The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Rights We Keep Are the Ones We Fight For

Sep 26, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK workplace newsletters, during the week of Sept. 19, 2022.

A referendum giving a woman the right to make her own decision on abortion and other pregnancy issues, including the right to refuse sterilization, will be on Michigan’s ballot this fall.

The decision whether or not to have an abortion is a terrible one. It involves life: the potential life of the fetus and the life and well-being of the woman who bears the fetus, as well as the well-being of the children she already may have. There is no simple, ready-made answer. The decision, whatever it is, should rest with the woman, who is the person the most directly implicated in the life involved.

It’s clear—and too many women have had to face this—the need to make such a decision is barbaric. But it is also clear that in today’s society, such a right is necessary. The ordinary functioning of capitalist society is barbaric: too many children and the women who bear them are deprived of the sustenance they need even just to survive, much less to develop their full human potential.

For more than a week, it seemed that political maneuvers would keep the referendum off the ballot. It took a court ruling to put it back.

Certainly, the court decision was a kind of moral victory for all those people who had signed the petitions, and whose right to have a vote would have been denied. But moral victories don’t count for much, and nothing is guaranteed.

The religions that have long poured money into imposing their own narrow views on the whole society are already doing just that in the run-up to the vote this November. And their money plays an essential role in this supposed “democracy.”

But the big question is: what will happen if the referendum passes?

The right for a woman to choose abortion would then be enshrined in the Michigan constitution, protected permanently—supposedly.

What a tragic mistake to believe that!

Women gained the right to choose abortion as the result of participating in massive social struggles during the 1960s. The mistake then was to believe that the Supreme Court guaranteed that right in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Almost as soon as the Supreme Court ruled, women’s right to decide began to be torn up. Poor women and working women whose medical coverage came from government funds have been denied access through annual votes by both parties ever since. Violence, terrorism and laws passed by both parties were used to close clinics. The number of facilities was cut in half, then cut again. By 1990, only 17 years after Roe v. Wade, 87% of all counties had no medical facility or doctor able to perform abortions. It was worse for women in rural counties, where 97% had no facility.

In this capitalist society, the only rights we gain are the ones we fight to impose—and to keep.

Supposedly, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution at the end of the Civil War guaranteed full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote, to the former slaves and their descendants. But it took a massive mobilization of the black population in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, before the descendants of the slaves finally were able to vote.

In the 1930s, workers imposed the unions they wanted on the bosses—forcing laws to be changed and the Supreme Court to recognize what the workers had done. Afterwards, politicians claimed that the laws gave workers their rights. Today, in the absence of struggles, the workers still have the laws, but they have no rights, and nearly no unions.

Of course, women who want the right to decide for themselves want this referendum to pass. But the fight to keep that right isn’t over.

In this society, organized around class, the only class whose rights are permanent and guaranteed is the capitalist class. For everyone else, it’s a daily struggle.

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power cedes nothing without a demand." The words of Frederick Douglass, 1857.