Women, struggle and socialism

Struggle. Solidarity. That’s the essence of International Women’s Day, as intended by its founders at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The delegates were so inspired by women workers’ activism in the United States and Europe that they unanimously declared an annual special day in  recognition of the struggle for women workers’ rights and for building a coordinated movement to fight for economic and social gains.

Their goal was also to promote true global solidarity, to embrace women of all continents. Beginning in 1911, IWD has been commemorated around the world through marches, rallies, strikes and sit-ins against imperialist war and occupation, corporate exploitation, environmental destruction and more. These actions have demanded jobs and workplace rights, political and social equality, and an end to violence against women.

The Cold War and the McCarthy red-hunting period in the U.S. took its toll on all progressive activity, including International Women’s Day. But in 1970, women members of Youth Against War and Fascism, the activist arm of Workers World Party, revived the militant legacy of IWD by organizing a public rally in New York City. They aimed to stay true to the class-conscious and struggle traditions of this special day, which had been diluted in many capitalist countries.

Sue Davis, a co-organizer of that women’s protest, explains that in 1970, “following the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and the groundswell of anti-war protests, and inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer and the women of Vietnam, there was a new mood among women, a more revolutionary mood. Women were fed up with inequality and were fighting back.”

YAWF Women called a rally on March 7, 1970, at Union Square — which in 1908 had been the site of a protest of 15,000 women garment workers, mostly immigrants, who marched through New York’s Lower East Side against sweatshops and for their rights.

More than 1,000 women and men then marched with YAWF to the Women’s House of Detention to protest racism, poverty and political repression —  and to show solidarity with their most oppressed sisters, many African American and Latina. Outside the notorious prison, demonstrators took over the streets and raised clenched fists in support of the jailed women, who peered out the barred windows and responded with cheers.

Over the months that followed, many protests took place outside the “House of D” in solidarity with political prisoners and all women incarcerated there. That’s probably why the women’s prison was closed in June 1971 and the prisoners moved to the more isolated Rikers Island.

YAWF Women resurrected IWD based on the principles set by Dorothy Ballan, a WWP founder. She noted in her groundbreaking work, “Feminism and Marxism,” that fighting for women’s emancipation is a basic tenet of Marxism and an integral and essential part of the overall class struggle to end capitalist exploitation and all forms of oppression.

Monica Moorehead, WWP’s 2016 presidential candidate and organizer of many IWD actions, asserts: “This year’s International Women’s Day takes place when women are under attack today on many fronts. Women need full liberation in all facets of society. To obtain this, WW calls for the abolition of capitalism, racism and a united fight for socialism.”

This year on IWD, Workers World will march in solidarity in many cities with our sisters worldwide. The global economic crisis and imperialist wars, occupations and sanctions are devastating women’s lives, forcing millions to migrate in a massive refugee crisis the warmakers have created. We support women in the U.S. who face growing income inequality, joblessness, cuts in social programs, restrictions on reproductive rights and other health care, foreclosures, racist police and vigilante violence, brutal immigration policies, and the horrors of the “new Jim Crow” mass incarceration.

Capitalist elections won’t win progress for women. It will take a dedicated, independent movement to do that — to challenge racist state repression, wars abroad, and economic and social inequality. Ultimately, it will necessitate a united struggle against capitalism, the source of women’s oppression and other forms of discrimination, bigotry and injustice. It will take a global fight for socialism to liberate the wealth created by the workers and use it to lay the foundation for full women’s liberation and an end to all forms of oppression.

Socialist Cuba is a beacon of progress for women. The revolution’s achievements are profound. The Federation of Cuban Women, founded in 1960 by Vilma Espin, has been instrumental in this process.  Education and health care are free, with infant mortality much lower than in the United States. Cuba ranks fourth in the world in the number of women parliamentarians, with 48.9 percent, and second in the Americas only to Bolivia, with 53.1 percent women in parliament.

Just imagine what socialism could do here.