The Strike Question

The Dawn Volume 2, Number 7. Sydney, November 5, 1890





WHAT would you say if you saw these headlines in your morning paper? Yet why should you not see them? Wives suffer from long hours of work, low wages, lack of rest, and oppression, and women are citizens entitled to just such rights and privileges as are claimed by men, among these privileges being the right to cease work, and to make terms for the betterment of their condition.

Working-men strike for higher wages, shorter hours, "smoke'ohs," or in defence of one of their number unjustly or despotically treated, but though sensitive as to their own rights does it ever occur to them to think of the women? Is there any one member of all the affiliated Trades who has reflected that there is another class more in need of union and of defensive leagues than he and his fellows. Never! The social constitution may be turned upside down and stood on its head so to speak, when men's demands require hearing, but no one thinks of the women. Thousands of pounds are spent on organisation, circulating newspapers, bands, processions and free meals, and on the other side thousands on special services of constables and military, while the grievances of the men are being put to the test, but not a soul asks "Have the women any claims?" In point of fact even working men themselves stand in the position of employers, because just as under the wealthy there is the less powerful class of labour, so, subject to the social predominance of men, there are the women, weak, unorganised, and isolated. Does a man concede to his employee-wife, defined hours of rest, fair pay, just and considerate treatment? The wife's hours of work have no limit. All day the house and at night the children.

There is no Woman's Eight Hour Demonstration, though we can make a public holiday because the men have won this right. A wife has no time to think of her own life and development, she has no money to spend, it is "her husband's money," the complete right to her own children is not yet legally hers, and she is not even in independent possession of her own body. Surely it must be admitted that she needs the protection of a Union as much as a working man. What is a wife's pay? It is certainly what no Union would allow any member to accept from an employer. She did not marry for pay, you may urge. True, but her work is worth as much as the man's. He married her to share equally in his disasters as in his successes, and if she has to suffer with him in troubled times, surely she has a right to share equally when finances are sound. "She gets food, lodging and clothes?" Yes, but who else could be hired day and night for a lifetime on those terms. What of the treatment? Some are happy. Yes, and others bear a petty despotism, rough handling, rough language, selfish indifference, overwork. There are many of these. They endure far more than any man would tolerate from any master. Yet at first it seemed strange to talk of a Woman's Union and a strike of wives. If men demanding rights and liberties would grant the same to their wives, and demand as much for all women, we might begin to flatter ourselves on our civilization, but this men do not do, and as for women they have no unions, no organisers, no speakers, no meeting halls, and no newspapers to represent their claims publicly and justly. Serious writers in newspapers do not touch woman's questions; such topics are left to the comic man, yet the wrongs of women are real and crying out for remedy. Do not lay the flattering unction to your soul that a woman's excited imagination has invented woman's wrongs. Do not fancy that such wrongs are slight and tolerable because they are not known to bachelor clerks, nor quoted in newspapers, nor talked of in commercial circles; these things are to be learned by following men when work is over, to the secrecy of "homes," where sheltered in the privacy of an Englishman's castle, selfishness can be indulged, bitterness spoken, meanness practised. Men's wrongs are vented by public speakers in the Domain, women's wrongs are endured in the abominable seclusion of separate "homes." This may sound extreme but if you have ever seen a beaten woman, if you have seen a woman exhausted by house-work, if you have seen one broke down by perpetual suppression, or if you have ever talked with a doctor about his woman patients, you may understand in what manner the great Strike Question presents itself to a woman.

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