Friday, April 30, 2021

A Talk To Wives and Mothers.


Hilda McClatchie was married to Gilbert McClatchie, and was the sister of Adolph Kohn. She was General Secretary of the SPGB for a large part of the First World War when the Party's membership was decimated because of the introduction of conscription, which resulted in many members either 'going underground' or going overseas. She would have been in her mid-twenties at the time.

From the May 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don’t you sometimes think that it might be pleasant if your day’s work finished at the same time as your husband’s—or the average working man’s—even though his working day is too long?

Don’t you wish you could have 1½ days “off” a week, free from the constant worry of meals and work, an opportunity to enjoy life along with your menfolk?

You cannot heave a sigh of relief when the hooter goes, even though you have worked all day. The hooter only calls you to more work when the family return to meals. Don’t you wish you could leave your thoughts of work behind you at the same time as most men do?

How often are you able to fulfil the hopes of your youth and spend happy evenings with your husband? You are too tired and too busy to share his leisure time with him.

Why be content to scrape along week after week and year after year without relief from the same monotonous work when there are so many who live in luxury and yet have never worked? Surely the reward of work should be pleasure, and not misery and more work.

Has it never occurred to you that, instead of pottering about in your home all day and a good part of the night, it should be possible for the work to be done collectively (as in hotels and institutions), and the children could have large, airy nurseries and large gardens instead of the stuffy living rooms they now have.

Wouldn’t you like your children to have the same opportunities as the rich person’s child?

The first few years of a child’s life are most important, as not only do they naturally require a lot of care, but until they are about five years of age they are not able to go out for air by themselves, and air, as well as good food, they must have to prepare them for the future. The working-class mother cannot afford to employ a nursemaid to take the child out all day, and is not allowed to keep other children at home to do so. It is only at great sacrifice that she takes a child out for about two or three hours a day, and what a rush of work awaits her return. How can children be kept in first-class condition when they are stunted for want of air, and when the mother is too busy to give them the attention they require and cannot afford good food?


Don’t leave it to the men to improve your lot. You should understand the conditions under which you work better than they. You should know what scheming you have to do to make the week’s money buy what is required of it, just as other sections of workers know their own particular conditions best, the miner, factory worker, etc.


Organise yourselves. Ask yourselves why marriage and children should mean the abandonment of all your leisure and the weary, never-ending work.


Talk the matter over as to whether you cannot alter the existing state of affairs.


Wives and mothers, all women, in fact, you must not think that it is out of your reach to alter the state of affairs under which you live. You have a vote, and therefore a say in the matter as to how you should carry on. You must help to improve conditions along with the menfolk, if not for your own sake, at least for your children’s. You would not like them to struggle along just as you have done. It is not enough and no excuse to say that things will not alter in your lifetime, so why bother to think about it. That has been said too long, and if those who said it in the past had given the matter more serious attention and thought of their children, we would have been nearer getting our desires now. Your husband may be in work now, but you never know for how long. Your children may also have their turn at unemployment, and, as time goes on, the unemployment throng will tend to be greater even than now.


Is it fair to bring children into such an unpromising future without endeavouring to do your share in improving their opportunities ?


We all want to get the best the world can offer. Let me give you an illustration as to how you may obtain your desire in actual fact, and the illustration can be enlarged according to requirements. Suppose a number of women met and came to the conclusion that they could work better together on a large scale at specified work, and instead of each, as at present, being “head cook and bottle washer,” nursemaid, housemaid, kitchen maid, dressmaker and cook rolled into one, they decided to amalgamate and work collectively, with all its possibilities. How much more airy their surroundings could be, and how much less work there need be. It would take much less time in proportion to cook for 100 people collectively than for the same number in a number of houses as at present, to say nothing of present washing day troubles. Among the women carrying out this arrangement, no doubt some would be better at one type of work than another, so that, while some do the cooking, others do the sewing and others give their attention to the children, and perhaps have a change of work in turn. By this method the day’s work could be shortened for all, and if the men must do different work from the women, they could have more comfortable surroundings to return to and a companionable wife, instead of returning home to a small, crowded house or rooms and a harassed drudge, tired of the million and one jobs she has to perform.


If all people worked to produce what all require, and each had a guarantee that they would by that means be sure of getting the necessaries of life, there is no telling how soon the work could be done and what pleasures life could hold out.


Don’t think that it sounds all right, but your next-door neighbour could not be trusted to do things so well as yourself, because no doubt that neighbour is thinking the same of you.


As a general rule, every mother does her best for her offspring, however much they may differ from each other in temperament. It is only the cares of life and the narrowness of it that cause us to mistrust our neighbour. At bottom, we are all bent on getting as much pleasure out of life as we can, and if we can work better collectively, the struggle need not be so hard. Most of us prefer to enjoy ourselves collectively, do we not? You cannot improve matters on your own. Do not isolate yourselves so much, but get together and talk about things with a view to improving your lot.


Your grandmother carried on much as you are doing now. Must your children do likewise ?


Whether your family live by brains and your neighbours by muscle, or vice versa, both work hard, and should be alike as regards having the necessaries of life. If your family consists of various types of workers, surely you do not give one less to eat than another. You give them the best you have.


Why not apply the results of work in the same manner, collectively—each have the best obtainable, each do the best they can?


This is the end which the Socialist Party of Great Britain have in view and are organised to obtain. Not a pittance, but at least a sufficiency for all.


I said you have a vote and should therefore have a say as to how you should live. Why not?


Perhaps in our next issue I will tell you what the vote has to do with your present struggle, and how voting a particular way could relieve you of a harassed life.


 I promised to show you how you could improve your conditions of life by using your vote in the right direction. Now, in order to carry out that promise I intend using one particular instance, the remedy for which applies also to other troubles that arise from the present mode of living—that of only being able to obtain necessities if you have the money, although you have worked harder than those who have the luxuries. Apart from the everyday worry of providing food and clothing, the housing problem is a special worry at the moment—even to those who have the other necessities.


So we will see about the whys and wherefores and the way in which we can put things right.


Most of us are, or have been, faced with the difficulties of the housing problem, and instead of insisting that houses be built because they are urgently required, we take no organised action in the matter, but hope some day things will be better.


While we are putting up with antiquated and insanitary houses, we see all around us business premises being extended, garages and cinemas being built and old houses giving place to non-residential buildings, even though they be more commodious than those we live in, and still we are the silent sufferers and cast longing eyes and hope.


Much has been made of the housing problem at election times of late years, and at such times, if at no other, you manage to attend meetings or read circulars promising to alleviate your housing and other financial troubles.


The candidate who puts the case most plausibly gets your vote, then you leave him to carry out his promises and forget to notice whether he does so or not.


At the next election you do likewise, but somehow things seem just as bad as ever. You still find it a struggle to make ends meet, but the reason does not strike you, except, perhaps, that you put it down to your husband not getting enough money or that there are not enough houses built.


It is not that there are not enough land, building materials and workers to build houses (or materials for making clothes and food), but because there is not much profit to be made from building houses for the vast number requiring them, so that only those things are done which do produce a profit, this being the natural result of living in a system of society which is run on profit-seeking lines.


The various governments which have been in power since the war—the starting point of the present housing shortage—have done little to remedy the shortage. They have given the builders subsidies (which shows the power they can use) to encourage them to build, and the councils have made some effort to provide accommodation for those who could not afford to pay the market price. Does it not seem strange to you—if you will ponder a moment—that the obtaining of such important items as decent housing conditions, good food, etc., should depend, not on the needs of the people who do most of the work, but upon the profit-making of the few?


Now we come to the question. How and why is it that the majority of the people are worse off than their employers—the few? Mainly because the workers do not realise that their vote plays so important a part in influencing their conditions of life.


Let us remember that whatever government has been in power its influence has been used, for instance, in deciding industrial disputes, even to the extent of using the police, soldiers, etc., and don’t forget that those who have to work for a living are those who have the majority of votes and are themselves responsible for having elected the governments which have used their power against the workers.


Think what could be done if those who required houses, etc., organised together to get those needs fulfilled, recognising that one can do little by oneself.


What might take place is this :—


A candidate is elected to Parliament by the majority of voters in a particular locality. Since he (or she) represents the majority he could be made their servant— as it were—to carry out the wishes of that majority. He could be made, when attending the Central Organisation (Parliament) to put forward and endeavour to carry out the wishes of his electors.


Now most of you are quite clever at making a 1/- do the work of 2/- in various ways, saving, cooking, etc., but you might go on with that struggle for ever and your children likewise, if you do not try to devote at least a little of your time to thinking of how you can abolish that terrible nightmare of trying to make ends meet. Like the other jobs you are doing, it only requires practice and you will soon get the hang of it.


What is taking place in this country is, generally speaking, taking place in other up-to-date countries—therefore mothers, wives and others are faced with the same thoughts and problems and have similar methods of cure, too, if they only knew how to use the remedy. We are all in the same boat.


Under a more reasonable arrangement of society, if the majority decide that more houses or corn, clothes or fuel are required, then it would be easy enough for that majority to see that the factories, etc., are set to work to provide the necessary goods, whereas now the very goods the workers pile up for their masters they must very often go without until such time as the goods have been disposed of to somebody else.


The method of production and distribution under which the people freely use the goods that they make in common by common agreement, we call Socialism and those organised for that purpose are Socialists. This method of common ownership can be carried out successfully only when the majority vote in that direction and put their candidates forward to change the present system of a few owning all, to ownership by all, that is by society as a whole.


The rather hard lesson we all have to learn is that our everyday bread and butter questions can only be solved in what looks at first a roundabout method. To make our homes worth living in and to make our lives themselves more worth living, we have got to get together in a political organisation — the Socialist Party  for the purpose of gaining control of the key which will open all these closed doors. That key is Parliament. Parliament carries out the wishes of the majority. But if the majority have no decided views or are divided, the Capitalist minority will go on as now, running the world in the way which is very comfortable for them, but not for us. We tell you the way out, and we are sure that if you think about it you will sooner or later agree with us.


You have tried Conservative, Liberal and Labour. We ask you to try Socialism instead. But you must first understand what Socialism is and how it is to be attained.


When we ask for your vote it is not with the idea of promising to do something for you, but with the idea of getting you to join us in building up a system of society in which all will co-operate to produce and distribute the things needed by all. It is not a question involving bloodshed or violence. It only requires a majority of convinced Socialists to take organised political action through Parliament. We are workers just as you are, wives, labourers, clerks, bricklayers, managers, salesmen, shop assistants and unemployed, etc. Our needs are the same as yours. Help us to satisfy


Hilda McClatchie

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