International Women’s Day

Dublin, March 2010

International Women’s Day is an annual day of action and celebration on the 8th of March for the recognition of women’s struggle for economic, social, cultural and political rights. It is an opportunity for awakening self-consciousness among women and for the unity of all women on issues affecting their fight for equal rights with men.
      Because of rapid industrialisation from the middle of the nineteenth century, and particularly in first two decades of the twentieth century, there emerged a growing workers’ and women’s rights movement. Women were joining trade unions and organising politically, while the women of the new bourgeois and capitalist class were campaigning for the right to vote and for property and inheritance rights. There was merging and opposition between these groups, but the more conscious women in each group saw that there was a need for a united front to fight for these common issues.
      Socialist parties were springing up in America and Europe, and there were massive trade union activities, although women were forbidden in many cases to become members. The socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin had been an indefatigable organiser of the international socialist movement and was aware of events connected with women’s rights all over the world.
      An event in the United States was the inspiration for an international women’s day. A National Women’s Day had been set up there to commemorate an event on the 8th of March 1857, when women from the clothing and textile factories staged a protest in New York. They were protesting against poor working conditions and low wages. The protesters were attacked and beaten by the police. These women established their first union two years later. More protests followed in the following years, and in 1908 15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights.
      Clara Zetkin, Louise Zeitz, Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai, all leading socialist women at the conference, proposed that an international women’s day be set aside each year to draw attention to the demand for women’s rights.
      An excerpt from the proposal was published in /Gleichheit/ (Equality), whose editor was Clara Zetkin. The paper was recognised by the conference as the organ of international socialism.
      “In agreement with the class-conscious, political and trade union organizations of the proletariat of their respective countries, the Socialist women of all countries will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women’s question according to Socialist precepts. The Women’s Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully.”
      Other issues debated at the conference were: strategies for attaining universal suffrage for women; social security for mother and child, including maternity leave and health insurance; questions of war and peace; women’s obligation to oppose chauvinism and bring up their children in a spirit of anti-militarism; the demand for an eight-hour working day; and the struggle against domestic manufacture and night work.
      In 1911 the first International Women’s Day marches took place in many countries, and in 1913 the day was devoted to peace rallies against the coming war.
      An appalling event that took place on 25 March 1911 is also commemorated on this day, and it also happened in the United States. A fire broke in the Triangle Shirtwaist [blouse] Factory in New York, killing more than 140 garment workers. A lack of safety measures was blamed for the high number of deaths. Many of those killed were emigrant workers from Europe.
      The socialist movement was shattered by the disagreement on support or opposition to the imperialist war (First World War), and unfortunately many retreated into chauvinist support for their respective imperialist countries. In 1915 it was only in Norway that anti-war women managed to organise an international demonstration on Women’s Day, which included representatives from Russia and other neutral countries.
      In 1917 in Petrograd, 90,000 workers went on strike, joined by thousands upon thousands of women. In 1927 women throughout central Asia demonstrated against laws that enslaved women. In 1936 in Spain 80,000 women in Madrid demonstrated against fascism. This was carrying on a long tradition of women organising and marching when conditions become intolerable, as earlier in France and Germany and many other countries.
      It has become traditional to invite speakers from other countries where possible to maintain the original international nature of the day.
      International Women’s Day has become a symbol of the worldwide struggle against the oppression of women. We must ensure that it remains at the forefront of workers’ struggle for the abolition of capitalist exploitation and all the evils of subjugation that go with it.

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