International Women’s Day, 8 March

This 1976 video from Italy says about itself:

International Women’s Day demonstration with women marching and carrying banners

Commentary: the women marched through the city centre carrying banners calling for equal job opportunities with men, abortion reform and freely-available contraceptive devices. The march ended with a rally, where speakers called for Italian women to be given more equality.

As the Rome demonstration took place, Arab and Israeli delegates to an international women’s conference in Brussels condemned the oppression of women in their respective societies, according to an Israeli delegate. Marcia Freedman, a member of the Israeli group attending the unofficial international tribunal on crimes against women, said a Yemeni delegate had spoken out against what the Yemeni woman called the oppression of Arab women in patriarchal Arab society. Ms Freedman added that the Israelis had earlier attacked what they called their own patriarchal society. They said this exploded the great Israeli myth of equality.

By Susan Aitouaziz in Britain:

The all-important roots of our struggle

Thursday 3rd March 2016

Susan Aitouaziz recalls the momentous strikes of working-class women which led to the establishment of International Women’s Day

Christine Lagarde head of the bosses’ International Monetary Fund (IMF) spoke on a Women of the World platform — of which the Duchess of Cornwall is president — marking last year’s International Women’s Day.

They represent the super-rich and not the 99 per cent of women. Lagarde talked about making the workplace a fairer place for women as a means to boost national economies rather than how it could improve the lives of working women and their children.

Not surprising as president of the IMF. Her role is to defend capitalism and big business by making the poorest in society pay for the economic crisis.

It is far from the original aspirations of the socialist women who established International Working Women’s Day to promote equal rights and suffrage for women. Indeed it was founded to commemorate a strike of women textile workers.

On March 8 1908 15,000 women garment workers marched through New York City’s Lower East Side to rally at Union Square to demand economic and political rights. They walked in the footprints of a similar march by textile workers in 1857 who on the same date protested against their poor working conditions.

Inspired by that march of 1908 women garment workers staged a successful three-month strike, known as “the uprising of the 20,000,” from November 1909 to February 1910 against the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Tragically a year later 146 women and girls perished in a horrific fire at the factory when a fire-exit door was kept locked making escape impossible. Many jumped out of the windows to their deaths.

One third of the people who marched on May Day in 1910 to Union Square were women socialists and trade unionists.

German socialist Clara Zetkin had agitated for several years for a special day to mark working women’s global solidarity. Inspired by the New York women garment workers’ struggles and the strong role of women socialists Zetkin proposed in August 1910 at an International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen that International Women’s Day (IWD) be celebrated every year to honour working women around the world.

The following year on March 19 1911 one million women poured onto the streets throughout Europe demanding their rights and in 1914 women rallied against the imperialist war.

In February 1917 Russian women textile workers went on strike to mark International Women’s Day demanding peace, land and bread. It sparked the struggle to topple the tsar, which then led to the workers’ revolution. In July 1917 the Provisional Government granted Russia’s women the right to vote and hold political office.

Political representation did not in itself bring us fair pay or free us from the home. It was the actions of working women who refused to be viewed as a cheap, submissive workforce which inspired generations of women to join our unions and demand equality.

It is hand-in-hand with our brothers that we have fought capitalism, for we are not in competition with men for the crumbs swept off the employers’ table but united in our demand for a better, fairer world for all.

It is in honour of working women across the world that we celebrate International Women’s Day each year.

It is our right to reclaim this day whose roots are firmly planted in the trade union movement and socialist tradition.

Let us praise our unions and trades union councils for holding events around the country which remember the origins of International Women’s Day and celebrate a woman’s place in her union.

Susan Aitouaziz is women’s officer at Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils.

Join us in a celebration of our history and honour those fantastic women who led the struggle for suffrage and demanded better pay and conditions in the workplace. The Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils are holding a Reclaim International Women’s Day event on the Saturday March 12 at NUT Headquarters, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H at 2pm-3pm. Sisters and brothers are welcome.

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