March 3, 2001
Radical Women Speaks Out
at the International Women’s Day March to Protest Sweatshops
New York City, New York
On behalf of Radical Women, we wish you all a Happy International Women’s Day and express our heartfelt thanks to the Global Sweatshop Coalition for organizing this march today.
One of international capitalism’s many crimes against women is that sweatshops are still an everyday reality for women all over the world almost one hundred years after International Women’s Day was inaugurated by socialist women in 1911.
These women took the inspiration for this day from an earlier strike by women textile workers here in New York City. On March 8, 1857, a group of strikers marched in these very streets demanding better working conditions and equal rights for women. "Decent wages! A ten-hour day!" was their cry.
Years later, in the garment workers' strike of 1908-1909, women commemorated the 1857 demonstration with a rally on March 8 on the Lower East Side. They demanded an end to sweatshop conditions and for equal pay, the right to vote, childcare for working mothers, and a stronger needle trades union.
Inspired by this strike, Clara Zetkin, a dynamic champion of impoverished women and a socialist feminist, proposed to the Second International that March 8th be declared International Women's Day--a working people's holiday that would not only celebrate past victories, but also be a day of action to carry the struggle forward.
Following the Second International’s adoption of this day, women in czarist Russia began organizing to win the vote and were jailed for planning demonstrations to win this basic democratic right. On March 8, 1917, Russian housewives and women textile workers went even further by taking to the streets of St. Petersburg demanding bread and peace. Although it was not originally planned this way, that day turned into a strike. Working men joined the women, and by the end of the day the strike had grown to 90,000 strong. Within three days, they had launched a general strike which in turn sparked the Russian Revolution and overthrew the czar.
Around the world, women continue to keep alive the tradition of International Women's Day, using it to demand our freedom. On March 8 in year past, women mobilized to protest apartheid in South Africa, to commemorate the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, and to combat racism in Sri Lanka.
In Iran, on International Women's Day in 1979, 100,000 women took to the streets demanding an equal voice in government and an end to Khomeni’s repressive religious regime chanting "We will not be slaves!"
And on March 8, two years ago in New York City, there was a massive women's demonstration at City Hall protesting the police murder of Amadou Diallo and demanding the recall of Mayor Giuliani.
Today, working women and our children are the chief victims of the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank--and unless protests can stop it--the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The sinister ministers of capitalism who run these institutions, and the gigantic corporations they serve, are overseeing a massive transfer of wealth from the poorest of the poor to the ruling elite--not only in El Salvador and India but here in the U.S. as well.
Food is taken from our tables so that the rich may accumulate gold like the Pharaohs of old. Women go without decent homes, childcare we can afford and trust, drinkable water, a public healthcare system, well-equipped schools, the right to unionize without being terrorized or fired, the right to free contraceptives and safe, legal abortions. Every day of our lives we face discrimination--from bosses, racist cops, the INS, and even sexist men within the labor and progressive movements.
Our battles are not easy ones to win because our freedom demands nothing less than the overthrow of the entire global capitalist system. But first we must cook up one good spicy revolution here in the U.S.--the kind of meal that will give the ministers of finance capital over on Wall Street indigestion. To win "Bread and Roses"--a life where safe, productive work and beauty are human rights--we must build a radical, anti-capitalist movement for socialist feminism worldwide.
The history of International Women's Day shows that working women have the power to do this, to unite our class so often and so disastrously divided by race, sex, nationality, and sexuality. We can draw together many causes because we are oppressed in so many ways. Because of the multi-faceted nature of the oppression we face. we are also the most radical in any struggle. Today’s protest is a good example.
Marching with us are men, students, people of all colors, gays and straights, immigrants and native-born--all of us fighting for freedom. It's this kind of coalition that has the power to make revolutionary change in the U.S.--the revolutionary change that our sisters in the garment trades marched for decades ago and that world needs more than ever today.
Long live International Women's Day! ¡Adelante mujeres!