Today is International Women’s Day, and this is my blog post for Gender Across Borders’ Blog for IWD. This year’s theme, set by the United Nations, is “Equal rights, equal opportunity: Progress for all.” In answer to the questions posed by GAB:
What does “equal rights for all” mean to you?
For me, equal rights means equal economic rights — equal pay, the ability to have a decent standard of living, affordable and accessible health care, including contraception and abortion. However, it DOESN’T mean a marketing opportunity to sell stuff to the “ladies”. From Susan Campbell’s blog for her book, Dating Jesus:
“similar to Washington’s Birthday (where car sellers honor our first president by saying things like “I cannot tell a lie: This is the lowest price you’ll find.”), IWD has become a special window through which to hawk products.
Describe a particular organization, person, or moment in history that helped to mobilize a meaningful change in equal rights for all.
There are so many — how does one choose? In my introductory remarks for our annual women’s history month celebrations, I point out that International Women’s Day began as a day to honor and promote the rights of working women. So, I choose the Women’s Trade Union League as my example of promoting economic rights for all. This organization demonstrated the emerging political awareness and activism of working women during this time. It was also an example of cross-class cooperation between women in the early twentieth century, a time of social and political reform tied to Progressive movement and the campaign for women’s suffrage. The annual May Day celebrations by labor leaders served as a model for IWD. Historically May Day (May 1st) celebrated the arrival of spring. In the 1880s, labor leaders adopted May 1st to promote the rights of workers — and most of the time this meant the rights of men to earn a “family wage” so that their women did not have to work to support their families. Male labor leaders criticized the women’s suffrage movement as a “bourgeois” agenda to consolidate the power of the middle and upper-classes (and given the elitism and nativism of some suffrage leaders, this claim was not unfounded).
However, it’s important to recognize the ways in which middle-class suffrage leaders recruited working-class women to the cause of suffrage and how both fought together for better wages and hours for working women. Here’s their symbol:
The Socialist party in the U.S. created a Women’s National Committee to Campaign for the Suffrage, which held their first mass meeting on March 8, 1908. Middle-class women participated in strikes and other protests by working women. For example, during the Uprising of 20,000 in 1909, college girls who wore shirtwaists and the striking garment workers who made them walked arm in arm down Fifth Avenue to protest for working women’s rights. The success of women labor leaders and their supporters led to the creation of International Women’s Day in 1911.
Unfortunately, the Red Scare of the 1920s, and later McCarthyism in the 1950s, targeted leftist women’s groups in the United States. While other countries continued to celebrate International Women’s Day, the United States didn’t until Second Wave feminists in the 1960s revived the event. Radical Women, an organization that emerged in Seattle, Washington, are a prime example of how some women’s organizations in the U.S. revived this link between women’s rights and economic and social justice for all women. Here is Radical Women’s statement for this year’s IWD celebration:
“Women now, just as they did one hundred years ago, hold a unique economic and social position in society – oppressed in the home and super-exploited in the workplace. Women suffer more frequently from poverty; they labor long hours at home, raising the young and nursing the aged and sick; and they often also perform double-duty outside the home, working for lower wages than their male counterparts. This harsh reality makes women the best and toughest leaders of movements fighting for social and economic justice. In other words, women always have everything to gain and little to lose by organizing for a better world. As the South African song proclaims, “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock!”
Rebellion by women against an unjust global economic order is very much alive. In Iran, women are revolting against a thoroughly bankrupt, oppressive regime; in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian women are organizing an international boycott of Israel; in Italy, France and Spain, immigrant women went on strike against xenophobic racism; in Australia, feminists convened a national conference to coordinate and re-energize the abortion rights movement; in Mexico, women staunchly defend striking mine workers who fight for basic labor and human rights.
In the United States, queers and their allies are agitating for equality in all aspects of life. On university and college campuses, young women are organizing strikes and conferences in answer to the draconian cuts and tuition hikes that politicians of both parties are implementing to balance shrinking state budgets.
Radical Women in the U.S. and Australia is in the thick of these fights. Over the past year, members have also campaigned for fully-funded health care and other human services; helped pass laws to tax the rich and corporate profits; defended clinics and protested for reproductive freedom; organized to stop raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); raised money for our sisters and brothers in Haiti, who are rebuilding their homeland; and much more.
On this 100th anniversary of the declaration of IWD, the issues may have changed, but the nature of the struggle remains the same. Like the socialist women who founded IWD, Radical Women believes the movements for social and economic justice must be independent and anti-capitalist to realize their full potential. Independent because it doesn’t matter which political party holds power if they aren’t accountable to the workingclass majority. If women are ever to achieve equality, we must cut the ties to politicians who demand our votes and hard-earned money, but give little, if anything, in return.
Our movements must also be anti-capitalist and tackle head-on the bankrupt economic system that pits nations and peoples against each other in a dog-eat-dog race to the bottom so that a tiny minority can exploit the earth’s resources and human labor for private gain. The day the world’s peoples turn this “free” market pyramid upside down will be a great advance along the path of achieving full equality and quality of life for all of humanity.
So, on this March 8, Radical Women unites in solidarity with all our sisters and brothers around the world who are marching, protesting, and raising their voices to win a socialist future where all people have not only bread, but roses too!
National Executive Committee
National Radical Women
625 Larkin St. Ste 202, San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone 415-864-1278 ● Fax 415-864-0778