I received an email today from the good people at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, Manchester, letting me know that as usual the Library will be celebrating International Women’s Day on Sunday 9 March by holding an open meeting at which Eleanor Lewington will give a talk about her mother Ivy Woods, who was an activist in the Co-operative Movement, the event is free, starts at 2pm and is open to women and men. Light refreshments will be served.
The comrades also sent me a brief History of International Women’s Day which I found interesting and I thought I would share it with the readers of Organized Rage.*
History of International Women’s Day
The first International Women’s Day [IWD] was celebrated on 28 February 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Among other relevant historic events, it commemorates the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (New York, 1911), where over 140 women lost their lives. The idea of having an international women’s day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions. The garment workers were protesting what they saw as very poor working conditions and low wages. The protesters were attacked and dispersed by police. These women established their first labor union in the same month two years later.
More protests followed on 8 March in subsequent years, most notably in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In 1910 the first international women’s conference was held in Copenhagen (in the labour-movement building located at Jagtvej 69, which until recently housed Ungdomshuset) by the Second International and an ‘International Women’s Day’ was established, which was submitted by the important German Socialist Clara Zetkin. The following year, IWD was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. However, soon thereafter, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City killed over 140 garment workers. A lack of safety measures was blamed for the high death toll. Furthermore, on the eve of World War I, women across Europe held peace rallies on 8 March 1913. In the West, International Women’s Day was commemorated during the 1910s and 1920s, but dwindled. It was revived by the rise of feminism in the 1960s.
Demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Russia proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make it an official holiday in Russia, and it was established, but was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR “in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace.”
In 1975, which had been designated as International Women’s Year, the United Nations gave official sanction to and began sponsoring International Women’s Day. The 2005 Congress (conference) of the British Trades Union Congress overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for IWD to be designated a public holiday in the United Kingdom.