International Women’s Day (IWD) falls on March 8 every year. The first IWD was organised in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, in commemoration of women workers going on strike the year before. While the day itself has a radical history, the establishment have done their best to obscure its working class and socialist traditions.
This year IWD holds special significance as it marks 100 years since striking women workers in Petrograd walked out of their factories and sparked the February Russian revolution. This uprising ended Tsarist rule throughout the Russian Empire and opened the way for the working class to taker power in Russia during October of 1917.
A century on, IWD takes place at a time when a mere eight billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. The struggle for economic and social equality is as necessary today as it has ever been.
Despite having more developed technology and resources, even in the advanced world, women are still working long hours for lower pay than male workers. The public services they and their families depend on are being cut by capitalist governments.
Because of wars and famine, millions of women and children in the underdeveloped world are on the move and homeless as refugees. In both rich and poor countries women suffer sexual exploitation, rape, violence and murder from people they know as well as strangers.
Capitalist society continues to foster attitudes which put barriers up against equality of opportunity and free choice in relation to when and whether to have children. In many ways, the new US president Donald Trump, with his vile misogyny, Islamophobia and racism, is a personification of the cruelty of the capitalist system in 2017.
That said, women are not standing idle in the face of these attacks. In late January millions of people around the world marched against Trump and his policies. Other movements of women have also erupted. Last year, in both Poland and Turkey, women pushed back attempts by right-wing governments to bring in misogynistic laws.
Inspired by the Black Monday women’s strike in Poland, the idea of an international women’s strike on March 8 has been raised by a collective of women from around the world. This call will be taken up in varying ways in different countries. In the US, there is potential for a large showing which can help to promote the idea of more widespread strike action on May 1.
In Australia women are still paid less than men, do more housework and unpaid caring, and are much more likely to experience family violence and sexual assault. Despite facing a higher level of oppression, we have both the major parties supporting various cuts to welfare and social services that will disproportionately impact on women.
As the economic situation worsens we can expect more attacks on our rights and living conditions by both employers and governments. But just like in other places around the world, the anger that is currently sitting beneath the surface can break out and transform into major struggles. We should take inspiration from the successful actions organised by women around the world and try to replicate them here.
While no doubt women in Australia will be at the fore of future battles, the best way to strengthen the fight is to draw behind us all those who are facing discrimination, exploitation and hardship under capitalism. We need to build unity between all working-class people, regardless of their gender.
For socialists, this means linking our day to day struggles with the building of a movement to end the profit-first system. While we need to fight Trump and every single expression of sexism, we also say that real equality and freedom is impossible in a world in which a handful of people have more wealth than billions of people. The best way to win real liberation for women is to fight the system that breeds sexism and inequality, and replace it with a socialist world.
By Socialist Party reporters