Strikes, mass protests mark global International Women’s Day
International Working Women’s Day was founded in 1910 at an International Women’s Socialist Conference in Copenhagen to strengthen global solidarity among women, especially workers. Its socialist founders recognized the burgeoning numbers of women workers pouring into factories at a time of capitalist expansion, facing terrible working conditions and lacking any rights.
This year’s IWD calls for solidarity with women living under the gun of U.S.-backed wars or occupations, as in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Occupied Palestine, and those defending their country against imperialist intervention, as in Venezuela. It’s a day to support women and people of all genders facing brutal right-wing, dictatorial governments, as in Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and elsewhere.
In response to oppressive capitalist globalization, women workers worldwide are striking and marching for higher wages, pay equity, safer workplaces, unionization and equality. They demand an end to sexual and physical abuse on and off the job. The #Me Too movement has spread internationally. Workers, as in Bangladesh, are fighting for union protection from global brands and local bosses. The movement for reproductive justice is spurred on by young women from Argentina to the north of Ireland to South Korea.
IWD is a time to support the tens of millions of migrant and refugee women workers — and their families — forced to leave their homelands, fleeing repression, violence and poverty, only to face racism, abuse and detentions. And to thank Indigenous women, leading the global movement against corporate destruction of the planet, often at great risk.
Although capitalist governments give lip service to IWD with phony proclamations about women’s equality, and corporations commercialize it, the day’s working-class roots and global solidarity prevail. On March 8, women workers and students, labor unionists, leftists, people of all genders, nationalities, cultures, religions, ages, disabilities and abilities demonstrated in the streets with colorful banners held high.
Here are some highlights:
Latin America: mass protests from Mexico to Chile
In Guatemala City, hundreds of Indigenous women, trans women, domestic workers and others protested decades of state killing, rape and torture, which targeted Indigenous peoples. They protested pending release of convicted perpetrators.
The Civil Council of Peoples’ and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras held events in early March honoring co-founder Berta Cáceres, a Lenca woman, socialist and environmentalist, murdered three years ago. Her now-convicted killers are members of the Honduran military and executives of the Energy Development Company, whose dam she fought against. Caceres’ family demands “true justice.”
On IWD, Venezuela faced a U.S.-coordinated electrical outage and threats against President Nicolás Maduro. Imperialist intervention would endanger gains made by women workers, including equal pay, pregnancy and maternal benefits, free health care and education, and laws that mandate women must hold half of council seats and ban anti-woman violence.
In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, crowds of 50,000 people marched, while 15,000 came out in Recife and thousands more demonstrated throughout Brazil against reactionary President Jair Bolsonaro and his austerity cutbacks, racism and misogyny. Agricultural workers occupied mines. Indigenous women rallied. Salvador protesters stressed that Bolsonaro’s election unleashed a war against women, Black people, the poor and LGBTQ+ people.
Women chanted, “We are all Marielle!” to honor Marielle Franco, Black lesbian activist against racism and police brutality, advocate for urban poor people, women and LGBTQ individuals, and Rio councilor. Two ex-police officers were recently arrested in connection with her assassination a year ago.
Thousands of pro-choice activists marched in Buenos Aires, Argentina, carrying “Legalize Abortion Now!” signs. Each year hundreds of thousands of women have “underground” abortions, resulting in countless complications, even death. Legislation allowing the procedure was narrowly defeated in 2018, but the mass struggle goes on.
Cuba: Women celebrate 60 years of Revolution
March 6 was the first day of the 10th Congress of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), which was dedicated to Fidel Castro, FMC founder Vilma Espín and young Cuban women. Espín had stated her pride in defending principles of socialism, without which women remain invisible in history.
Teresa Amarelle Boué, FMC Secretary-General, said, “For 60 years, Cuban women have had a voice and enjoyed rights that many countries can only dream of.” The great achievements made by women are the result of their efforts and the government’s political will. (Granma, March 12)
IWD was commemorated in Haiti, while in San Juan’s financial district in Puerto Rico women strongly defended their rights to safe housing, health care and more.
Europe: Women strike!
Massive marches and strikes involving millions of protesters swept the Spanish state, with 350,000 in Madrid streets, 200,000 in Barcelona, 220,000 in Valencia, and huge actions in Pamplona, Seville and in Bilbao in Basque country. The 1,400 protests showed the strength of the women’s movement, backed by major labor unions. Hundreds of thousands of women workers, other gender-oppressed people and students struck for two hours or all day. They protested pay and job discrimination, misogynist violence, and rallied to protect hard-won rights, emphasizing, “There are 1,000 reasons!”
Demonstrations took place at 120 locations across France, uniting women’s, student and LGBTQ organizations and labor unions. Key slogans demanded pay equity and an end to gender-based assaults inside and outside the workplace.
The next day, women wearing “pink vests” led a “yellow vests” demonstration in Paris, opposing the Macron administration’s “labor reforms,” especially reductions in unemployment benefits.
The slogan in Berlin, Germany, a city where IWD is a paid holiday, was “Celebrate, strike, fight on!” Thousands of women and LGBTQ people, mostly young, held signs denouncing patriarchy, the gender wage gap, sexual assaults and reactionary anti-choice, homophobic forces. German socialist Clara Zetkin initiated IWD.
Strikes by public sector unions and demonstrations swept Italy, protesting job inequities and gender-based abuse. Affected were transportation, education and public health services in many cities. Federica Stagni remarked, “The march blocked the entire city of Bologna.” (Italics Magazine, March 22)
Public sector workers in 30 unions joined women’s organizations in initiating walkouts in Athens and other cities in Greece to oppose pay inequity and government austerity cutbacks harming women.
Women and their allies marched in Belfast in the north of Ireland for legalization of abortion, which their sisters won in the Irish Republic last May. Tens of thousands were on the streets in Norway. Other actions took place in England, Belgium and Serbia.
South Africa: Honor women workers!
The Congress of South African Trade Unions paid tribute to the struggles and contributions of women workers and acknowledged human and worker rights on IWD. COSATU called on women “to intensify their struggle for justice and equality by organizing themselves in their communities and workplaces,” learning about global women workers’ struggles and always supporting each other “for the advancement of the women’s struggle.” The Congress called on men to support women’s leadership and stand with women “in eradicating patriarchy and all its ills.” (cosatu.org)
The South African Democratic Teachers Union, the country’s largest educator union, celebrated IWD across four provinces and at a national event. Invited were sister unions in COSATU and the Tripartite Alliance, comprised of the African National Congress, South African Communist Party and the South African National Civic Organization.
Among other commemorations on the continent, hundreds of women, especially youth, demonstrated in Nairobi, Kenya, for an end to employment and wage discrimination, as well as gender violence. Thousands of women marched in Tunis, Tunisia, chanting: “Equality — a right, not a privilege!”
Women in Gaza protested at Israel’s border fence on March 8 in the 50th week since the Great March of Return to their historical homes began a year ago. On IWD, named the “Friday of Palestinian Women,” 7,000 Palestinians demonstrated, over half of them women, against U.S.-backed Israeli occupation and repression. During the Great March, Israeli soldiers killed nearly 200 Palestinians, including 41 children, two women, three paramedics, two journalists and eight disabled people, said the human rights group, Al Mezan.
When thousands of women gathered in Istanbul, Turkey, to commemorate IWD, police fired tear gas and blocked their access to a main avenue off Taksim Square. This has occurred every IWD since 2016 under Recep Erdogan’s repressive regime.
Women in Pakistan marched for equal access to education and employment and for bodily autonomy, decrying sexist violence.
Throughout India, women workers and activists, labor organizations and left parties marched against job and wage discrimination and gender-based assaults. The All-India Trade Union Congress demonstrated in Coimbatore for a higher minimum wage and pensions for all workers, with equal pay for women.
Women workers at ATG Ceylon clothing manufacturer company in Sri Lanka have been on strike for 2½ months, protesting intimidation, abuse and unfair firings. On IWD, strikers, members of FTZ-GSEU workers’ organization, marched in Columbo.
Contingents of women garment workers –- who comprise 80 percent of the 4 million workers in that industry — marched in Bangladesh, demanding better wages and working conditions in plants that produce clothing for global brands. Leftists and unions participated. Companies have fired 7,000 garment workers, many women, following wildcat strikes and demonstrations denouncing a paltry wage increase.
Thousands of women workers, many in the Korean Confederation of Trade Unionists, rallied in Seoul, south Korea. Signs called for “gender equality” and better working conditions.
In Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, IWD is a national day of celebration. Women there are guaranteed the right to free, safe, legal abortions, while their sisters in the south are fighting for that right.
Thousands of women and people of all genders from 100 organizations, including Akbayan and Gabriela, marched through Manila, the Philippines, protesting President Rodrigo Duterte’s reactionary policies, increasing sexual violence against women and children, and imposition of martial law in Mindanao. The groups said, “On this International Women’s Day, we say ‘enough’ of the century of women’s oppression … and of the misogyny of this administration.” (GMA News, March 8) Gabriela Women’s Party said, “There is no other path but the path of fighting.”
In Jakarta, Indonesia, thousands of women demonstrated for their rights, and those of other marginalized groups, and an end to misogynist abuse. Women workers demanded higher wages, lower prices for necessities, the right to maternity and menstruation leave, and an end to exploitative work contracts.
Australia: Support migrants!
Thousands of people marched through Sydney, led by migrant organizations and labor unions, including the Electrical Trades Union. A Latinx contingent honored Marielle Franco. Chants demanded equal pay and the right to abortion. Rally speakers denounced exploitation of Asian migrant workers and violence against Indigenous women. Sex workers marched in Brisbane, chanting, “Decriminalize sex work!”