Saturday, July 25, 2015

Supreme Court to women workers: 'Make me a sandwich'

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project on 1 July 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It can also be accessed here.

The religious beliefs of business owners are more important than the health of women workers. That was the gist of a ruling out of the US Supreme Court on Monday, on the last day of the court's annual session. The court pretty much told women they should put up with whatever their bosses think is best for them, because the bosses have "sincerely held" beliefs about what is best for the health of their female employees.

In a familiar 5 to 4 vote, the court divided along conservative and liberal lines, with the court's three female justices leading the dissent. The ruling was on a case brought by the Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft-supply stores run by right-wing fundamentalist Christians. Forced by Obamacare to offer standardized health insurance to their employees, Hobby Lobby's owners objected to having to cover birth control expenses, supposedly against their religious beliefs. No allowances for the religious beliefs or non-beliefs of the covered employees were made, and, ironically, the Hobby Lobby owners raised no objection to insurance coverage of erectile-dysfunction drugs like Viagra. Women's gynecological health was completely trivialized as something entirely subject to whim. Previously, religious organizations were granted exemptions to birth-control coverage; this ruling was the first to extend those exemptions to “family” or “closely-held” businesses. Hobby Lobby may be family-owned, but it has almost 600 locations and over 20,000 employees. The ruling is also considered a blow to Obamacare, though in truth it just seems to make make it even more obvious what a pathetically pale imitation of actual universal healthcare Obamacare actually is.

b2ap3_thumbnail_HL_poster.jpgIt's not immediately clear how much of a legal precedent was set by the Supreme Court's ruling, which cannot be appealed. Liberal justice Ruth Ginsburg, in her dissent, worried that “In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”  If that turns out to be true, this court decision could be a goldmine for businesses to claim all sorts of religious exemptions from participating in workers' legal protections.

What is clear is that once again, the government has revealed how it exists to enable and justify the corporate exploitation of working people. Laws are tailored, snipped, changed, or scrapped, entirely to suit the interests of the capitalist system, and frankly it's all so much bullshit.

What is also clear is that women are second-class citizens whose healthcare can be treated like so much waste paper. Even in a country whose laws profess to transcend antique religious views, when the interests of business come calling, exceptions must be made, even if they defy the conventions of the system's own stated legal logic. And it's interesting to see how at the same moment these courts and politicians are widely opening laws across the country to recognize same-sex marriages, they're constricting women's access to healthcare, and to legal abortions. It's as though there's recognition that marriage is an institution of social control based fundamentally on capitalist property relations while women's reproductive health potentially challenges everything about women's role in the labor force. (In another recent Supreme Court decision the justices unanimously ruled that anti-abortion protesters terrorizing patients at women's health clinics could no longer be held to a buffer zone away from clinic doors.)

What is unfortunately not at all clear is what happens next. While there is so much anger and disgust among women, predictably the liberals are rushing to the defense of Democratic party politicians. And here the case of Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis should be a cautionary tale for people who think the democrats are any kind of line of defense: Davis' response to the vicious Republican attacks on her and on women's reproductive health has been to wave around her commitment to bans on late-term abortions. She's a sellout in waiting. And don't get me started on Hillary Clinton. We're about to see a massive opportunistic campaign to convince us that the next election is the most important in our lifetime, and that the only way to defeat the conservative “war on women” is to elect whoever the Democrats anoint. But that's not gonna do it. Frankly we need a whole lot less voting and a whole lot more revolution.

This defeat for women — for workers — at the Supreme Court shows the limitations of the liberal attempt to use the court for social engineering. Just as legal civil rights advances are eroding in the capitalist courts, so now are women's rights. What is done there can be undone later. The constitutional framework of the supreme court was established by slaveowners who cheered on native genocide and didn't recognize the full humanity of women. This is the framework we're supposed to use to defend ourselves?

Some are issuing feeble calls for a boycott of Hobby Lobby. But gross as Hobby Lobby's owners are, that one company isn't the source of our problems. And as a friend of mine said on Facebook, “I've been boycotting Hobby Lobby for my entire fucking life. What fucking difference did that make? Fuck consumer politics. That's just Ronald Reagan for fucking hippies. Does anybody get mad about anything anymore?...Do something!”

Indeed. It's time to do something. We need a revolutionary women's movement that stops playing by somebody else's corrupt rules, and we need it soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment