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(en) Britain, Catalyst* #29 Resisting, questioning, creating... 101 years of International Women’s Day

Date Thu, 29 Mar 2012 13:53:07 +0200


International Women’s Day (IWD) is marked each year on the 8th of March, to signify the economic, cultural and political achievements of women and more importantly, all that still has to be achieved in the struggle for women's liberation. 2012 is the 101st anniversary of the day. ---- International Women’s Day first emerged from the women’s labour movement at the turn of the twentieth century, in North America and Europe. In 1908, in the United States of America, a three month strike of almost 30,000 garment workers, composing mainly of migrant women, almost shut down the garment industry and won most of the workers’ demands, including the right to organise, to bargain collectively, and improved wages and working conditions. On the 8th of March, 15,000 of the women workers marched through New York to protest child labour, sweatshop working conditions, and to demand the vote for women.
A year later in 1909 the first
national women’s day was observed when
the Socialist Party of America designated
March 8th as “Women’s Day” in honour of
the garment workers.
------------------------------------------------------
The Stuff Your Sexist Boss... doesn’t want you to know

The South London Solidarity Federation
gender working group recently organised
a discussion and experience sharing
session on harassment and gender
discrimination in the workplace. We
will be producing an information sheet.
To know more about it or to contribute
suggestions please contact us through
solfed@solfed.org.uk
------------------------------------------------------
In 1910 at the second International
Conference of Working Women in
Copenhagen, German Socialists, inspired
by the actions of US women workers,
proposed the establishment of a Women’s
Day, international in character, to honour
the movement for women’s rights and
to build support for achieving universal
suffrage for women. The motion was
passed unanimously by over 100 women
from 17 countries, representing unions,
socialist parties, working women’s clubs,
and on 18 March, 1911, International
Womens Day was marked for the first time,
mainly in Austria, Denmark, Germany
and Switzerland, where more than one
million women and men attended rallies
and demonstrations. In Vienna, 20,000
women demonstrated, carrying banners
honouring the martyrs of the Paris
Commune. They demanded voting rights,
the right to to hold public office, the eight-
hour day, an end to discrimination on the
job, the reduction of grocery costs, the
legalisation of abortion and the prevention
of the approaching First World War.

In Petrograd in Russia on International
Women’s Day, March 1917, the working
women of the city launched the February
revolution. Despite being urged by the
Bolshevik leaders not to strike, on March
8 the women of Petrograd stormed the
streets, angrily denouncing the Tsar
and protesting food prices and bread
shortages. Food riots, political strikes and
demonstrations followed and within a
week the Tsar had abdicated.

International Women’s Day was
adopted as an official holiday in Russia
after the revolution and as a result was
predominantly celebrated in communist
and socialist countries. It was celebrated
by the communists in China from 1922,
and by Spanish communists from 1936.
A few months after the first Women’s
Liberation Movement Conference in
Ruskin college in Oxford, on 6 March 1971
International Women’s Day was celebrated for
the first time in the UK. 4,000 demonstrators
marched through London carrying on their
banners the four basic demands of the
womens liberation movement: for equal pay,
equal education and job opportunities, free
contraception and abortion on demand, and
free 24-hour nurseries.

In 1977 the United Nations General
Assembly designated March 8 as the UN
Day for Women’s Rights and International
Peace and since then IWD has been
observed as a significant and popular
event all over the world.

In 2007 International Women’s Day
sparked violence in Tehran, Iran when
police attacked hundreds of men and
women who were planning a rally. Last
year, an International Women’s Day
demonstration was attacked in Cairo’s
Tahrir Square. More than 200 men charged
the female demonstrators, attacking,
groping and sexually harassing them, as
police and the military stood by.

In 2005 the British Trades Union
Congress passed a resolution calling for
IWD to be designated a public holiday in
the United Kingdom, however it it is still
not a official holiday in the UK. Despite
its radical and socialist beginings,
IWD in the UK is usually represented
by many cultural and political events,
public ceremonies and conferences,
alongside organised activity by the
women’s movement, such as the Million
Women Rise march, which have helped to
popularise the day.

Though much of the turbulence
that surrounded its early days is gone
and despite its many ebbs and f lows,
International women’s day continues
to be a day that helps to push women’s
issues onto the political agenda and
many women continue to see IWD as an
important opportunity to review, ref lect
and act on the political, economic and
social struggles of women.

The economy of making women care

The supposed ‘solution’ to the
economic crisis is premised
on cutting costs. It is therefore
important to highlight the
role that women’s subordinate
position in the economy plays, as
this will allow - and is allowing
- for many activities to continue
on an unpaid basis.

History has already shown how
women are used differently at different
economic junctures. Whereas the war
economy of the 1920s and 1930s put
women to work, it sacked them in the
1940s to give their posts to the soldiers
coming home from the front. The
‘marriage bar’, that is, the prohibition
of married women to enter certain
better-qualified professions, which was
in place in some industries until the
1960s, kept women in low paid jobs.
According to Maria Angeles Durán,
2/3 of the total working hours today
are unpaid caring-type of activities -
done almost entirely by women.

In this process, men remain the
rightful workers and economy
managers whereas women’s
involvement in the labour market is
dependent on their caring-burdens
and market needs. A 2007 research
paper by Aguiar and Hurst shows
that in industrialised countries
full-time working women spend
an average of 23 hours per week in
unpaid housework and between 6
and 12 hours in unpaid childcare,
this latter being between 2 to 4 times
more than what men do.1 In the UK,
this can be up to 60% of the total
activities women do. 2

“Working women spend
an average of 23 hours per
week in unpaid housework
and between 6 and 12 hours in
unpaid childcare."

According to the latest data on
occupation by gender in the UK 69.4%
of the cleaners, 81.5% of the social
workers, and 87.7% of the nurses, are
women. But women only make up
6.8% of engineering professionals. 3
Women overall earn about £90 less
per week than men. As such, women
do the bulk of unpaid caring activities,
they represent the biggest percentage
of care-type jobs, and of the lower-
paid professions.

Keeping care as an unpaid or
poorly paid activity not only allows
for huge savings to the economy, but
also it creates an economy based on
competition, the market and growth,
rather than on need and affection.

More importantly, these parameters
allow “the economy” to be defined
quite apart from many activities
relevant to our lives, such as childcare.
This tends to assign responsibilities
and value through constructed
social hierarchies, ultimately giving
privileges and control to heterosexual
white rich men.

Looking at the economy of care
brings up that ‘caring’ is not so much
something that women do because
they are born to do so, but because
of very precise and at times coercive
economic measures. It is on these
bases that our feminism needs not
to aspire to the privileges men have
but to attack and subvert the social
hierarchies that sustain capitalism.

1. Aguiar, Mark and Erik Hurst.
2007. ‘‘Measuring Trends in Leisure:
The Allocation of Time over Five
Decades.’’ Quarterly Journal of
Economics 122(3): 969–1006.
2. Office for National Statistics.
2006. The Time Use Survey, 2005.
How We Spend our Time, London:
HMSO. Table 4.4
3. Office for National Statistics.
2011. Emp16: All in Employment by
status, occupation and sex. Quarter
2 (Apr - Jun). http://www.ons.gov.uk/
ons/publications/re-reference-tables.
html?edition=tcm%3A77-215723

---------------------------------
The 1976-78 Grunwick strike

The Grunwick dispute started in August 1976 in a
film processing plant in Willesden. It lasted for nearly two
years, the SPG (riot police) were used for the first time in
an industrial dispute, and it involved mass pickets, over 500
arrests, strikers run down by cars, hunger strikes outside
Congress House, and ended in defeat. At Grunwick nearly
all the workers were Asian women. In the 70s large numbers
of women from the subcontinent worked in manufacturing
and in the years before Grunwick there were big strikes in
the midlands involving mainly Asian women, such as the
Imperial Typewriters dispute in Leicester in 1974.
Conditions in the factory were awful, the workers were
subjected to constant speedups, pay was very low, at £25 a week,
and there was a colour bar in operation. The dispute was sparked
when a worker was sacked and three others walked out in support.
This started a mass walkout and picketing, and the workers went
to the CAB to ask how to join a trade union and joined APEX.
The strike was made official at the end of August and two days
later all 137 strikers were sacked by the company. In November
the postal workers union, at the time the UPW, voted to refuse to
handle mail to Grunwick, which would have been very effective
as the company got sixty per cent of its work from mail order.
However the union backed down after a threat of legal action in
exchange for a pledge that the company would have to co-operate
with the arbitration service ACAS, which it was refusing to do.
The strike was backed both by the TUC officially- they
received full strike pay from APEX- and by a massive rank and
file mobilisation for pickets, with busloads of Yorkshire miners
coming down to support them for days of action. However the
strikers were encouraged to look for a victory from the ACAS
report and union recognition rather than stopping production
at the factory. The support they really needed was blocked,
and when postal workers stopped deliveries again they were
suspended by their employers and fined by their union. The
ACAS report was not complied with by the employer and most
of it was overturned in a further court ruling.
After this the strike moved slowly towards defeat, with
some of the strikers holding a hunger strike outside
Congress House (TUC HQ) to protest the TUC withdrawing
support. The strike ended in July 1978 after 693 days without
the workers winning their demands. However, the dispute
remains an inspiring battle by working class women and a
caution against the trade union bureaucracy’s complicity in
the quelling of rank-and-file militancy.
===========================
* Newspaper of the Anarchosyndicalist Solidarity Federation
_________________________________________
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