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Working women lead the fight

Published Mar 19, 2009 8:01 PM

International Women’s Day and International Working Women’s Month were celebrated on March 14 at a forum hosted by Workers World Party. Male comrades prepared a delicious dinner, set up the hall and provided music for the meeting.

WW photo: Alan Pollock

The program began with the showing of “With Babies and Banners,” an award-winning documentary depicting the role of women in the victorious Flint sit-down strike of 1937. The 1979 film, directed by Lorraine Gray, contains interviews with nine members of the Women’s Emergency Brigade.

The women vividly recount their actions in supporting the sit-downers and taking on General Motors’ goons and cops. Newsreel clips from the period show them smashing the windows of a GM factory to allow tear gas to escape after cops attacked the strikers.

Lee Booth, a WWP member from Ypsilanti, Mich., gave a revolutionary talk on women and class struggle. She talked about working women in the 18th and 19th centuries and dispelled the myth that women only relatively recently started working outside the home.

Booth told about the 1937 sit-down strike at Woolworth’s department store in downtown Detroit, in which women workers won union recognition and better pay and working conditions. From these struggles to the women’s liberation movement of the early 1970s, to the anti-woman welfare reform enacted by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Booth showed how “working-class women have always struggled for their very lives.”

Sandra Hines, an organizer with the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions, spoke about justice for women and how women have always been in the forefront of struggles to improve the lives of the entire working class. Hines gave many examples of such women, including those in the Laundry Workers Union and Cigar Makers, the Working Women’s Association, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Marie Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Maxine Waters and many others. Her militant talk tied in lessons from the past to women’s current struggles for economic and social justice.

Martha Grevatt from Cleveland was the featured guest speaker on women in the labor struggles of the 1930s and the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Grevatt is a Chrysler auto worker and executive board member of UAW Local 122 in Twinsburg, Ohio, and author of the forthcoming book, “In Our Hands Is Placed a Power: The Flint Sit-Down Strike.” Her fiery talk highlighted the role of women in winning unions and improving living conditions for the entire working class.

See Grevatt’s articles from March 2008 at: www.workers.org/2008/us/womens_history_month_0403/  and www.workers.org/2008/us/flint_0327/