Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Socialist Roots of International Women's Day


Today I celebrate International Women's Day with the recognition that it's not simply one day a year, but  it is every day that women take the lead in protecting our communities, and our rights.
I also do not forget the radical history of the day itself. In 1909 the Socialist Party of America organized a New York City march commemorating a garment workers’ strike the previous year when hundreds of women workers in the New York needle trades demonstrated in Rutgers Square in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to form their own union and to demand the right to vote. This historic demonstration took place on March 8th. It led, in the following year to the ‘uprising’ of 30,000 women shirtwaist makers which resulted in the first permanent trade unions for women workers in the USA. The famous slogan bread and roses made its debut at this protest . The Socialist Party of America declared National Woman's Day, to be celebrated on February calling for better pay and working conditions as well as the right to vote.
It was at the second annual meeting of the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910, that Clara Zetkin, a prominent Marxist activist from Germany’s Social Democratic Party, proposed the idea of holding an international day for women. She thought that women should press for their demands for equality and suffrage on a single day of celebration. The conference agreed.
During the First World War, she along with Karl Liebnecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and other International SPD politicians, had rejected the party's policy of Burgfrieden , which was a call to refrain from strikes during the war. Among other anti-war activities she also organised an international socialist womens anti-war conference in Berlin, 1915. She however was not just an organiser, but also a great writer and thinker. That still remains an inspiration today.
Because of her anti-war opinions, she was arrested several times, during the war and in 1916 was taken into 'protective custody'.She also held the view that still holds much resonance today, that the source of women's oppression was in capitalism, and that any form of liberation, could only be served with the self-emancipation of the working class.
IWD, consequently, was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. Women in these countries demanded the right to vote, to hold public office and the right to work. Russian women began celebrating IWD in 1913,  and on IWD 1914, across Europe there were marches against the impeding imperialist war and for a women's right to vote.
In 1917 in Russia, International Women’s Day acquired great significance , it was the flashpoint for the Russian Revolution. On March 8th  women workers in Petrograd held a mass strike and demonstration demanding Peace and Bread in protest at the deaths of more than 2 million Russian soldiers in the war. The strike movement spread from factory to factory and effectively became an insurrection. After the Russian Revolution, in 1922, in honour of the women’s role  in 1917, Lenin declared that March 8th should be designated officially as women’s day in the Soviet Union. From there, it was primarily celebrated in communist countries such as China. But on the heels of the U.S civil rights movement in the 1960s, as women fought sex discrimination in the 1960s and ’70s, the United Nations declared 1975 as International Women’s Year. In 1977 the U.N. officially marked IWD by inviting member countries to celebrate women’s rights and world peace on March 8. It has since been celebrated in more than 100 countries, and has been made an official holiday in more than 25. Over the years though, these celebrations have drifted far away from the day's political roots.
Is a sad fact that for many women in the present day, little if anything has improved, since 118 years ago when women initially marched. Many women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. This day then is also an appropriate occasion to remember the too many gaps hindering, sometimes in a brutal and cruel manner, the process towards the full recognition and protection of women’s rights as universal human rights.  In times of war, women as well as children are those that have to bear the major brunt of the abuses and human rights violations committed, in conflict zones across the globe.Wars and famine also means that tens of millions of women are on the move and homeless as refugees. Across the world, they suffer sexual exploitation, rape, violence and murder from people they know as well from strangers.Many ordinary women still struggling to put food on the table.
We must continue to stand in  unity and solidarity on March the 8th  with all  all those internationally still fighting sexism and the inequality, exploitation and hardship that is still rife under the combination of  capitalism and patriarchy and  keep celebrating the social, political and other achievements of women, who continue to try and promote gender equality and political justice, who still try to make this world of ours a better place for everyone.


( This post dedicated to my beloved partner and inspiration Jane who passed away two months today, not forgetting all my sisters whose every day is steeped in struggle )

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