March the 8th is International Women's Day (IWD). In the following article Jane Yates, the South West District CP Women's Organiser, begins by giving a brief history of the event and the struggle of women for democratic rights and equality over the past 100 years and then argues that only socialism can bring true equality to all sections of society.
International Women's Day had its beginnings in the 1900's, when critical debate amongst women started to occur. In 1908 fifteen thousand women marched through New York City demanding better pay, shorter working hours and voting rights.
The first National Women's Day was observed across the USA on the 28th February 1909. This was in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America.
In 1910 Clara Zetkin (leader of the women's office for the Social Democratic Party of Germany) tabled the idea of an IWD at their second International Conference of Working Women. Over 100 women from 17 countries attended, these included representatives from unions, working women's clubs, 3 women elected MPs from Finland and other women from Socialist parties. This was unanimously approved and the first official IWD was born!
International Women's Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland in 1911 on the 19th March.
Over a million women attended rallies, campaigning to end discrimination.
However, on the 25th March the tragic 'Triangle of Fire' took place in New York claiming the lives of 140 factory workers, most of them women and Italian and Jewish immigrants.
The 'Bread and Roses' campaign associated with IWD came about as a result of this incident, demanding labour legislation on health and safety in the workplace.
Russian women observed their first IWD on the last Sunday in February 1913 campaigning for peace on the eve of World War One.
It was during this time, following discussion, that the date of March the 8th was agreed on for the official marking of IWD.
Selected women got the vote in Britain in 1918 voting for the first time in the General Election in December.
During the period 1912-1920 the Suffragettes, composed mainly of working class women, campaigned for the vote and social change.
Their weekly paper The Dreadnought, later The Worker's Dreadnought, was edited by Sylvia Pankhurst. She was also a deeply committed anti-rascist and anti-fascist campaigner for over 30 years. Ethiopia became her home in the last 4 years of her life. She was eventually buried there. Sylvia's political strategy linking gender with class struggle got her expelled from the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1918.
Those interested in this subject are recommended to read Professor Mary Davis' book SYLVIA PANKHURST a Life in Radical Politics published by PLUTO PRESS 1999. Mary is an executive member of the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee.
For many years now the UN has held an Internation Women's Conference to co-ordinate women's rights. 1975 was designated as 'International Women's Year'!
Today in many countries across the globe IWD is a public holiday on the 8th March - with men traditionally honouring mother's, wives, girlfriends and female friends with small gifts. Likewise children give flowers and cards to their mothers.
The key points in the history of the celebration of IWD on the 8th of March must however be followed by a mentioning the Marxist analysis of the 'women question' and the bigger picture of class struggle.
The oppression of women is rooted in class exploitation, Sylvia Pankhurst understood this very well!
The excellent pamphlet by Mary Davis, Women and Class published by the CPB, states that the eradication of class exploitation is the precondition for the liberation of women. She goes on to explain that socialism provides the only means by which the most complete form of class exploitation - that represented by the capitalist system - can be ended.
Over the last few decades we've seen the rise of feminism and with reliable birth control and a National Health Service with good midwives and health visitors, women started to get a better deal and control of their lives in Britain. However despite the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 the fight for equality was far from won and women continued a sustained campaign for years for abortion rights, job opportunities,maternity rights and childcare. The introduction of the Alton Bill in the 1980's under Margeret Thatcher's 'reign of terror' caused shocking hardship yet again. Thatcher was determined to change the economic and social landscape in the interests of the Ruling Class and Capitalism by whatever means necessary.
Public spending was cut, and competitive tendering and privatisation introduced to the public sector. Inevitably unemployment rose along with child poverty, the gap between rich and poor increased and we saw riots in the streets.
Women played an important role in the fightback within the trade unions and organizations such as the National Assembly of Women. The NWA has always numbered amongst it's ranks some formidable and inspirational women many of whom have been communists! The commitment is as stong as ever to fight for peace, equality and social justice.
New Labour continued with the rapacious ideological capitalist ideals of Thatcher, spending vast ammounts of tax-payers money on warmongering in Iraq. At the same time the banking system globally spiralled out of control, deregulated and corrupt to the core!
In 2012 it all seems very grim. Capitalsm in Crisis! The unelected Con-Dem government is moving swiftly on with a package of austerity measures designed to put us all back in slums, work-houses and virtual slavery.
This is the best opportunity the left has had for a long time to campaign and fight for socialism. Women in the trade unions in Britain are now actively seeking to emmulate Cuba's Federation of Women. Young women are openly starting to question the unfair cuts to childcare, benefits, women's refuges and facilities for teenagers. Mother's are seeing their children being thrown onto a scrap-heap of unemployment. Sisters all over the country are becoming angry.
Let's get the Women's Charter out there onto street stalls for them to read. LET US CELEBRATE ON THE 8TH MARCH !
The slogan "Bread and Roses" originated in a poem of that name by James Oppenheim, published in The American Magazine in December 1911, which attributed it to "the women in the West." It is commonly associated with a textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts during January-March 1912, now often known as the "Bread and Roses strike".
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!