Saturday 7 March 2015

TUSC commemorates Eleanor Marx in Sydenham for International Women's Day

The builders are at work in Jew's Walk this week!
On the weekend of International Women’s Day, TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, are hosting an event today outside the house in Sydenham, South-East London, where Eleanor Marx lived - and died -  to commemorate this trade union organiser, internationalist and socialist feminist.

It is a privilege to speak today as the prospective TUSC candidate for Lewisham West and Penge – living here in Sydenham and trying to continue in the traditions of Eleanor and all those who fought to build the Labour Movement here in London, and beyond.

Living here at her ‘Den’ in 7 Jew’s Walk, Eleanor wrote and translated books and articles, on the Paris Commune, on workers’ struggles, on socialist ideas – not least on the struggle for women’s equality. 

However, above all, as her father, Karl, put it, she knew that “philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it”. 

As a Marxist, Eleanor knew that the force that can change our world is the mass of organised working people, not the professional politicians.

That’s why Eleanor spent so much energy, organising, travelling and speaking:

  • Encouraging Derry Trades Council to be one of the first to admit women into their ranks 
  • Marching with the unemployed when the police charged the demonstration in Trafalgar Square on ‘Bloody Sunday’ 1887
  • Helping to organise the unskilled workers of the East End, including the women factory workers and the dockers.
  • Working with trade union leaders like Ben Tillett and Will Thorne, battling to win the eight-hour day.
  • Helping to build the gas workers’ union – the forerunner to the GMB that took strike action last week alongside the NUT and NASUWT at the Prendergast schools.
Eleanor also knew, however, that, while strike action can win temporary gains, what workers need to really change things for the better is a political voice.

Together with Friedrich Engels, Eleanor agitated for the formation of a ‘Labour Party’ – and for the trade unions to make a clean break from the Liberal party that some leaders looked towards.

Eleanor agitated for that workers’ party through socialist organisations like the SDF and the Socialist League. Then, as the struggles of new unionism started to build the ILP (Independent Labour Party), Eleanor sought to strengthen socialist ideas in the ILP.

It was only later struggles, after her death, that saw the birth of the Labour Representation Commitee and the Labour Party itself – a Labour Party with Clause IV added after the Russian Revolution that was, at least in its constitution, a Party campaigning for a socialist society based on common ownership.

Today, such a Labour Party no longer exists. There’s even media chatter today about forming a ‘Grand Coalition’ of Tories and Labour after the General Election, there’s so little to choose between them.

So, to best commemorate Eleanor, I would say to voters here in Sydenham, Lewisham and Penge not to choose between ‘the best of the worst’ pro-cuts parties on May 7th but to vote to help us rebuild a political voice for working people through TUSC.

I would urge everyone to build the struggles that we are helping to lead to oppose cuts and privatisation of our schools and public services – struggles that will only grow, whoever wins the election.

The attacks that are to come - over cuts to council services, childcare provision, part time workers’rights, low pay, schools and the NHS - will all hit women hardest of all – but will also see women in the forefront of the fightback.

Portrait from the porch at 7 Jew's Walk

Just as the struggles that Eleanor Marx supported led to the birth of the Labour Party, those new struggles can lead to the rebirth of genuine political representation for trade unionists and for the communities that we live and work in – like here in Sydenham.

Together, we can then build the movement that has the strength to change society so that the wealth of society can be used for the benefit of all – for the billions not the billionaires.

Let me end with the words that Eleanor Marx used in speaking to the May Day Rally that she helped to build in Hyde Park in 1890:

"I am speaking this afternoon not only as a trade unionist but as a socialist ... we aim at a time when there will no longer be one class supporting two others, but the unemployed both at the top and at the bottom of society will be got rid of. This is not the end but the beginning of the struggle".

For more information, read:

  • The inspirational life of Eleanor Marx
  • Women and new unionism: lessons for today

Photos from the event:

My speech via:

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