By Janine Booth
What we now know as International Women’s Day grew from a storm of protest and action by working-class women.
1907: March 8: women demonstrated in New York, demanding votes for women and an end to child labour and sweatshops.
1908: March 8: 15,000 women, mostly garment workers, marched through New York demanding shorter hours, better pay, union rights and the vote.
1909: Women shirtwaist makers in the USA staged a 13-week strike. The Socialist Party of America declared 28 February the first National Woman’s Day (NWD), with marches and meetings across the country demanding political rights for working women.
1910: Clara Zetkin proposed to the International Congress of Socialist Women that “the socialist women of all countries will hold each year a women’s day.” Over 100 women from 17 countries unanimously agreed. 1911: International Women’s Day (IWD) was held on 19 March, with more than one million women and men attending IWD rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, demanding women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, and to hold public office.
1917: On the 8 March (in the Gregorian calendar), Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace”, until four days later the Tsar was forced to abdicate. The Provisional Government granted votes to women. In the West, International Women’s Day continued during the 1910s and 1920s, but then died away, only reviving with the new wave of feminism in the 1960s.
1965: The USSR made Women’s Day a public holiday. By then, however, Women’s Day had become an object of scorn for millions of women and men living under dictatorship, who saw it as a propaganda event by a tyrannical regime.
1971: 5,000 women demonstrated in London on IWD, demanding childcare, equal opportunities and easier access to safe abortion.
1975: United Nations designated ‘International Women’s Year’.
1982: Women in Iran discarded their veils on IWD, protesting against the rise of clerical rule after the overthrow of the Shah. Since socialist women founded International Women’s Day, it has been adopted by non-socialist feminists, governments and organisations which have little to do with women’s rights. With millions of women living in poverty, with no country in the world having genuine gender equality, and now with the rise of Trump and the re-emergence of open misogyny, we have every reason to the original purpose of the Day: to mobilise support for working-class women’s demands, and to celebrate the contribution that women make to the struggle for human liberation.
This year women in Ireland and elsewhere will be on strike to defend reproductive rights. Low-paid Picturehouse cinema workers in London, many of them women, will also be on strike, fighting for a living wages. In 2017 we are more in tune with our 1907 sisters.