[Marxism] A History of International Women's Day

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Sun Mar 8 11:34:23 MDT 2009


full: _http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUArchive/interwomen.html_ 
(http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUArchive/interwomen.html)  
 
A History of International Women's Day: "We Want Bread and Roses Too" from  
Womankind (March 1972.) 
 
(Editor's note: This is a historical look at the origins of International  
Women's Day in the USA and how it spread throughout the world.) 
 
International Women's Day, a holiday celebrated world wide, honors working  
women and women’s struggle everywhere. Taught that women's place in history is  
relatively undistinguished, it should be a real source of pride and 
inspiration  to American women to know that International Women's Day originated in 
honor of  two all women strikes which took place in the U.S. 
 
On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed,  
demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for  
women. Their ranks were broken up by the police. Fifty-one years later, March 8,  
1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring 
the  1857 march, demanding the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labor. 
The  police were present on this occasion too. 
 
In 1910 at the Second International, a world wide socialist party congress,  
German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed that March 8th be proclaimed  
International Women's Day, to commemorate the US demonstrations and honor  working 
women the wor ld over. Zetkin, a renowned revolutionary theoretician who  argued 
with Lenin on women's rights, was considered a grave threat to the  European 
governments of her time; the Kaiser called her “the most dangerous  sorceress in 
the empire." 
 
The labor struggle in the US is an exciting one, but it traditionally  
concentrates on men. A little examination shows that women carried their weight  and 
their share from the beginning, both supporting the men’s organizing and  
quite soon, after realizing that women's needs were ignored in the existing  
unions, forming women's caucuses or all women's unions. The first all women  
strikes took place in the 1820's in the New England tailoring trades. The idea  of 
women striking and demanding better conditions, decent wages, and shorter  
hours, apparently provided great amusement to the townsfolk of the peaceful mill  
towns. It would be interesting to know how our sisters a century and a half 
ago  felt about not having their lives and aspirations taken seriously. 
 
The most famous of the early strikes took place at the Lowell cotton mills  
in Massachusetts. Here young women worked eighty-one hours a week for three  
dollars, one and a quarter of which went for room and board at the Lowell  
company boarding houses. The factories originally opened at 7 am, but fore  
men,noticing that women were less "energetic" if they ate before working,  changed 
the opening hour to 5 am., with a breakfast break at 7 a.m. (for  one-half 
hour). In 1834, after several wage cuts, the Lowell women walked out,  only to 
return several days later at the reduced rates. They were courageous but  the 
company had the power; a poor record or a disciplinary action could lead to  
blacklisting. In 1836 they walked out again, singing through the streets of the  
town: 
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