entire family.

Mayor Bloomberg is running for his third term after ramming through city legislation to overturn term limits. Despite this, and despite his recent angry outbursts at reporters – one of which was aimed at a blogger in a wheelchair who accidentally dropped his recorder during a press conference – his campaign is widely considered to be uncontested. (He’s spent over $19 million so far).

He has won endorsements from liberal celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg – who hosted a June 8th event billed as an “intimate, candid, one-on-one, tete-a-tete, no-holds-barred conversation with our favorite candidate for Mayor” — and openly gay politicians like City Council Speaker Chris Quinn.

Today he snagged an endorsement from the Irish Voice, which cited his “incredible philanthropy” as one reason for the endorsement. (On the other hand, the Village Voice speculated that the lengthy interview that the press-adverse Bloomberg granted the Irish Voice could’ve had something to do with it.)

In the midst of all this, Bloomberg’s war against the poor and homeless continues unabated.

Deputy mayor Linda Gibbs tapped into the Bloomberg administration’s brand of sadistic neo-liberal psychology to explain their most recent policy move of decreased funding and eviction: “We want them to overcome homelessness more quickly. We believe they are in shelter far longer than they need to be.

Advocates responded that it’s probably not a good idea to throw people out in the street with no place to go.

To this Gibbs insisted that “the families need to understand that they can’t just thumb their nose at the rules and have no consequences.”

It was only six weeks ago that the City started trying to collect rent from shelter residents with jobs.

Homeless people and their allies know this is nothing new. That doesn’t make it less infuriating.

What does Dr. Tiller's murder say about the state of reproductive rights in the US?

The cold-blooded murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller on May 31st sent shockwaves across the United States. Tiller was one of about a dozen doctors in the country who specialize in third trimester abortions. He received referrals from hospitals and doctors across the region and was known to be particularly skilled at the technical and psychological aspects of his practice.

His murder provoked an outpouring of sentiment and press coverage. President Obama immediately issued a statement decrying the murder, calling it an outrage and a heinous act of violence. Dozens of vigils were organized across the country.

The more mainstream wing of the anti-abortion movement seemed chastened by the atrocity. “We condemn this lawless act of violence. The foundational right to life that our work is dedicated to extends to everyone,” said Charmain Yoest of Americans United for Life.

Other anti-abortion activists admitted that Tiller’s murder will make it difficult to take a hard line on the nomination of Sotomayor, who has not staked out a clear position on Roe v. Wade.

(On the other hand, the killing and its aftermath didn’t take the wind out of the sails of right wing pundit Phil O’Reilly, who continued to defend his initial claim that Tiller was known as “Tiller the baby killer” in a June 15 airing of the O’Reilly Factor.)

The practical consequences of Tiller’s death appear to have been mitigated somewhat by the willingness of Nebraskan doctor LeRoy Carhart, a friend and colleague of Tiller’s, to provide similar services in Kansas.

Still, women whose medical or psychiatric conditions necessitate late term abortions will now have an even more difficult time securing appropriate care.

President Obama has made extremely important reforms in the areas of sex education and reproductive rights –ending the global gag rule, loosening restrictions on stem cell research and appointing some pro-choice activists to positions in his administration, to name a few — but Tiller’s murder is a good reminder that there’s still a long way to go.

For one, the Hyde Amendment still prevents poor women from using federally funded health insurance to get abortions. Before his election, Obama had stated his opposition to this law, but has not taken action to end it as president.

Tiller’s murder reminds us that, even in the age of Obama, we still need a stronger grassroots reproductive justice movement.

New Hampshire State Legislature: Pro Same Sex Marriage// Anti-Trans Rights

I just came across a post on one of my favorite feminist blogs,, discussing how the New Hampshire state legislature passed same sex marriage and voted down a bill on transgender rights on the same day.

I fully support same sex marriage, but I think in some ways, the behavior of the New Hampshire state legislature — voting same sex marriage up and trans rights down — is consistent.

I am convinced that the vast majority of pro-gay marriage folks who came out for the prop 8 demos want to support a pro-queer, anti-racist movement for justice.

However, I think the New Hampshire case suggests that those of us who want a truly just world should make sure that the same sex marriage movement is opening up possibilities for further social change (ie universal health care, respect for transgender people) rather than closing them.

A case in point: I just came across an old (2003) report from the Brookings Institution — a liberal thinktank — discussing “behavior based strategies for combating poverty.”

According to Brookings, in order to avoid poverty, “the youngest generation” should “delay childbearing until marriage [and] work full-time to support any children they chose to bear outside marriage.”

Huh? I guess poor women’s decision not to marry is the source of their poverty, not this country’s dysfunctional health care system, crumbling public schools or lack of good jobs.

In any case, this is an example of how marriage can be used punitively against poor women who have sex with men, and we need to find a way to make sure the same sex marriage movement takes this into account.

What do other people think about this? Can we have a sex marriage movement that takes into account the lives of trans people and poor people in a substantial way? Or should we just focus on winning gay marriage and then move on to the next thing?