Newcastle: No to cuts to domestic violence services!

Sisters

In 2014, Newcastle council began an 18-month procurement process, putting out key domestic violence services out to tender. In May 2016, it announced that the contract had been awarded to Thirteen Care and Support, a not-for-profit charitable subsidiary of Thirteen Group, the biggest group of housing associations in the region. Whilst much has been made of the council's £1.6m capital investment for new domestic violence accommodation in partnership with Thirteen Care, the existing refuge provided by Newcastle Women's Aid faces imminent closure.

Thirteen Care and Support was only founded two years ago, whereas Newcastle Women's Aid (NWA) has 40 years of expertise and experience in supporting victims of domestic violence, and their refuge employs some of the most specialised staff in the country. NWA is a specialist local service run by women, for women and their children. In 2014 the NWA refuge was awarded a stage one Women's Aid Federation England national quality standards award, recognising this specialisation. In contrast Thirteen Care is currently advertising jobs which don’t require previous experience in domestic violence services, including a full-time apprentice who will be paid a measly £6,366 a year for a 37-hour week. Specialist domestic violence workers are being replaced with 'independent living workers', support for working women not eligible for housing benefit is set to be cut, and no proper transfer plan for women using the current refuge has been made available. Further details on the transition are murky, however one thing is crystal clear, despite the council's spin and a shiny new building, the new contract will result in a loss of specialisation for domestic violence services.

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Suffragette: The struggle for women’s rights

• Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron, 2015, 106 mins

Working-class women resisting insufferable working conditions and stifling home lives is a welcome sight on the big-screen. Suffragette offers us glimpses of this in powerful and moving scenes. However, the film ultimately seeks to gloss over the very questions this focus begins to raise. Infuriating, yes – but it is difficult not to be inspired by the will of women who must and do resist, by any means necessary.

‘I can’t take that any more’

The film’s focus on Maud, a fictionalised laundry worker, promises a welcome departure from the usual starched dresses and purple and green sashes associated with the Suffragettes. Instead, we see the appalling conditions of the laundry – the back-breaking, dangerous work that women perform for longer hours and less pay than male workers. They return home to cramped, damp, one-up-one-down housing to face housework, cooking and caring for the children. There is little in the way of support, family planning and childcare. We see women’s lack of legal rights over the care of their children. Sexual violence is commonplace. The solidarity and opposition that grows and strengthens throughout the film is a much-needed example of the necessary resistance beyond the ballot box.

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Welfare cuts hit women hardest

The 2015 July Budget was a savage attack on working class women. In FRFI 244, we reported that of the £26bn cut through tax and benefit reforms since 2010, £22bn has been taken from women – a total of 85%. Women will yet again bear the brunt of austerity. Of the £9.6 billion to be taken from the poorest families, £7 billion – 70% – will come from women. Through it all, the ruling class continues to conjure up a world far from reality. Prime Minister David Cameron presents the Tories as ‘the real party for working people: giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a pay cheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family’. He neatly describes the direct opposite of the experience of working class women and families up and down the country.

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Women – on the frontline of resistance to austerity

Newcastle FRFI supports the campaing to stop cuts in Sure Start provision

The capitalist parties are committed to continuing austerity and working class women will continue to suffer the most. The five years since the last general election have seen attacks on work, benefits, housing, services and childcare. Resistance has, however, been slowly building and women are leading the way in organising themselves and their communities to fight back. Rachel Francis reports.

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Eleanor Marx: hidden from history

Eleanor Marx

History is written, by and large, by the ruling class and serves its interests in promoting its world view. So when the BBC recently screened its history of women’s struggles for the vote in Britain, ‘Suffragettes Forever’, presented by Professor Amanda Vickery, we were treated to a very partial account which deliberately minimised the participation of working class women (boiling it down to the Bryant & May ‘matchgirls’ strike of 1888) and completely erasing the part played by socialist and communist women leaders, namely Eleanor Marx and Sylvia Pankhurst. In Vickery’s history, the struggle for women’s rights, including the vote, was a limited feminist pursuit: a battle by women against men to achieve equality – starting with Queen Victoria (!) and ending with Lady Astor. There was a different political perspective, however, that saw this battle as part of the struggle, led by the working class, to liberate men and women from wage slavery and oppression. Both Eleanor Marx and Sylvia Pankhurst organised and fought explicitly in opposition to the bourgeois feminists whom Vickery favours as the heroines of the struggle. That is why bourgeois history prefers to consign them to oblivion.

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