The LSA and Women's Liberation in 1973
Another document on this website discusses the LSA's Role in the Toronto Women's Caucus, the leading women's liberation group in Toronto. The following document can be seen as a sequel to that account — in it, three leaders of the LSA report on the organization's work in the movement to repeal Canada's anti-abortion laws in late 1972 and early 1973.
This document was written as a submission to the LSA/LSO's preconvention discussion. It refers several times to amendments to the Women's Liberation. That resolution was originally published in July 1972, then amended over the summer and fall to include much greater stress on the importance of the abortion campaign. The amended resolution was published in October 1972.
Some acronyms and other references that may be unclear:
Originally published in: League for Socialist Action / Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière Discussion Bulletin 1972-73. Number 53, April 17, 1973
Our Line In Practice: A Contribution to the Women’s Liberation Discussion
by Joan Campana, Gwen Taylor and Lis Angus
In the past few months our movement has had a rich and varied intervention into the developing feminist movement. At the same time, as we have headed into the 1973 convention of. the LSA/LSO, there has been wide discussion of our women's liberation work.
The problems found in the original women's liberation resolution, which the amendments corrected, were reflected in our women's liberation work in Toronto. At the end of the summer, comrades felt isolated from developments within the women's liberation movement, and to some extent discouraged and demoralized in our work in building the abortion campaign.
Coming out of the September plenum we began to tackle these problems. After the January plenum we moved more fully to apply the line adopted at that plenum and expressed in the amended women's liberation resolution. As a result, we were able to take advantage of opportunities that emerged and make considerable progress in many aspects of our work.
One very valuable aspect of our work over the past period is that we have been able to see, and to test, our line in practice. In this contribution, we want to take a look at our women's liberation work in Toronto over the past few months, at the line as it was applied in real life.
The January Plenum and After
Coming out of the January plenum, we set ourselves four objectives in Toronto:
1. To broaden our intervention in the women's liberation movement:
2. To expand our assignments to women's liberation, to enable us to expand our work.
3. To bring all our Metro women's liberation work under the direction of the Metro joint women's liberation committee.
4. To build a functioning women's liberation fraction.
We have made considerable progress in all these areas in Toronto.
Broadening Our Work
We found that the projection of the January plenum of the CWC conference as a focus for broadening all our work was both correct and realistic. The conference provided an important "in" to other organizations and activities. It provided a real basis for us to put forward a perspective of unity in struggle for women, of a non-exclusionist movement, and to pose concrete action to other feminists. Of course the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision provided a big opening to build the conference in all our areas of work, and to intervene in new areas. But it was the correct line of the amended resolution, elaborated in the January plenum discussion, which enabled us to move out effectively and promptly after the U.S. decision to take full advantage of these openings.
This clarity of line was instrumental in enabling the Coalition to move out and make significant gains in building for the conference. The Coalition challenged the NDP to endorse and publicize the conference, to send delegates, etc. — concretely challenging the NDP to act on its program for women. Substantial gains were made in the student arena through building the conference, particularly on U. of T., where a number of successful meetings were carried — including a debate with a student anti-abortion group which drew a larger crowd than any political meeting on campus for months. An ongoing group of activists on campus was established to build the conference, something we had not managed to do on U. of T. before. Perhaps the best indication of the support built on the campus was the over $1300 raised on U. of T., including free facilities for the conference.
Fundraising and gathering of endorsements provided a concrete framework for moving out to other organizations and individuals and enlisting their support. Organizations like the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and Women for Political Action endorsed the conference, publicized it, and sent speakers. In the process valuable contact was made with these organizations — for example we now have a Coalition activist on the steering committee of the National Action Committee.
The Coalition also moved out into municipal politics to challenge the "reform" City Council to endorse and give funds to the conference. Although that fight was lost, the Coalition got some good publicity around it, made some valuable contacts and gained a great deal of experience.
Some of the other areas we have intervened in or least been in touch with since the January plenum — not only to build the conference but also to intervene more broadly — have been: an Ontario Federation of Students Conference on women; the women's studies course series on U. of T; the Toronto Women's Place (we participated in the later planning of an International Women's Day action; we are participating in an ongoing class series on Women and Revolution; and we had some success in drawing women to the conference. A Women's Place speaker spoke at the Friday night rally, and the High School Women’s Collective played a big role in the conference); in the NDP we are involved in discussions for a June women's conference of the ONDP to launch an Ontario NDP women’s committee; a number of women comrades intervened in a MISC class on Women in the Canadian economy (some women comrades are participating in the whole MISC class series); and we have been in touch with the North York day care struggle and the Sussex street day care struggle.
We have been conscious of opportunities to make open interventions as the League in all these areas. These interventions have been both through comrades intervening verbally, and through sales of our press and literature, distribution of forum leaflets, etc. In particular, we built the socialist education conference among our women contacts and got a number of them out to it. (An important factor in our ability to bring these contacts to the conference was the prestige and respect which Jacquie Henderson — one of the major speakers at the education conference — had won among wide layers of Toronto feminists as the LSA/YS mayoralty candidate in November.) We also brought a half dozen contacts to our International Women's Day forum on Marxism and feminism.
The Canadian Women’s Coalition Conference
The CWC Conference has to be seen as the fruit of our work over the entire past period. Its success is a vindication of the correction in our work, and of how well we were able to translate our line into practice.
This can be seen firstly from the political clarity of the conference. We were completely successful in winning the conference to our political perspective for the Coalition: a women’s coalition united in action around the single issue of abortion law repeal.
The feminist character of the campaign — as an integral part of a worldwide struggle for women’s rights and for women’s liberation — was very clear at the conference. The readiness of women to understand the campaign in such broad a context — as shown for instance in the size and lively discussion of the "abortion and women's liberation" workshop (it was the largest workshop in the conference) — indicated an evolution and deepening of feminist consciousness among women drawn to the campaign since the Winnipeg conference a year ago. This consciousness was crystallized not only in the almost unanimous adoption of the "women only" perspective, but also in the enthusiastic support for and understanding of the theme of the Coalition: "abortion — a woman's right to choose."
The clarification in our own thinking prior to the conference had prepared us well to lead the many educational discussions at the conference — in particular the Saturday workshops — where we convinced the vast majority of women of the correctness of our perspectives. The main action proposal, for a Fall Tribunal, met with overwhelming and enthusiastic response. An important point to be noted is the big role some of our close Coalition contacts and activists played in defending these concepts and winning the conference politically. This is a good indication of the extent to which we have born able to educate these contacts.
Throughout the conference, our movement played a very open role and was very well accepted. About 75 women comrades from across the country participated in at least part of the conference; our press and literature tables were prominently displayed and sales were good. At the Crescent table we sold $116 worth of literature; we sold 62 Labor Challenges and 50 copies of the Young Socialist. We were able to do considerable contact work throughout the conference, and emerged from it with 10 contacts of the movement in Toronto alone.
The breadth of the conference also illustrated the success the Coalition had in reaching out into other areas of the feminist movement — both in taking the abortion fight into them, and in bringing them into the abortion campaign through the conference. A reflection of this was the extent to which the debates and arguments that have circulated in the feminist movement concerning the abortion campaign were represented in the discussions.
Two important areas reached into to build the conference were the NDP and the high schools. There were a large number of NDP rank and file women at the conference who met throughout to discuss and map out how to take the lessons of the conference — particularly the Tribunal — into the NDP and press for action in the NDP around its program for women. This in the future can tie in extremely well with our direction to build a class struggle opposition to the reformist NDP leadership.
The participation of high school women was underlined by the very spirited high school women’s workshop and by the election of a woman (from the high school women’s collective at the Toronto Women’s Place) put forward by that workshop as a cross-country high school coordinator of the Coalition.
The breadth was seen in a variety of other ways. The Gay women’s workshop (the first one ever carried by the Coalition) was attended by 20 women, and was given a tremendous response by the conference as a whole. Women from 84 groups and organizations attended the conference. (This includes 12 local Coalition Chapters and 28 high schools and colleges). The list includes 11 women’s liberation groups and six birth control and referral services. It also includes a diverse range of other organizations women belong to. Some of these include: Trent Cooperative Daycare, the Ottawa Free Clinic, Ontario Poor People, Planned Parenthood, ARCAL, a number of chapters of the Status of Women Committee, Women’s Press, the Regina Women's Centre, women from Edmonton’s Women’s Liberation paper, On Our Way, the Etobicoke Board of Education, various Humanist Association chapters, the Congress of Canadian Women and others, some of which the Toronto Coalition had worked with for a considerable period of time like the YWCA and the United Church.
The conference was very successful in another way. The seriousness of a political organization can always be gauged in its approach to funding itself and its activities. Well over $10,000 was raised across the country to build the conference and bring women to it. The Toronto operation raised approximately $5,000, enabling it not only to pay for every conference expense (including two staffers), but also to eliminate almost all of a considerable back debt and to lay a modest basis for ongoing operations coming out of the conference. That is no small task. It is another indication of how the Coalition was able to translate support for repeal into concrete results.
In summary: the lessons learned at the conference have already had and will continue to have an important impact on building the abortion campaign across the country. But the lessons will not stop there—they will extend into the NDP and into women’s groups and activity across the country, into the developing feminist movement as a whole. The conference was one of the largest and probably the most consciously feminist gatherings of women in this country to date. Given the correct leadership, the projections it made can have a powerful impact on the entire growth of the women’s liberation movement in Canada. In this way, the conference enabled us to concretely project our politics into the growing feminist consciousness in Canada.
Specifically in Toronto we have seen the big impact the conference had on the activist core of the CWC. That core is now larger numerically, and the women have learned a great deal in the building of the conference. They are very eager to move out and implement the decisions of the conference. The educationals the Coalition has held since the conference reflect the development of these independent women. They are volunteering to give them, and are participating enthusiastically in them. As well, more new women are volunteering to go out and speak for the Coalition.
Expanding Our Assignments to Woman's Liberation
At the time of the January plenum, we still had only nine comrades assigned to women’s liberation work; six of these were assigned to the Coalition. By the time of the CWC conference, about twenty comrades were assigned to women’s liberation work in Metro: intervening in the Coalition; in the NDP (where 8 women intervene regularly); on campus; women's studies and Women’s Place. (This is not counting comrades who were assigned to conference work in the week of the conference.)
Building a Women's Liberation Fraction
After the January plenum, we projected having Metro joint YS-League women’s fraction meetings on an average of once a month. In the three months since the plenum, three Metro fractions have been held, as well as the three cross-country fractions during the CWC conference.
However, there is more to building a fraction than just having meetings: it means building functioning teams of comrades in our areas of intervention, who collaborate on a regular basis to carry out our work. We have begun that process, and the experiences we have been through in these past months have accelerated it in the direction we want to go.
One of the most impressive results of our women’s liberation work in the past period has been the development of our women’s leadership, both on a Metro and a cross-country level. The ongoing task of developing cadre and developing a collective leadership is not one that happens in abstraction, but very concretely through the experiences of the movement. The experience of coming to grips with the errors in the original women’s liberation resolution, correcting those errors, of transmitting the September and January plenum decisions to the whole movement and translating them into practice; of responding to the Supreme Court decision; and in particular, the experience of leading the movement through its many-leveled participation in the March CWC conference — these rich experiences have left their mark on the leaderships of our women’s liberation work. In the process, a functioning cross-country committee and Metro committee are being forged. New leaders have developed as women comrades have learned from the experiences of the past period; our layer of leading women comrades is considerably broader and more experienced than six months ago.
This process has been reflected in the Labor Challenge coverage. A functioning cross-country committee has been able to collaborate more fully with the Labor Challenge editors in planning and editing articles. This is a process that we want to continue and deepen. As well as clear ongoing coverage of both the Canadian and international abortion campaigns, the Labor Challenge women's liberation coverage in the past three months included: an article on the Wardair strike; a review of the Redbook survey of women readers on feminism; an article on the Vancouver women's studies course; an article on the struggle for a Women's Rights Ministry in B.C.; a review of "Wedding in White"; an article on Marxism and feminism; a report of International Women's Day actions; an article on the B.C. day care sit-in; an article on women in the work force and one on the Vancouver Tribunal.
Although we have covered only the unfolding of our women's liberation work in the Metro Toronto local, there have been similar experiences across the country. If anything, some areas outside Toronto were quicker to move in the direction indicated by the amendments than Toronto was.
A few examples will show how rich the experience across the country has been over the past several months. Comrades in Montreal are involved in the establishment of a women's liberation group, along with many other forces including students, workers and political opponents. This group is a product of a teach-in organized by the University of Quebec women's studies course (in which we have comrades), and the CNTU. Our comrades are also active in both the Front Commun and the English Coalition, particularly in building the Morgentaler defense. There are big possibilities for pulling many groups into this defense campaign. In Hamilton the comrades are also involved in a women's center that shows possibilities of involving women in actions. The Winnipeg comrades have helped launch a high school birth control campaign. In Edmonton the Young Socialists took the initiative in calling upon the various feminist organizations to hold a support picket for Wardair stewardesses during their strike.
The Vancouver comrades have had a big experience with their women's liberation work in the NDP where the women's ministry struggle has shaken up the whole BC NDP. They are intervening in this to lead women into struggle to expose the NDP leadership and push it to act on the party's program. They have helped build regional and provincial NDP women's conferences, participated in the women's rights committee and have written for Priorities, the newsletter of the women's rights committee. The comrades were key in getting the February conference of the women's rights committee to solidarize with the day care occupation which was taking place there at that time. Our consistent intervention in the women's studies course at UBC has meant that this semester we were able to have one comrade give a class and to carry an ongoing workshop on strategy. We were able to get women from that workshop to participate in the day care occupation.
In addition Joan Campana, speaking for the Canadian Women's Coalition, participated in a panel with a woman from the Working Women's Association and a woman from the day care occupation group. The highly successful BC Abortion Tribunal was part of the women's studies course Women's Week. In building for the CWC conference, Vancouver comrades helped push the BC NDP government caucus to endorse it, as well as getting the women's rights committee to send a delegate. They also got endorsement from the Vancouver and District Labour Council and got the Vancouver City Council to pass a motion supporting repeal.
The impressive number of women attending the March CWC conference from across the country; the number of organizations from which they came; the successful local building activities for the conference; all testify to the success of our women's liberation work.
The clarity of our line as put forward in the amended resolution and elaborated in the plenum reports has enabled us to move forward to take advantage of and intervene correctly in the real situation in the Canadian feminist movement. In the process, our coalition work has become more clear as the focus around which a rich and varied intervention into the feminist radicalization should revolve. We have taken firm steps towards building a cohesive collective leadership. And we have brought closer to our movement an increasingly larger number of radicalizing women. Our challenge now is to continue to build on the important gains we have made.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All