Celebrate International Women’s Day
Women Are Crucial in the Struggle for Rights and for a Society that Guarantees Those Rights
The U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organizations salutes women across the country and worldwide on International Women’s Day, March 8. Everywhere women can be seen in the front ranks of struggle, against the brutal anti-social offensive of the rich, against imperialist war and for a society fit for human existence. Women, as those who bring into being and nurture the next generation, have always played a crucial role in the fight for social progress. This can be seen in the Bread and Roses strike, organized by women and young girls and speaking to this necessity for roses, for a flourishing of human beings, not their exploitation.
Today too women are participating on a conscious basis to defend their rights and the rights of all. Women are playing a critical role in advancing unifying content that defends the interests of society as a whole, as well as those of every collective. This can be seen in their insistence that social problems of poverty, the environment, war and peace be solved. Women are not accepting the notion that promises for a better day are sufficient. Not today, with a modern socialized economy, with abundant wealth produced sufficient to feed, house, cloth and educate everyone. Promises of equality in the face of such reality are meaningless and serve only to divert from the fact that social problems can be solved if the people are empowered to do so.
Blocking solutions are the monopolies and their governments, who deprive women and all the workers of power. Refusing to accept that modern society demands empowerment of the people to govern and decide, these rulers are pushing society backward. There is to be no flourishing of humanity, but instead U.S. imperialism’s might make right is to decide, its dictate of war and reaction at home and abroad is the answer given.
Women in the U.S. and elsewhere are rejecting this destructive direction for society. U.S. women together say no to imperialist war, All U.S. Troops Home Now! We demand our rights and the rights of all. We stand as one with our sisters and brothers worldwide in the fight for societies of our own making, where we govern and decide. USMLO condemns the brutal crimes of the U.S. against the peoples and against women and children, who commonly bear the brunt of its brutality and wars. We raise a red salute to all women fighting for emancipation on a world scale and for the increasing role they are playing in political affairs. Women are crucial in the struggle for rights and for societies that guarantee those rights.
USMLO urges advanced women to join our ranks and participate in building the fighting communist party of the U.S. working class. We urge all women to take up the fight for political empowerment and to urge their peers and fellow workers to do the same. Women are often the bulwark of organizing efforts, bringing their direct experience of the necessity for organization to bear. We urge all to utilize this experience to organize for empowerment. We have full confidence that it can be done!
Organizing for empowerment is a task in the hands of the people and depends on our own conscious efforts. Let us develop campaigns in this election year to bring the necessity for empowerment front and center. Let us together excel in taking up political affairs under this banner of empowerment, now, today.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The strike is known for its high level of organization and conscious participation by the women and young girls who worked in the mills. They were mostly immigrants who brought with them their revolutionary traditions from Ireland, Italy, France and elsewhere. More than twenty-five thousand workers from fifty nationalities speaking twenty-seven different languages united to win rights in the workplace and stand for a society where human beings could flourish.
Reflecting the internationalist spirit of the workers, leaflets were printed in the many different languages. Together the workers conducted pickets and marched and sang daily in the streets. The women in particular contributed the importance of meeting social needs, defending not only workplace rights but those of society — Bread and Roses. The strike itself took place during a period of massive strikes in the textile industry in the U.S., such as that in New York in 1909, and among mineworkers and other industrial workers in 1912. This is a period where workers are breaking new ground, building their defense organizations, confronting government repression, and standing up for the dignity of labor and societies that respect workers' rights.
On January 12th, 1912, some 25,000 workers at the mills of the American Woolen Company walked off the job. They rejected the horrendous working conditions and demanded their rights. They were already working 56 hours a week, reduced to 54 by state regulations. The companies retaliated to the lowered hours by cutting pay — and the workers walked out.
Half of the workers in the four American Woolen mills were girls between ages fourteen and eighteen and many of the rest were women. Conditions were such that Dr. Elizabeth Shapleigh, a Lawrence physician, wrote: "A considerable number of the boys and girls die within the first two or three years after beginning work…thirty-six out of every 100 of all the men and women who work in the mill die before or by the time they are twenty-five years of age.”
The workers' demands included a 15 percent increase in wages on a fifty-four-hour workweek, double time for overtime work, and no discrimination against any workers for their strike participation. They raised the need for changing society, so that, as the song honoring the strike put it, “No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes, But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”
Mass picketing and daily demonstrations were organized. Led mainly by revolutionaries from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), many who later joined the communist party, the workers utilized mass democracies. Their strike committee had 56 people, with two representatives for each of the 27 languages spoken and strike leaders. The company had to deal with the entire committee, who reported to all the strikers who together took decisions. A back-up committee of 56 was also in place to cover any committee members arrested.
For months the strikers contended with arrests of their leaders and police brutality not only against the strikers but their children. When crowds of workers demonstrated in front of the mills, the police drenched them with water from fire hoses on adjoining roofs. The strikers retaliated by throwing chunks of ice.
The strikers planned their effort to sustain the strike. Relief committees, a network of soup kitchens and food distribution stations were set up by the various nationalities. The Franco-Belgian station alone, for example, took care of 1200 families weekly. Doctors were organized to volunteer medical care. Funds were raised throughout the country in response to the strike committee's appeal. Families received from $2.00 to $5.00 each week as a result.
The police brutality against children became so great that the women organized to send the children out of town. Working families in New York City and Philadelphia “adopted” the children. The mill owners and city officials were so angered by this action that police were sent to brutalize women and children as the children prepared to board a train to Philadelphia. Many were arrested. The incident caused broad outrage and numerous protests across the country.
The workers refused to submit to the owners, police or the government doing the bidding of the companies. They continued to conduct mass pickets and were relentless in demanding Bread and Roses. On March 12, 2012, the company conceded to the workers economic demands. The strike was a success not only in securing wage increases and better conditions but also in defending the dignity of labor. Its internationalist spirit and the workers' political stand of social responsibility provide a lasting example of what is needed to break new ground today. The mainly women and young girls and workers demanded and fought for a society fit for human beings. They organized their resistance and kept it in their own hands, refusing to be constrained by demands of the companies and government. Voice of Revolution salutes the Bread and Roses strike and in the tradition of these women workers, raises the necessity for a new society of socialized humanity, governed by the people themselves. A new society must be one of our own making and accomplishing it means breaking new ground today, means rejecting the existing political set-up and forging one of our making!
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
International Women's Day was initiated by the Second International Conference of Socialist Women held in 1910, which passed a resolution to establish it as a day which would agitate for the rights of women to participate in the political affairs of their countries, in addition to their fight for their rights as workers. This included the vigorous strikes of U.S. garment workers, in particular the 1909 New York needle trade workers' "Uprising of 20,000." The resolution was unanimously adopted by the more than 100 women delegates from 17 countries attending, among them the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. The resolution was put forward by German communist Clara Zetkin.
March 19, 1911 was the date set for the first International Women's Day and rallies held in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on that day were attended by more than one million women and men. The following year, women in France, the Netherlands and Sweden joined in actions marking International Women's Day.
In the following years International Women's Day was marked in more and more countries. This was a period when women were fighting for their right to vote, within the context of the fight for universal suffrage. Women were also entering the workplace in increasing numbers and waging vigorous struggles against their conditions of brutal exploitation.
In the period leading up to the declaration of World War I, the celebration of International Women's Day opposed imperialist war and expressed solidarity between working women of different lands in opposition to the national chauvinist hysteria of the ruling circles. For example, in Europe International Women's Day was an occasion when speakers from one country would be sent to another to deliver greetings.
Russian women observed their first International Women's Day in 1913 under conditions of brutal Tsarist reaction.
In Russia, International Women's Day 1917 was a time of intense struggle against the Tsarist regime. Workers, including women workers in textile and metal working industries, were on strike in the capital city and opposition to Russia's participation in the imperialist war raging in Europe was growing. On March 8 (February 23 on the Julian calendar), women in their thousands poured onto the streets of St. Petersburg in a strike for bread and peace. The women factory workers, joined by wives of soldiers and other women, demanded, "Bread for our children" and "The return of our husbands from the trenches." This day marked the beginning of the February Revolution, which led to the abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of a provisional government.
The provisional government made the franchise universal, and recognized equal rights for women. Following the October 1917 Revolution, the Bolshevik government implemented more advanced legislation, guaranteeing in the workplaces the right of women to directly participate in social and political activity, eliminating all formal and concrete obstacles which previously had meant the subordination of their social and political activity and their subservience to men.
March 8 officially became International Women's Day in 1921 when Bulgarian women attending the International Women's Secretariat of the Communist International proposed a motion that it be uniformly celebrated around the world on that day. March 8 was chosen to honor the role played by the Russian women in the revolution in their country and, through their actions, in the struggle of women for their emancipation internationally.