A rich tradition: International Women’s Day
Published Mar 7, 2008 11:59 PM
“A Salute to Women’s Resistance” is the perfect slogan for
the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day
(IWD), March 8th. Struggle is what this day signifies and what its traditions
are all about. That and solidarity with women in struggle worldwide are at the
heart of this special day.
Deirdre Griswold, Workers World
Editor, speaking at a December
1970 New York City rally at
Women's House of Detention,
Angela Davis was held.
Its origins were in the working-class and socialist movements in New York City
and Europe, where the socialist movement was agitating for women’s
On March 8, 1908, 15,000 women garment workers, including many immigrants,
marched through New York City’s Lower East Side to rally at Union Square
to demand economic and political rights. They honored a similar march by their
forebears in 1857 on that date.
Inspired by that march, women immigrant garment workers staged a three-month
strike, the “Uprising of the 20,000,” from 1909-1910, against
Triangle Shirtwaist and other sweatshops. Women as young as 16 years old faced
down police in the dead of winter. Sadly, one year later, 146
immigrant workers, women and girls, perished in the horrific Triangle
Shirtwaist Fire. Subsequent IWD protests demanded workplace safety regulations
and remembered those who lost their lives.
This was a rich period of social protest and working-class and socialist
organizing. One-third of the 60,000 people who marched on May Day in 1910 in
Union Square were women socialists and unionists.
Women in the European socialist movement were closely watching these
developments in the U.S. while waging their own struggles. German socialist
Clara Zetkin had agitated for several years for a special day to mark working
women’s global solidarity.
Further inspired by the New York women garment workers’ struggles and the
strong role of women socialists, Zetkin proposed designating International
Women’s Day at an International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen in 1910.
Women delegates from 17 countries unanimously concurred.
The following year, this declaration’s impact was shown when one million
women poured into the streets throughout Europe on the first IWD to demand
their rights. And in 1913 and 1914, European women rallied against the
burgeoning imperialist war and in sisterly solidarity on that day.
In 1917, Russian women textile workers went on strike to mark IWD, demanding
“peace, land and bread.” It sparked the struggle to topple the
czar, which then led to the workers’ revolution. The Soviet Union
officially recognized IWD in 1921; it was the first government to enact laws
codifying women’s rights.
Since then, socialist countries and liberation movements have commemorated IWD.
Revolutionaries, progressive forces and women workers have marked it with
creative, militant actions—demonstrations, strikes and
sit-ins—aimed at imperialist war, globalization, poverty, exploitation,
racism and all forms of oppression and inequality.
Although the U.S. and other capitalist governments conceal IWD’s
socialist, working-class and struggle origins, its real history and meaning
have been demonstrated by women worldwide with displays of solidarity and
The courageous struggle of the Vietnamese women against the U.S. war inspired
women internationally. Starting in the 1960s, the African-American, Latin@,
Chicano and Native liberation movements stirred women’s struggles
The Women’s Caucus of Youth Against War and Fascism revived the militant,
class-conscious and struggle traditions of IWD in the U.S. in 1970 by rallying
at New York’s Union Square. They marched to the Women’s House of
Detention to protest racism, poverty and political repression, and to express
solidarity with the oppressed women inside, including Joan Bird, a member of the
Some global highlights of IWD are:
≤In a stunning action in 1970, the revolutionary Tupamaros freed women
prisoners from Uruguay’s jails.
≤In 1971, Philippine women protested against the Marcos dictatorship and,
since 2001, have militantly defied the U.S.-backed Macapagal-Arroyo regime.
≤In 1975, socialist Cuba—where women’s rights are codified
into law— instituted the Family Code, led by the Federation of Cuban
Women (FMC), which was established in 1960 and which has helped women there
make great strides.
≤Women everywhere in 2003 protested the U.S.-led war in Iraq and in
solidarity with their Iraqi sisters. The next year, Palestinian women
challenged Israel’s apartheid wall and continue to defy U.S.-backed
Israeli aggression and occupation.
≤In 2006, the South African government launched a campaign to honor the
1956 women’s march in Pretoria against the repressive pass laws under the
apartheid system. The ANC and COSATU have for years honored women participants
in the liberation movement.
≤Women garment workers in Bangladesh marched for economic rights in 2006,
as their sisters in Mumbai, India, supported Dalits, considered as social
outcasts, and other oppressed women.
≤In 2007, women throughout Latin America, including Venezuela, protested
U.S.-President Bush’s visit and demanded the U.S. end the Iraq war and
military intervention and globalization in their countries.
This year, on the 100th anniversary of the historic march of women garment
workers, it is very fitting that the New York demonstration begins in Union
Square and ends at the Triangle Fire site. The socialist traditions of struggle
and solidarity with working and oppressed women here and everywhere and special
recognition of women immigrants’ role, are vital today.
Other U.S. IWD events taking place on March 8 include Boston, Philadelphia and
Buffalo. Go to www.troopsoutnow.org for more information.
A Workers World Forum will be held for IWD in Detroit on March 8.
The writer’s grandmother, Sophie Stoller, an immigrant garment
worker, marched in 1908, joined the “Uprising of the 20,000,” and
worked for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but was ill and didn’t work
on the day of the fire.
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