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International Women's Day- Celebrating GMB's Co-Founder Eleanor Marx

Equality - 08 Mar 2020

To celebrate international Women’s day, we remember the life and work of one of GMB’s founders, Eleanor Marx and what those struggles mean to women workers today. 

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On the 16 January 1855, in a dark Victorian flat in Soho, Karl and Jenny Marx welcomed into the world their daughter Jenny Julia Eleanor Marx. German born Karl who was persecuted for his radical activism and writing found a home in London, then the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

His big love Jenny, the radical who inspired him since youth, slaved over his indecipherable hand writing bore children for him. Many of them did not survive the harsh conditions of poverty and exile in which they lived, welcomed the new arrival with mixed feelings. He’d hoped for a boy. Eleanor was a girl.

Yet her political legacy is the timeliest of all; she was an important collaborator with her father In his lifetime, and important force in preserving his legacy after his death. She was an agitator at heart, never afraid of a fight; she cofounded  our union, the Gas workers Union, now the GMB, a leading light in the struggle for equality; and she was a significant force in the founding of the Labour Party. 

Reading Eleanor Marx in 2020 Is a hugely conflicted experience. On the one hand, it is excruciating to see how many battles she fought, especially for working class women and men, the core of her organising, are still ongoing. ‘And first, a general idea that has to do with all 

women. The life of woman does not coincide with that of man. Their lives do not intersect. In many cases do not even touch. Hence the life of the race is stunted’ she wrote in 1886. Are we living in a less stunted world? Of course, we’ve achieved a lot since she had left the world. And yet so many lives still do not coincide and the struggle for socialist feminism continues in full force. 

"Rise like Lions after slumber  

In unvanquishable number, 

Shake your chains to earth like dew 

Which in sleep had fallen on you– 

Ye are many–they are few.”

Eleanor was a driving force in the international socialist organization of her times. She understood the dangers of scapegoating refugees and migrants. In the 1890s she stood up to a TUC resolution denying workers, then mostly Jews from Eastern and Central Europe, from entering Britain. She understood we must fight racism alongside the struggle against capitalism. As Rachel Holmes shows in her book, her socialism was socialism of the heart. Empathy and the ability to see the world from another's point of view was her main motivation.

But most of all her resilience and her passion for justice are crucial for us now. She worked tirelessly for a better world for all, no matter how many obstacles were stacked against her.

In a speech in 1890 she said: “I am speaking this afternoon not only as a Trade Unionist, but as a Socialist…and 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 only the beginning of the struggle… We must not be like some Christians who sin for six days and go to church on the seventh, but we must speak for the cause daily, and make the men, and especially the women that we meet, come into the ranks to help us.  

 

 

Tussy’s motto was go ahead. And no doubt we need a lot of Going Ahead today. After a hard winter of an election campaign which was a serious blow for progressive politics internationally, with austerity, fascism, racism and sexism becoming more and more normalised,women workers we must remember the fighting spirit of Eleanor Marx and remind that still, we are many, they are few.We will continue to Go Ahead.

 

Blog written by Dana Mills, GMB member, Author and Political Historian

 
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