8 March: International Working Women’s Day

By Carmia Schoeman

Featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Initially a commemoration of the decisive strike action taken by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, one of the largest unions in USA history, the formal institution of International Working Women’s Day (IWWD) was championed at the 1910 Second International Congress by German socialist, Clara Zetkin.

The initial intent of the day was clear: a day of coordinated international action by working class women to challenge the capitalist system founded on oppression.

Marching in a coordinated effort under IWWD’s banner against food shortages, the Tsarist regime and war, 90 000 working women initiated the 1917 Russian Revolution in Petrograd (now St Petersburg).

In a cruel twist of irony, women of today are encouraged to celebrate the 4% of female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies, or perhaps the slightly more attainable, 24% representation in parliaments across the world. The obvious co-opting of the socialist working women’s struggle by the exploitative elite was exemplified in its rebranding as International Women’s Day.

Concerns of working class women, such as the increased cost of childcare, decreasing job security, racism, and attacks on bodily autonomy have been appropriated as insincere talking points to fuel the populist rhetoric of the ruling elite. The ANC Women’s League will make big scenes at rape trials and Gender Based Violence protests, whilst at the same time protecting powerful men accused of rape like Jacob Zuma and looking the other way when services that help victims of GBV are gutted.

Our international initiative, ROSA, is organising to reclaim International Women’s Day as a day of struggle and revolution. This year, ROSA organised and took part alongside millions worldwide on 8 March. The working class is starting to draw the conclusion that bourgeois feminists will not bring liberation for all oppressed by gender, sexuality, race, and class.

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