Caryatids!, by Madeleine Vernet

[Translated by Jesse Cohn]

CARYATIDS!

Magnificent arms raised over their heads,
Half-naked, bent-backed, faces furrowed in distress,
The caryatids, bearing weight, bearing contempt,
Seem to join their grace to an athlete’s strength.

For days, for months, for years, in ranks
They have stood there, fixed in that granite façade
Where the sculptor had molded their beautiful bodies,
The shapes of their breasts, the curves of their flanks.

There have they been passed by the years and days
While they bear up the weight of the tragedy
That pins them to the rock, as in antiquity
The conqueror’s chariot trailed slaves in chains, —

Slaves! — for such they are, in spite of the hand
Of the Artist who carved them in stone to be loved;
Those arms are oppressed by the weight of the roof
That has nailed them down upon this pillory of pain!…

And are these not pictures of you, woman? Yes,
As old as the world is the yoke that you know;
You, for whom yesterday’s slavery stays new,
You, who are pinned in a shameful arrest

In the dreary, implacable rock of the past! —
— In vain to sing you have the artists and poets
Made their lyres resound at countless feasts,
In vain by their love is your body caressed;

In vain they proclaim, in their songs, their mistress;
You are nevertheless still the slave who was carved
By a Master’s self-love: woman, whom he subdued
By drowning you slowly in false tenderness.

— Long centuries of error, of ignorant night,
The vacuous preachments of hypocrites,
Draining and dwindling you, blanching your face,
Have shaped you well to suit his might.

— The beauty of life within you has grown warped:
The sparkle of jewels that fascinates your eyes
Has robbed you of the serene splendor of skies
Where an insubordinate thought goes to soar.

Heavy dresses have encumbered your steps;
Corsets, iron fists that wound and oppress,
Have muted the harmony of your suppleness —
And bracelets of gold have shackled your arms…

— And because they told you that you were not made
To act and think; because they praised
The sweetness of your heart, the beauty of your flesh;
Because they heaped roses on your head; —

Because they caught you with sentiment,
Because they set a halo on your head,
And because you have been told your part is servitude,
Obedience in duty, patience in punishment;

You then bowed to the decrees of Man
That crushed you under their authority,
O woman! — O Caryatid of Humanity! —
That made you a luxury — or a beast of burden…!

But how suddenly do we hear freedom’s name,
How, in this keener air, the fever is undone,
O Woman! — and by the light of a new sun
The edifice that crushes you shows its age.

— “No, we would be neither masters nor slaves,”
So the peasants in revolt once declared; —
Well! Woman, in your turn, make your wishes heard,
Break your shackles, proclaim your rights.

Proud sisters have pointed the way to go;
Dare to follow their road of wrath and hate,
— For love cannot be where there are chains —
Forsake love, O sisters — until tomorrow!

And dare to follow Revolt where she’s headed,
Through clouds and thunder, through ruddy skies,
To conquer your share of clear air and light,
O Woman: lay your burden down, Caryatid!

— Madeleine Vernet (1905)
Translated by Jesse Cohn

Translator’s comments:

What strikes me as interesting about this piece is the way that a didactic poem – which, trained to read by modernists, we tend to see as heavy-handed, overdone, clumsy, crude, simplistic – actually incorporates a good deal of complexity. The overall idea absolutely can’t be missed: it’s meant to condemn sexism. Beyond that, though, it’s also putting its finger on some of the terrible ironies of life for women under patriarchy: you can be both overvalued and devalued at the same time, treated as a kind of living prop “supporting” the social edifice that weighs down on you (by dutifully reproducing it), and at the same time aestheticized to the point of absurdity, so that your life is made into a kind of work of art, a decorative “luxury,” to be regarded as superfluous and ornamental, socially prized (by men) but also fundamentally worthless (without them). It does most of this work of thinking through the contradictions of patriarchy using a single image, which is really pretty economical (not in the spirit of modernist terseness, but in an effort not to waste any of the effect). There are also ideas in play here about sexuality as a field for political struggle – the suggestion not only of a grève des ventres, a “birth strike,” as was not uncommon in the anarchist and syndicalist press, but also of a kind of emotional strike, a refusal to accept the false coin of male romantic sentiment, that presages things like Adrienne Rich’s notion of waging resistance against “compulsory heterosexuality” by ceasing to draw most of one’s emotional sustenance from relationships with men. Much as Proudhon, as a real patriarch, would have hated to admit it, this is a Proudhonian strategy, too.

Discussions with Women on Strike, by Ito Noe

Discussions with Women on Strike
Ito Noe
1920

1.
Twelve days after the start of the strike and eight days after the first meeting with the capitalists, I looked up the women who work at the Sanshûsha company in Matsumoto Hall in Kanda.

“Many of you must must be face with different and particular issues than men are, but the fact that you have proven your solidarity for so long…”, I said, straight after the salutations

“But no, although we are all appointed to different positions to the best of our ability, a few of us have gone back to work yesterday. There is no excuse for this.” “Oh yes, I have also already heard of this. Since the strike has lasted for over two weeks now, we can well understand this. A shame they didn’t haves more perseverance, isn’t it? How many women went to work?” “It must be three. If they had waited until today, the terms for today’s meeting might have been more favourable. Our whole effort has not paid at all yet! They have way too little steadfastness.”

The resolution of the printers of the morning paper had confirmed me that, because of the treason of these people, the capitalists had suddenly become inflexible. I could already imagine the result of today’s meeting. Now I found no words supporting this in the discussions with these women which seemed not to know anything about this.
Although the willingness existed at first for this strike to endure the hardships a month or more, it happened that a few didn’t last more than two weeks and went back to work without condition. An honest conversation between two colleagues developed about why these few didn’t say it openly, if they were in a day or two in unbearable distress, although people could have helped them somehow – even if all also suffered – if these things were only expressed. They also talked about the fact that the influence from one or two traitors could be altogether immensely great on this great strike.

I picked up, along with all the others, two big rice dumplings covered in bamboo leaves and ate. While I felt a familiarity which moved me to tears, I took part in the circle of discussion until the evening.

2.
Naturally, the stories were not completely surprising for me. Some of it I had already read and already heard. Part of it I could also imagine from my own experiences.

But although I had long known this, it moved me very deeply to have these discussions with people who had experienced it in reality and felt it so bitterly. While I listen to the tales of these women about their normal work conditions and other things, the feeling overwhelmed me that the demands of the strike for shorter work hours and a pay increase did not simply constitute a way to make production more effective1, which part of the capitalists find to their taste, or that they come from the men’s side who join for education and leisure time, but rather that the requirements attack especially strongly the truly insoluble needs of these women. It emerges from the comments of these women that, although the factory law2 thankfully give women and children special attention as protected workers, it guaranteed them no protection, that the capitalists mainly used it at the time of wage increases not to raise the wages of single female workers.

They let the women work the long time of twelve hours between dirty, cracked planks. They cannot sit down but must stand up the whole time. They don’t pay any mind to the particular body characteristics of women. They let them carry heavy loads and climb up stairs, exactly in te same way if they are pregnant or if they have another condition; no consideration will be taken if she suffers injuries because of it.

Although the work alone seems horrible because of the dust-filled air in the factory, it sent shivers down my spine, as I discovered in these discussions that they let them work so hard and destroys their health so in cold blood as well.

3.
The women also told the following:
“Early it would be seen as usual to be working from seven in the morning till over eleven at night. We hardly came back home before midnight. If we imagine how things were then we are happy about the twelve hour day today. At that time, we had never thought in dreams about a day of rest every Sunday. It seemed inevitable that the wages would not be raised for two or three years by one sen (1/100 of a yen). We were truly urged to work, and treated as badly as they wished. But we accepted this in silence. When we think about it, it seems incredible that our bodies could withstand this. We can’t imagine something as beautiful as an eight-hour day or a six-hour day, but if it became reality, the twelve-hour days for which we are now so thankful would seem most awful.”
This is the truth. Most of these women must work double: at home and in the factory.

Young unmarried women too, who must carry out next to no housework, work twelve hours at the factory and need around two hours for commute. From the ten hours at home, they are left with, after you take out two hours for the meal or for getting dressed, only eight hours; if they come back at night and after the meal talk to their family members and have a bath, that’s another two or three hours gone. Because they are so tired, they can do nothing very tiring outside, for example, learn something. If a competent young woman does only one hour of needlework, she reduces her sleeping time to something like four or five hours. Can she recuperate thus completely from her tiredness after a day of work? But now the women who are charged with responsibilities as wives or mothers, in this so tightly allocated time, look after their husbands or children. The preparation of meals, the care for all the utensils, the reflection on the household’s money, the washing of clothes in cold or hot water and other plans – all of this she must deal with, on top of the daily wash of the dirty children’s stuff. All of these worries they can’t in any way give to someone else, even if someone helps them. In order to perform adequately, their limited sleep is reduced and they must give up their rare days off.

Understandably, civilisation offers us different methods and facilities to shorten usual housework. The working class is however too poor to make use of them. Thanks to this civilisation, the strange phenomenon is produced that the most idle women have more time at their disposal, while the women who have the most things to do are driven to terrible overtime.

4.
“Work in the factory is a real poison for our health. I am still quite strong, but when I get a bit sick and the doctor examines me, he recognises straight away, without me saying anything, that I am working in the factory. If we are just a bit unreasonable, something happens immediately. This is horrible! Sometimes I notice that I no longer have news from a woman with whom I have been working; then when I hear about them, they are ether sick or dead. We don’t know how many people have lost their health in the factory. It was also the case for our older sisters,” says a woman, who was sitting next to me, in a serious tone, while she pointed at a friend next to her.
5.
I stayed that day and the following days a while with the workers. Although these women found themselves in the sad situation where their urgent demands were dismissed by the capitalists with a hard hand, they didn’t see the future as gloomy. How brave is their common resolve to reach for themselves, with their own hands, without a doubt, a reform of their work conditions all around! I would like here to express the cheerful anticipation that surely in the near future the day will come when the tremendous self-confidence of these women, who rely on almost nothing and educate themselves, will cast a new bright light on working women.

The Sugar Breakers: Notes from a woman on strike, by Séverine

The Sugar Breakers: Notes from a woman on strike
Séverine
1897

To François Coppée
To be on strike without having ever been an industrial worker can seem, at first sight, quite paradoxical. But if I haven’t got a taste of a factory, it is because of the bosses who haven’t hired me the day before yesterday.

I wished to know, technically, the cause and the goal of this strike; to know, through experience rather than hearsay, the bitterness, the harsh realities of this job, the name of which amused Paris; to realise, at last, the sum of endurance, tiredness, which a creature has to provide in order to earn just enough not to die – and start again the next day!

To go there as a “lady”, even as a friend, notebook and pencil in hands, a reporter among reporters, was to risk knowing maybe less than them; in any case, not to be able to do more, to remain parked in the same circle of evolution, in the same order of ideas.

The work of a journalist is, unfortunately, an official position, in such cases; which, without decreasing its interest, often makes it sterile. Whatever the rank of the informer in their professional hierarchy, it is known, it has to be told – hence, inferior. The two opposite sides only tell them what they wish to tell them; only let them see what they wish to let them see.

While the ideal thing would be to be ignored, anonymous, so much like anybody that no-one would suspect you; so mixed into the crowd, so close to its heart that they can truly feel it beat, only by putting their hand on their own chest… a flow incorporated into the Ocean, a sigh mixed in the great breath of humankind!

For labour issues, especially, this seems useful in my opinion. To describe workers’ lives is not enough – you must live it, in order truly to appreciate all its injustice and all its horrors. Then, we know what we are talking about; we are truly the echo of what we heard, the reflection of what we saw; we are soaked to the bone in pity and revolt!

To pretend, even with the best intentions, the most talent in the world, will only ever give this impression of honesty which an uncultured being sometimes obtains when they reproduce barbarously what they witnessed or took part in.

There is no need to spend years, months, weeks, to this study, to this neighbourhood, to this trial, as long as there is no question of studying the subtleties of the job, to become apt to deserve our wage – or, like in Russia, to catechise ignorant souls.

Our workers know how to think without a master; and the iniquities they suffer are so obvious (and, alas, so monotonous) that only a few hours suffice, for whom knows how to see them and hear them, to record them.

This is what I did. For almost a day, among these poor girls, dressed like them, I wandered under the scrutiny of the cops in front of the deserted factory, in the dreary comradeship of unusual idleness. I stopped at their stages; I heard their demands freely formulated; I went into the factories, saw the work of those who were submissive – who had too many children or were too hungry! – and that is why I can now tell you, in full knowledge, what this strike is about, and how much sympathy and interest it deserves.

First of all, the word is misleading: We shouldn’t say “breaker” but “organiser”, since the task consists in layering, in cardboard or wooden boxes, the sugar cut into stronger or less strong morsels, according to their number. In this way, the sugar for the cafés are 50, while the bis, cut into cubes, is especially reserved for use in the Midi. Only the refuse, the powder and shards, sold by weight, does not need to be aligned.
[…]
In ordder to understand what the “cassoir” is, you must imagine a big, very long table, around a metre wide, with parallel drain, like the lines of a music score in relief for blind people. It is between these rails that the sugar is going to go past – as an ingot before the knives, then as morsels – which the six organisers, in a continuous, unceasing, mechanical movement too, pick up a line, turn around, put it in the box placed behind them on some sort of wooden bench; they turn back, start again, forever, eternally, from seven in the morning to six in the evening, without rest, without ever sitting down, apart from ten minutes of break and an hour for lunch.
For example, they circulate. When their box is full, they must carry them to the scales, placed, at Mr. Sommier’s place for example, 20 or 25 metres away. The average number of journeys per day is 40. Pregnant women, young girls carry up to a thousand kilos. Many are injured; the hardiest lose on average two to three days per fortnight, because of faintness, exhaustion, stiffness, aches in their sides, problems with their pregnancy or their puberty.

I am only speaking here of the physical effort of it, because you need to read, as I just did, in medical books, to know which diseases are linked to this unfortunate lot.
They have no more nails, no more teeth; the first were used to the flesh by the handling of the sugar; the latter lost their enamel, fell, broke because of the dust which comes out – this dust which burn their eyelids, their throats; which makes their voices coarse; causes stomach infections, tuberculosis – suffering always, and an early death!
How much do they earn? They used to get 60 centimes per 100 kilos, that is, depending on their courage, from 3 fr. 25 to 4 fr per day. They have been told, almost a fortnight ago: “You will now only receive 50 centimes for 100 kilos. Competition is too harsh; take it or leave it.”
They left; they got out, preferring to starve completely, and quickly, than to slowly die from this. Because this meant a 10 centimes decrease per day – and you realise what 10 centimes a day mean in a workers’ household?
They tried a general strike. The workers from the Lebaudy, Lucas, and François companies first followed the movement started by the Sommier refinery. Then they grew wary… went back. Only the workers from Lucas’s place, men and women, sacrifice 15 centimes a day to support the Sommier’s strikers. But there are less than twenty of them – and there are over 140 people on strike!
A little help arrived, from here and there, sent by plebeian solidarity, or the compassion of some people who were moved by so much distress and so much bravery. They were able to distribute 30 centimes a day; and families of five, six people lived with this on bread and water – but still not giving up!

I went to meet with them on Monday, at dawn, at the top of the rue de Flandre. The day before, three delegates had come to find me, to tell me what I wrote earlier; and as I had mentioned my idea to spend a day there, to get hired if possible, they were enthusiastic at this prospect, if slightly sceptical as to its implementation.
However the “secretary”, Hélène Milani, a tall blond woman with confident eyes, a gallant air, had told me: “See you tomorrow!” But she had added: “You will never manage, Madame,” which had upset me. I am not a wimp, and what I want, I get.
Therefore, there I was, showing up at one of their homes, at the given time. In a second, I took off my gloves, veil, hat, coat, and there I am bare headed, hairs pulled-back – ha, this damn hair! How they rebel! – in a cloth petticoat and blouse, an apron around my waist, a basket in hand, so similar to any of them that they start gushing about it, amused.
We walked down the rue de Flandre, up unto the great building of the Sommier refinery, to see whether they are hiring. I will sneak into the group of renegades, even if I get a bit “pushed around” by the strikers I came to defend.
The street is full of policemen, in and out of uniform. I am only afraid of Granger, the member of parliament for this part of Paris, who is there, with Lhermitte, from the Trade Union Hall, and my colleague Degay, from La Marseillaise. The three of them came because, the other day, the police had been really brutal, and, in case of a repeat offence, Granger would show his credentials.
If they recognised me, maybe they could not contain a sign of surprise, and my cover which should let me come and go as I wish to talk with my friends would be blown.
Gatherings are banned; if there are more than three of us and we are standing still, a policeman intervenes. And as I am lingering in front of the factory gates, observing every brick of it, contemplating the doorman in his pretty, blue uniform with its metal buttons, looking like a grunt, with his terrible white moustache, who seems rather flattered by my examination, a cop gently pushes me:
“On you go, honey! Move away! You shouldn’t stay here.”
I obtemperate and take refuge, with many others, at “our” office, located opposite, at number 122 at the wine seller’s which is called “Let’s go to Charles’s”.
I go to Charles’s. We walk to the bar, where a few workers and many snitches are having a drink, and we meet at the back, in a sort of modest hall lit from above, half dancing-room, half palm game court… like a century ago! Only, thank goodness, no-one is giving a speech; we are simply discussing, without sentences, what would be the best thing to do in our common interest.
The fact that I am new does not alert them – one of the delegates, Mrs. Gasse, vouched for me – and I observe once more, with inexpressible emotion, how much naïve goodness, sweetness, resolve these despised, exploited people have (among its women especially). No, or very few, angered words, only melancholy to see how hard it is to agree on things, and, despite everything, the hope to achieve it.
“We weren’t demanding anything; only to be given back what they took from us… Mr. Sommier is not bad, he will agree: he is so rich!… How boring it is not to work, when you’re not used to it!”
It is true, they are like bodies without souls, these good workers, although, between ther fingers, a bone hook crochets some wool. On a small table, there is an inkwell, some paper, a wooden box, a registrar. From time to time, a striker shows up, signs, gets her 30 centimes – then leaves clutching at them, like a drowning man holds onto a branch! She does not stop, does not talk, runs… people are waiting for her for their food!
These poor emaciated faces, with pale lips, with almost no pink at all In the palor of their flesh; the poor baggy eyes, poor creatures!
One of them, in a corner, has opened her camisole to offer her breast to a child who looks like an old man with such a wrinkly skin and a waxy countenance!
And the meagre breast appears, the speaking weapon of all this race, who is hungry before they have teeth, who is hungry once they have fallen out – who is hungry always!

One of my guides comes to pick me up:
“At lunchtime, François’s place is going to hire people, rue Ricquer. Are you coming with?”

I get up and follow her.

At François’s, for this ten minutes’ break, the staff escapes in a roar. Most of them are young (others being dead or retired), many are dressed in petticoats and camisoles, with light, flowery fabrics, a handkerchief tied around their heads, pointy corners flying in the wind on their hair iced with sugar. At first sight, it is almost pretty, under this clear September sunlight, like a flight of grisettes at the Porcherons.
But the illusion ceases in front of the broken smiles, the parched lips, the narrow shoulders, the sunken throats, the dry little coughs which break out all around. Whet had made these cheeks look red was the fire from a fever. As the droplets of sweat dry on the cheeks, the redness disappears from the cheeks. There they are pale like old dolls…
We have sneaked into the courtyard.
“There you go, here’s the Vésinet,” my friend tells me.
It is a dark cellar in which machines, human shapes, can vaguely be recognised.
“What is this?”
“That’s where we work, but come above it, it’s better.”
Indeed, above a few steps, the room is well-lit, at least. But there’s still this same crushing heat, same steam, same sugar dust, which asphyxiates you, suffocates you…
There are some “cassoirs” there; and the other one gives me a lessons on how it works, on what I would have had to do.
“The only thing is,” she says, “in the evening, your fingers would have pissed blood.”
She indicates me with a glance the women’s hands, rolled in towels, bandages, cuts of linen.
Here comes the foreman. Shyly, she addresses him, asks him her request. Looking away, but very politely, he answers:
“I have enough people for today. Come back tomorrow at six, you will be hired.”
I put the employment book borrowed for the occasion from my stepsister, and we leave, across the courtyard, meeting the workers who are coming back.
At the gate, a striking woman, come to watch for defections, calls out to me:
“You lazy cow!”
Certainly not.

All I have left to do is to attempt to get into Mr. Sommier’s, to catch a glimpse of the building.

“There’s only one way: you have to bring a litre to Barthélémy!”
I don’t mind giving Barthélémy a litre, but I would have to know how.
“Here. Barthélémy is a basin carrier at the refinery, under the place where we usually work. Bassin carriers never come out; they are brought what they need from outside, until three. My man took him his lunch, but we can still bring him a litre.”
“How would I do that?”
“You go under the doorman’s nose without talking to him, walk straight across the courtyard, down a few steps, and there, in the cellar, you’ll find the basin carriers. Then you shout “Hey! Barthélémy!” And you will have seen how hard their job is, too, and how hot it is down there!”
As soon as she said this, I went; the plan was executed step by step. I sneaked past the caretaker, and, presto, stumbled down into the cellar. At the entrance, I almost fainted, because of how high the temperature was. Men in cloth trousers, bare chested, their breasts and stomachs protected by some kind of currier’s apron walk past in a line, with a huge copper container in their arms, which they empty, one after the other, in the machine where the loaf moulds are. It is the molten sugar they are carrying; you must see their bored gestures, when they have versed their charge and go get another one in their metal vases! And these foolish painters who insist on painting the Danaids, while these flesh and blood creatures here give such a spectacle of art, superb and pitiful!
All around, like a huge bombshell factory, the moulds are lined up one against the other, pointing downwards.
However, I daren’t shout “Hey! Barthélémy!”. I inquire instead.
“Don’t know him!” the first one answers.
“Wait a minute…” another one says “But it’s Jughead!”
“Hey! Jughead!” repeats the whole floor in a single voice.
A tall curly haired boy, with a good natured air emerges from the depths.
“Who is calling for me?”
“It’s you girl who’s bringing you a litre.”
“That’s not my girl, but I’ll take the litre anyway.”
I handed it to him with a smile:
“It’s from Eulalie!”
“Tell her I thank her. And you too, miss.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Barthélémy.”
As I left, I wandered a bit. I look at the beautiful layout of the factory, I calculate what source of wealth these buildings, these machines, this powerful organisation of Capital represent.
And I suddenly think back of a visit I paid, a long time ago, to the Vaux-Fouquet castle, this royal residence of a royal superintendent, and which Mr. Sommier now owns. I think of the statues in the bowers, of the freshness of the undergrowth, of the marvellous shade, of all this well-being, all this luxury, all these pleasures as an art collector, turning these ruins in such a home.
Those poor girls are right; people cannot be merciless with such satisfactions in this world.
Outside, the delegates meet me.
“We just went on the last delegation to the boss. Even to split the difference, and give us 55 centimes, he won’t hear of it.”
One of them is crying:
“What’s wrong with you?”
“He was cold as ice… He spoke to us so harshly!”
“And what is the reason for this refusal?”
“Mr. Sommier said like this that ha cannot, that he can’t afford it.”

On the destitution of your master, cry, nymphs of Vaux! It makes many more cry, this poverty which shrinks salaries and moves into palaces; which makes so many young children, old mothers, exhausted women, slowly die in one of our neighbourhoods.

The Need for Women’s Unions, by Milly Witkop-Rocker

The Need for Women’s Unions
Milly Witkop-Rocker
Der Frauen-Bund
1925

That the support of several male comrades for the dissolution of the women’s unions had to cause a storm of protests among our female comrades is natural. The women have come to realise that such organisations are necessary, and there she deals seriously with her issues, so we must not be surprised that she defends her point with energy. It would be very unfortunate if it weren’t the case, it would only prove that women had less interest for their issues. Despite everything, it would be an injustice if those comrades, who are committed to the union of both men and women in the same united organisation, wanted to presume an evil intent. Without a doubt their motives stem from thinking and are perfectly honest in order to help the movement. However, not everything that is done meaning well is also good in practice and desirable, especially not in this case.

Before we called the women’s unions into existence, we had well considered the question, and if we have decided in favour of the unions, it happened mainly because we wanted to reach out first and foremost to housewives and female relatives who are not considered directly as producers. It would be in my opinion a complete waste of time if we brought in these women in the general organisation, where they would have little opportunity to develop their own initiatives and they would end up most of the time playing the role of silent observers. In this way they would not be able to bring anything useful neither to the general movement, nor to themselves.

Some might object that so far women’s unions have only achieved little result and have not brought many advantages to women. On its own, this reproach is not conclusive. Despite the decisions of the Düsseldorf and Erfurt congresses1 which completely recognised the need for these unions and for supporting them, precious little has been done on this issue in the past five years. It would therefore be foolish to want to expect greater results. I do not wish to make a reproach against anyone when I say this, my words are conceived much more as a reminder that in this respect a lot more must be done.

But even so the little that was done did not remain without success. If today we have quite a number of women in the country who are able to represent effectively their own issues as well as the interests of the movement, this is a direct result from the women’s unions that we would hardly have achieved without the existence of the unions. And that women have understood their duty, this comes out of the fact that in quite a few of the groups mutual aid has been practised in a way which could serve as a very good example also for male comrades. This however does not mean that we are content and that we reject any critique. On the contrary, it must be emphasised over and over again that far too little has been done so far and that we must direct all of our power to create new groups and always better to build up and develop the existing ones. It would be however completely wrong if people wanted to reproach the women for not having done their duty, after the comrades have done theirs in their congress and taken resolutions in favour of women’s unions. Could anyone not make the same reproach to the men? Most of them believed that after they put down the need for unions in a particular resolution, the thing would just happen by itself. The means, they took this issue a bit too lightly. Without a doubt it would be desirable the women had shown up in higher numbers, but the same can also be said of the male comrades. From those who are organised as syndicalists we could have expected with full justification that they would have stood by the women who were completely inexperienced in those areas.

Unfortunately, things are not going the way we wished and that’s why we must be patient and not throw in the towel. The fact that something does not make as much progress as we we wish does not say anything at all about its necessity. If that were the case, we should also assess all the work of the pioneers of the syndicalist movement in Germany as very modest, since they also did not get the success which they maybe had expected. And no-one will contest that men, who go every day to their workplaces, are much easier to reach than women who, withdrawn in their families, are much to difficult to influence with new ideas.

If someone talks about the little success of the women’s unions, there is one circumstance they must not fail to mention: it is unfortunately an indisputable fact that a whole number of our comrades are anyway against their wives taking part in the movement. For a long time, especially in Germany, a deeply-ingrained prejudice played the lead role. The fear of having to warm up their evening bread themselves for once, if their wives attended a meeting, or just the dread that she could run away from them if she heard people speak about freedom or – God forbid – free love, often lead to really strange results. How laughable and petty as these objections should be, they nonetheless exist and are making the fight of women for their issues naturally all the harder. If we take all of this into consideration, we must not be surprised if the women’s unions have not managed to reach any major results so far.

That women are realising they need to do something is unquestionable. It is the duty of our comrades to support this inclination and to develop it, instead of nipping it in the bud.

Let’s treat women’s unions not as something trivial, but as a part of the general movement. It would be ridiculous to think that a movement with such goals as the syndicalist movement’s could ever reach those without the practical help of the women. Even the most conservative of men no longer dare to suggest this today. In the area of parliamentary politics, women have today become an important factor, and assuredly a scary reactionary factor, which doesn’t surprise us in the least, as we could predict it. An element which for centuries has been kept in blindness and ignorance, and which is then given full representation to take decisions, even if only in appearance, in public affairs, must logically help to reinforce the ranks of the reaction.

We, on the other hand, who know that the duties of women just as those of men lie in an entirely different area, must use all means of propaganda to lead women onto a new path. We must get the message across to them that their field of action does not lie in the parliamentary area, but that her effectiveness lies first and foremost in cultural affairs and in the economic field, where she comes into consideration especially as a consumer and can serve the good of all through her influence.

Luckily people have also already undertaken other steps in this task elsewhere. Thus the English comrades are now strongly concerned with the issue of organising consumers into women’s guilds, where they are trained and taught in all the issues of economic life.

The best experts are selected for this explanatory work which has shown remarkable results. We always come to the same conclusion that the economy is the most important factor of social life and that, especially in this matter, the involvement of women as consumers is of vital importance. We are therefore following the right path.

It would now be desirable if people also stood by us and not just in theory, but always determined themselves to go over to the work of cultural and economic education, in order to develop a larger work field for the women’s unions, which could make them financially independent.

How would it be if we created, everywhere where there are women’s unions, small consumers’ leagues, which would then acquire bulk buy for their members, and use the profit which would thus be taken from the middleman for the spreading of our propaganda? In this way, the women’s unions need not be a financial burden on the general movement and can at the same time do their propaganda and launch their initiative in these modest beginnings. Such experiments can lead to many consequences, about which I will not go into more details. The main point is that it is a start. To implement this suggestion, our women comrades must above all assemble where the women’s groups are, to be clear on the details of the beginning, and to discover means and ways.
Above all else, we must have the will to do something. Everything else will then fall into place.

Idealist Duties of Women in the Workers’ Movement

Idealist Duties of Women in the Workers’ Movement

L’Exploitée

1908

We must demand of ourselves more than we demand from others. Others, if they are somewhat decent people, cannot and dare not preach us our most sacred, and hardest to fulfil, duties; so we need to remind them ourselves; we will fulfil them with as much less pain.

It goes without saying that men and women who work form a common movement to make human labour free; they both have a common interest not to betray each other but to help each other in every struggle. If men go on strike in a factory, it would be silly for women to stay and make a movement fail when it could have been useful to them as well if it had won – we are beyond this; have we not seen this summer, in Switzerland and Austria, men remain at work while we fought in the streets? It would be silly as well if we didn’t care about preparing for a strike, if we didn’t ensure we had a bit of bread for the times of struggle, and if we left all this task to men; also, in Switzerland, for the past few years, thousands of us have joined trade unions and in those unions we have fulfilled our duties just like our male comrades.

When we are only housewives, duties appear less equal than they are. It is true that there are some housewives who, when their husbands are on strike, only lament and put their crying children in front of the house when their father comes back. But these discouraging wives who, making their partners falter, support the work of the bosses are increasingly rarer. In most cases, housewives, during a strike, put on their aprons resolutely and work all day so that their children will have something to eat and so that the family can support the father’s strike. I know some women who, on their own, have cared for their families during months of struggle and who, through atrocious work, have remedied the father’s imprudence who had never been a member of the union, who preferred to buy a couple of pints rather than pay his dues which would have given them a bit of bread during the struggle.

On the other hand, since we are always told that there are some stupid women and that no-one speaks of the sacrifices of brave women, we wish to remind people that there are some stupid men too, who have beaten and abused their wives because they went on strike.

There are stupid people of both sexes, but, fortunately, he number of conscious and intelligent people grows daily, people who fight together and help each other are always more numerous.

And now it is not of the duties we have commonly with men, but of the extra duties we have as women that we wish to talk.

With young workers and child workers, women form the lowest social class.

Despised by the state, exploited by bosses, treated as a cruel woman by our family, tormented by children, we live the most painful lives we can imagine. And, what’s more, women – especially older women – have no hope to leave this misery. The years during which we are flattered are too soon over. Nappies and other duties soon make us yellow and ugly; then no-one looks at us any more; in order for people to listen to us, we change our sweet voices into shrilling voices and the result is that our relations cover their ears or flee to the pub.

Well, after this bite of sad and bitter realism, we are going to talk about our particular idealist duties.

The lower classes are carrying the weight of those above them. People from higher social strata therefore have an interest to negotiate with each other since their situation is not so bad as to lose all hope. And because it is not impossible for them to find an agreement – always at the detriment of the classes below them. This is how highly qualified workers manage to make deals with bosses in the following way: you pay us a salary of 8 to 10 francs a day; we help you raise the price of the product (of the watch, for example)by voting a protectionist right; but you promise not to hire our female competitors; however, we promise not to allow auxiliary workers (women especially) in our unions, not to give them the strong support of our comfortable funds.

This happened not long ago in our Switzerland, that enlightened democratic country, whose history tells us that women dressed up as men to chase the foreign lords, commonly with their husbands, their fathers and their sons.

Well, us, women, who are the lowest class and who have no real hope to gain a truly happy life through contracts with all the social classes who dominate us, we have the duty to prevent the union movement to become a movement of more or less well-fed men, blindly following their own economic interests.

We must, as women, as auxiliary workers most of the time, explain to these men that it is an abomination for a worker to procure himself some economic advantages at the detriment of his comrade the auxiliary, who, for a lack of time and money, didn’t have the chance to learn a trade.

We must, as female workers, moving from one trade to the other, hired yesterday in a watch-making workshop, tomorrow in a food-related branch, we must explain to comrades that we cannot just safeguard the interests of our own trade, but that the proletariat needs inter-professional solidarity and that, given the change from human labour to machine labour, from skilled work to auxiliary work, this inter-professional solidarity becomes more and more indispensable every day.

As female industrial workers, we have to remind our unionised comrades constantly that a union movement pursuing purely economical improvements, and pursuing them without caring about comrades who are not “of their trade” becomes a pointless movement which will end up turning against the proletariat itself by oppressing the lower social classes, and dividing the proletariat into, on the one hand, a proletarian aristocracy, and, on the other, the outcast.

We must, as women who buy all kinds of things, that we explain to our husbands disgruntled with our spending that it is a betrayal if the workers of a trade agree with their bosses on raising the price of a product, that workers of every trade mutually annihilate their success in this way, and that only the bosses benefit from proletarian blindness.

We must, as housewives, explain to our comrades that in order to endure and win a fight of principles against all our common bosses, we must have bread and milk during the struggle so that the cries of the children do not drown the fires of enthusiasm. We must push them to create food banks, cooperative bakeries and dairy farms, to take back our consumers’ societies from private capital so that one day, during a strike, our shops will be able to give credit to the families on strike.

As citizens, we must remind our comrades, who are often so proud of “our democracy”, that political freedom without economic freedom is an illusion.

Let’s remind them that we do not have democratic rights, us women, and that yet our situation as political pariahs hardly differs from their own. If they are proud of their fatherland, of the colours they wear, let’s reply with what a Parisian woman – I can’t recall her name – told when she was sent the red ribbon of the Légion d’Honneur: “Us women wear the ribbons we please, and we choose colours which match our tone.”

Whatever the idol that our male comrade venerates because he is closer to the ruling classes than we are, let’s critique these idols, and help men to destroy them – like he helped us destroy those which intimidated us.

The Organisation of proletarian women in Switzerland, by Margarethe Faas-Hardegger

The Organisation of proletarian women in Switzerland
Marguerite Faas
L’Exploitée
1907

Proletarian women are women who work for any master. That her master is called the State, a corporation, a shareholders’ company, a manufacturer, a boss or a husband, it doesn’t matter!

Whether her work uses a machine, her arms or her brains; whether it is considered work or “an occupation attributed to women because of their sex”; whether it is paid or not, it doesn’t matter!.. Every woman and girl who works for someone else’s profit is a proletarian woman.

All proletarian women’s interests lay in getting rid of the yoke or yokes on their shoulders. And since they do not have the strength to conquer individually – in isolation – their full personal freedom, they must organise, they need all the women interested in this emancipatory struggle to unite in societies and fight collectively.

Women who first understood the need to fight were the factory and workshop workers: those who have a job. The first masters that they were able to perceive were their bosses, the manufacturers, the shareholder’s companies. The first women’s organisations were trade unions, societies to fight against their bosses, the manufacturers, and the shareholder’s companies.

During many years, in Switzerland – like in the other countries – workers by trade have excluded women from their corporations, hoping to get rid of female competition.

Faced with this exclusion, some conscious women, including Comrade Clara Zetkin and Comrade Guillaume-Jacques, created in Switzerland the first groups of working women, the German Swiss Arbeiterinnen-Vereines.

But, for about 20 years now, the workers have changed their exclusive methods and have opened the doors of their organisations to women. Today, they are only two organisations excluding women remaining in Switzerland: one category of clock-makers and typographers.

Since more and more female workers could join their male colleagues’ organisation, the old working women’s groups declined slowly in importance and necessity. They were even becoming competitor organisations and bones of contention, when, in 1905, all these women’s groups called Arbeiterinnen-Vereine were united in a Swiss federation of proletarian women, the Schweizerische Arbeiterinnen-Verband, which, in its statutes, decided the issue of organised vis a vis trade organisations. Nowadays, this federation counts among its members almost all the women and girls working in households, all the servants and the hotel and restaurant staff, etc.

The Swiss federation of proletarian women leaves the largest possible autonomy to its sections; it does not draw on any centralising and authoritarian tactics. Each section deals with the issue they find most interesting, and in the method they find best. Some dealt with work from home and the protection of children forced to work; the others with the neo-malthusian issue and organised insurance funds against maternity costs; others have opened communist schools and kindergartens where children are educated outside the influence of the Church and capital; others still created sewing or cooking schools for female workers; some others have organised previously unreachable categories of workers, such as servants; others, finally, have offered to educate their members so that the young women could themselves become propagandists and go everywhere to sow the grain of revolt and implant the desire of a new society which would correspond to our needs as working women.

In the year 1905, monthly dues of the federation were fixed at 10 centimes per member. In 1906, these dues were raised to 20 centimes, since the newspaper, compulsory for every member, Die Vorkämpferin, was going to be published. A year later – on May 1st 1907, was created la Vorkämpferin in French – L’Exploitée. Now, thanks to the contributions of all our generous comrades, the small Exploitée, after its six months of existence, prints the same number of copies as its German Swiss sister.

The only thing left is a sister French Swiss organisation to give L’Exploitée its character as a proletarian work.

In several parts of French Swiss, there is, among proletarian women, an intense desire to organise. Many comrades are ready to join the Swiss movement of exploited women.

In its special meeting on October 3rd, the committee of the Swiss federation of proletarian women was informed of the current situation. The German-speaking female comrades gave me the task express to their comrades and friends of French Swiss the joy they feel at seeing them unite for the same struggle.

If never-ending workdays and absolute poverty hadn’t delayed or almost destroyed our education, we could now join in the same federation, since we have the same desires. But, unfortunately, the women of part of Switzerland do not know the language of the other part, and even though the same will drives us, we are unable to communicate directly.

The comrades from the committee of the German Swiss federation thought it would be above their strength to do the necessary communication with the different French-speaking sections, and, since they do not want to see them remain orphans, they offer to the French-speaking sections to create a French-speaking centre – a French-speaking committee for a French-speaking federation. Thus the relations between sections will be guaranteed. And there is no danger that the sister federations should drift apart since our newspapers are following the same tactics.

As for the administrative question, we need to get the most effect from the means we have. And, in order to save French-speaking comrades much spending, the Swiss federation of proletarian women would like to offer you its statutes. But they have printed their statutes for the Italian-speaking comrades last year, and right now the little money left doesn’t allow to print a French version. It will have to wait until next year.

In the meantime, they offer you membership cards – a card on which the main points from the statutes are printed, and can provisionally be used to keep track of the payment of dues and the contribution to funds.
As for our struggle, each organisation will lead it on the field of its choosing and according to the tactics it deems best. One single condition though: all our actions must be based on the principle of class struggle.
This means that we, proletarian women, have nothing in common with the women who do not work. And our movement has nothing to do with the movement of the women who live off the labour of others.

We declare war on every possible form of servitude, and a human society will only please us if everyone works according to their energy and talents, and everyone receives according to their needs.

The Female Ego, Eugénie Casteu

The Female Ego

Eugénie Casteu

La Revue Anarchiste

1923

For a while now I have been meaning, comrade who signs “A Rebel Woman”, to point out the tendency of your articles to exalt the sacrifice of women in favour of men. If such is your revolt, I think it is a pretty dangerous one for our female comrades.

I quote, from n°13 of the Revue:

“The role of the woman, a difficult and magnificent role, is not only to share, through understanding, the intellectual life of man; but, through her constant and discreet love, to give him courage, to rekindle, if necessary, his self-confidence and fertile enthusiasm. When we truly love, everything becomes easy, the greatest sacrifices are accepted with joy.”

Thank you very much, we just had some: a Catholic, or Protestant, or “secular” preacher does not speak differently. In short, women must be the intellectual servants, the reflections of their men. You tell us about the “role of the woman”. I don’t know of any other than to be herself. A “role”, exterior to her individual longings, can only bring her, like for men, disappointment.

What! You then set as an example “Carlyle’s wife who, still young and admired, went to bury herself with him in a harsh and hostile retreat, accepting the hardest work, so that he, in necessary solitude, could accomplish his writer’s work.”

But such a woman is a monster, in my opinion; a person who abolishes herself, who renounces to herself, who mutilates herself for someone else, who is already stronger than she is!

You will object that Carlyle was a brain who… a brain whom… well, a bloke, socially more useful than his boring and overly devoted partner maybe. And then what?

Let’s suppose that it happened, happens, the other way round, that a woman is a fascinating, superior as they say, guy, superior especially to her man… That is where I wonder: in your opinion, should the man erase himself like Carlyle’s wife did, devote himself body and soul to the work of his partner?

If you tell me “no”, the matter is settled: you therefore admit the sacrifice of ordinary women to superior men, but not that of ordinary men to superior women; that you are among the supporters of men, the masculinists.

Or you tell me: “yes, I accept that an ordinary man sacrifices himself to ensure the cerebral production of his superior partner”, and then, your case is even worse, my lovely comrade, who call yourself a rebel and an anarchist… It means you accept that the weaker and poorer person sacrifices themselves to the person whom nature gave more! That you find fair the voluntary sacrifice of the weak towards the strong.

And I know nothing as pernicious as such an idea, not in the brain of the strong (where it doesn’t matter), but in the brains of the weak who want to give themselves to be eaten alive by the strong they love!
When I find on my way – and I found too many of them – some “Carlyle’s wife”, I hate them and I denounce them, I tell my younger female comrades: “look at this goose admiring her swan: do you know anything more sickening?”
It saddens me and outrages me to see a woman – who was not, obviously, from the start, a very strong personality – voluntarily resorb herself, fade away with pleasure in the overbearing, monopolising personality of so-called genius she “loves”.

This “loved one”, as great as they might seem to you, o dear comrade, appears to me like a murderer, of the same kind as the car-driver who runs over, at night or in speed, a pedestrian: he crushed a personality; maybe she was tiny, but he reduced her to mush.

And you would give those poor women the pride of sacrifice, the pride of nothingness, the pride of death?
No, no, and no! I shout at them: “Are you not ashamed of kneeling in front of this great man and his works? Instead of striving to understand him, try to protect yourself from his rays, to remain yourself; and if your ambition is to be his living reflection, let me tell you, o you superior caste of slaves, that I despise you!”

If we favour the absorption of the weak by the strong, by the regeneration of the old Salomon by his young girls (be it for blood or intellect), then we are aristocratic, but not anarchists. We do not want the tyranny of the weak either, of course: we want for each their share of the sun, without oppressors nor oppressed.

I know it, a strong personality has a tendency to suck energy from the meek, annex them, and it might be the most poisonous, the best hidden, the hardest to detect source of authority! But to glorify in words this sadly natural phenomenon, dangerous to the lives of both individuals and peoples, no! No deification of individual imperialism!

You tell us that poetry sang of the voluntary sacrifice of women?

Of course, poetry also sang kings, gods, wars… It often sang gestures accepted as custom, this old cow true to her stable, to the fenced off pastures, to the common watering hole!

Maybe one day it will sing the beauty of the novel gesture, the gesture which breaks the chains, which breaks ancestral habits of resignation and more or less enthusiastic servitude?…

As for me, I prefer, rather than the distinguished “Carlyle’s wives”, the plebeian women full of instinct, who tell their dear great man to go to hell and break away from his orbit. “Maybe to go to the cinema?” you’ll say bitterly.

Maybe; and if this agrees on that night with their nature, in reaction against the ethereal splendours of the great loved one? Isn’t that a sweet misery!

I know full well that not every revolt is an ascension; but I prefer a donkey who rebels than a dog who follows. How smart and how devoted is the dog, isn’t he? Well, I don’t love the slaves of love, even the very refined ones.

My dear young comrades, I beg you, be yourselves, don’t immolate yourselves on the altars of male genius, do not be trusting dogs, or “Carlyle’s wives”! Let him be free, and remain free yourself!

Midinettes on strike, by May Picqueray

Midinettes on strike

May Picqueray

The small hands, the midinettes, these small bees of the great fashion houses, from where the masterpieces worn by artists and ladies of the Paris and international bourgeoisie come, these young girls who you can meet in squares or at the Tuileries, at lunchtime, sharing their meagre meals with the birds, their friends, are very badly paid, live on very little, dress with almost nothing, but always with taste. The midinettes are known in all of Paris for their laughter, their chicness, and their small artists’ hands.

But there’s a down-side to this. Today, they are on strike. They can no longer manage. Bosses who exploit them shamelessly don’t want to hear anything about granting them a pay increase. So, they take to the streets.

There is a meeting this afternoon at the trade union hall, near République. Our friends Margot, Marie, Mado Ferré are on strike. Thérèse and I decide, in solidarity, to join them, to bring them our support. The room is packed. Girls and women follow one another on the platform, they explain the situation in couture: whether it is in workshops or in rooms, they are exploited all the same. They will not give up, a delegation is chosen to start negotiations with the bosses’ union.

When they leave, it is like sparrows taking flight. They laugh, hail one another. Surprise: we can see several hundred guys from the building industry and road workers who have stopped work to bring their moral and material support to the midinettes. That’s great! They are cheered and even kissed. It is decided to go demonstrate in front of the great fashion houses, and then on the Champs Elysées. He guys give their arms to the girls, and the picturesque and joyous march is ready to flow onto the Grands Boulevards. Suddenly, a squadron of republican guards shows up on the République square, surrounding open carriages. Poincaré1 sits in the front carriage. The rest of the government in the other ones.
“It is Poincaré, you know, ‘the man who laughs in cemeteries’…”
He is simply here to inaugurate a very strange exhibition on the République square. In some sheds, machines have been set up in which we could see photographic sights of life in the tranches, the transport of the wounded, the dead lying on the battlefields, and all the horrors of war. And, on top of this, the Paris public had to pay to see that…

We are at the edge of the pavement, ready to join the march, Poincaré gets off, waving at the crowd who came to salute him. All of a sudden, Mado leaves us, walks towards him, raises her hand and shouts at his face: “Bastard! You came to see your dead!” Immediately she is seized by the guard and handed to the police who rushed to the scene (and so are we as we didn’t want to leave her); there we are embarked for the police station, mistreated and pushed into a corner like thieves, then interrogated by the commissar who gives us such an earful!…

We are thrown into cells and kept overnight. We weren’t proud! What was to become of us? Fortunately this “attentat” was not taken seriously. There was probably an order not to talk about it to the press, in other words to stifle the case.

We got off lightly, but we were furious we had missed the march on the Champs Elysées.

Léa Wullschleger: The Use and Need for a Union

The use and need for a union
Léa Wullschleger
L’Exploitée
1907
An unfortunate indifference still reigns among a large number of working women.

Lulled by illusions, deceived by prejudice, sometimes by resignation itself, they imagine that their earthly sufferings will be compensated by a better life. This is how, consciously or not, they do a great deal of harm to their comrades, their sisters in the struggle. And, yet, as workers, we cannot see any other fate than the fate we will achieve by ourselves. In order to do this, we only have to join and contribute to our unions. Many among us might say that we should leave such things to the stronger sex. But, to those who think so, we ask: “who will watch over us; who will take care of our interests?” It certainly won’t be our bosses.

By her economic situation, the working woman finds herself in a state of inferiority compared with her boss. While the latter owns the instruments of her work, the machinery, the factories, etc., the working woman only owns the energy of her body or her brain, which means that, in order to survive, she finds herself forced to sell this energy to her boss.

The boss, among all the arms which reach out to get a job and afford some bread to eat, will always choose, in his own interest, the one who will sell her physical or mental energy for the tiniest wages. But if the worker is, faced with her boss, in an inferior economic situation, and if the latter can impose on her her working conditions as he pleases, this situation will change once working women have understood that their strength resides in their union. Certainly, if they cannot fight against the bosses with the same weapons as them, capital, since they don’t own any, they can achieve anything through numbers and organisation; since we are no doubt the more numerous.

We can therefore oppose the bosses’ attacks with an even greater force: the united and indivisible multitude of the workers. We all feel the need to gain better living conditions; by a single aspiration, by a single idea, we will impose our will on the bosses; by the power of our organisations, we will tear from them wages which will allow us to live honestly, and gradually, as much as possible, we will reduce the length of the work day.

And, in this way, from the slaves we are, we will become masters of our own destinies.

May these few facts give working women some thought if they still had doubts on the need for a union, and make them join, to strengthen it, since the union makes us strong.