If the Coalition government are able to inflict their swingeing cuts it will devastate the lives of millions of women.

It is quite sickening that, having had the news saturated with David Cameron’s delight at his new baby, he is now going to oversee huge cuts which threaten to rob working class women of the same support and services that he has just benefited from.

Resisting creates a gender war?

Women pickets in PCS strike: Image Sarah EvansThe public services that women work in and rely upon in their everyday lives are a particular target. Not all women, however, are up in arms. In response to the Fawcett Society’s attempt to have Osborne’s emergency budget ruled unlawful (on the basis that it disproportionately affects women) The Independent’s chief editorial writer, Mary Dejevsky, has urged against fighting a ‘gender war’.

Women working part-time and being vulnerable to low pay has, she argues, made them more attractive and ‘flexible’ employees than their male counterparts. This ‘advantage’ – which she refuses to give the more accurate name of ‘exploitation’ – means, in Dejevsky’s view, that it is now women’s turn to suffer:

‘If women are going to suffer disproportionately from the cuts to come, this is in part at least because they have benefited disproportionately from the employment trends of recent years’.

She also argues: ‘If you are looking for losers over the past half-century, it is not women, but men; men in their hundreds of thousands, even millions. Where were gender equality considerations when the coal mines and the dockyards closed, when the steelworks and car plants were abandoned?’

She writes as if men and women were totally separate species competing with each other for survival. But it was not women who pushed men out of work – it was Tories.

In fact the conscious decimation by the Thatcher government of unionised workplaces, in the coal mines and the docks to which Dejevsky refers, was an attack on the working class, not upon men. Thatcher did not smash the male-dominated world of the City of London.

Moreover, working class women were amongst the most vital campaigners defending these jobs. When these jobs were taken, the whole community suffered, and in many cases they continue to do so.

In a similar way, the Cameron-Clegg cuts, though they will directly affect more women than men, are an attempt to make ordinary, working class people pay for the bankers’ crisis.

Is a legal challenge enough?

The Fawcett Society is campaigning to expose the extent of the Budget’s assault on women. Ceri Goddard, its chief executive, has said, ‘some £5.8bn of the £8bn of cuts contained in the Budget will be taken from women, who will also be worst affected by the coming cuts to public services – 65 per cent of public sector workers are women’.

Part of the Fawcett Society’s ammunition has been provided by Yvette Cooper, the Labour shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, who commissioned a gender audit of the Budget which found that nearly three quarters of the cuts would directly affect women.

If they have the Budget declared unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act, it will be a cause for celebration, and a set-back for the Coalition.

However, there are problems with this approach. In essence, Cooper is arguing for the cuts to be ‘fairer’, rather than challenging whether the cuts have any legitimacy.

If the Coalition are persuaded to attack some more male-dominated jobs in place of some female-dominated ones it will still drain important jobs and skills out of society and worsen the financial hardship suffered by their families. The idea of one wage (whether earned by men or women) being sufficient to support a family was long ago trampled upon in capitalism’s race to the bottom.

How can women resist?

There is no such thing as ‘fair’ cuts when they are intended to make the vast majority of people pay for the irresponsible actions of the richest section in society.

It is important that we do point out that these cuts, while unnecessary, are also discriminatory. The cuts threaten services for disabled people, for example. This does not mean that disabled groups, women or pensioners should fight alone or separately.

What unites all the people that will be affected is their class. If the Coalition government gets away with splitting up and selling off the public sector it will not only be a disaster for working women, it will hurt every worker in Britain. It will not hurt women who can afford private health care, private transport and private school.

Therefore the fight to stop the attack on the vast majority of women in this country is inextricably linked with a working class fightback against the cuts.

If women are to successfully resist the cuts it will mean taking action to defend their jobs and services alongside their male colleagues. It will mean building a protest movement that unites all the different groups that are under attack. It will mean resisting the attacks on the public sector as a whole. If that fight is to be successful there will be the millions of working class women who work in the public sector at the heart of the resistance.

Come and debate these ideas at the upcoming public meeting in East London – Women and the Recession: A Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century. More details here.

Katherine Connelly

Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.