March 8th, International Women’s Day, will see demonstrations, strikes and protests across the globe. The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) will be building for protests and walkouts on the day, including in the Spanish State where our sister party, Izquierda Revolucionaria (IR), will be playing a lead role in the mass strike against sexism and violence against women. In this feature we look at how the fight against women’s oppression is linked to the struggle against austerity and for socialist change.
Elaine Mallon writes
International Women’s Day falls on the 8th March and has extremely important revolutionary traditions. On this day in Russia 1917 (23rd February in the old Russian calendar), women textile workers from the Petrograd factories organised an impressive strike against hunger, slave labour and poverty. A courageous act considering women had no workers’ rights under the Tsarist dictatorship.
The historical strikes that took place on International Women’s Day inspired a mass uprising known as the February Revolution. Within days more and more workers (both men and women) joined the rebellion that brought parts of Russia to a standstill and successfully overthrew the Tsar.
The women of the Petrograd factories sparked a chain of events that culminated in the October Bolshevik revolution of 1917, when workers overthrew the capitalists and landlords and took control of production.
The socialist revolution dramatically improved women’s rights: better pay, civil marriage rights, fairer divorce practices, child care, maternity clinics, maternity leave and the prohibition of sacking pregnant workers.
International Women’s day is still recognised throughout the world and as we remember these brave women of the Russian textile factories, we look to the importance of the women’s workers movement and the lessons we can learn today.
Women’s lives in 21st century Scotland are set to the backdrop of brutal austerity, an inevitable crisis of capitalism that fails to meet our societal needs.
It’s important to recognise the consequences of austerity particularly on working class women and women in poverty.
For example social care and mental health cuts translate into attacks on working conditions and overwhelming burdens on family members; all predominately women.
Rises in zero hour contracts are rapidly destroying the rights of casual and part time workers; the majority of whom are women.
Public sector workers currently facing mass job losses are more likely to be women. All employment around domestic care is predominately low paid and carried out by women.
Cuts to benefits, the introduction of Universal Credit, increases in council tax, higher rents and living costs make it far more difficult for women to leave violent partners.
On average domestic violence kills two women per week; 90 women and 94 children are turned away from refuge centres every day. Domestic violence is the main cause of homelessness amongst women yet refuge centres and support groups are massively underfunded.
Austerity is literally killing women and it needs to be at the forefront of women’s issues.
Capitalism and patriarchy are completely intertwined and in direct conflict with equality and socialist feminism. In order to fight the battles ahead we need a strong socialist programme with concrete demands.
We need to call for no-cuts budgets from local councils whilst building a mass campaign to win back the billions stolen by the Tories. Between council reserves, borrowing and government underspends there are immediate alternatives to the cuts regime.
We need to organise and campaign through trade unions. The women’s equal pay dispute in Glasgow was recently won through the industrial action and mass protest by thousands of workers.
Recently in Ireland 40,000 nurses and midwives began mass strikes and protests over better working conditions, an incredible fight back.
If you’re not in a trade union, join one! If you are in a trade union consider becoming more involved, become a shop steward, encourage other women to get involved, organise meetings and start campaigns.
Women have very specific needs and we need women to represent us in the workplace. This is why workers’ democracy and control over production is such an important demand. Women make up 50% of the workforce yet we have nowhere near this kind of representation in councils and parliament.
Socialism based on workers’ democracy and economic planning will allow women to fully participate in the running of society.
We must also fight for the nationalisation of the top corporations. This would redistribute wealth from tax-avoiding billionaires and direct it back into our communities; public services, health care, child care, welfare, working conditions, wages and pensions.
This must be done in tandem with a planned economy based on needs that would also reduce weekly working hours without loss of pay, it would improve technology and bring an end to the unequal division of unpaid domestic labour.
The patriarchal capitalist machine must be overthrown and women will be at the forefront of the struggle.
We should not underestimate the battles ahead, we must organise ourselves in the workplace and move towards building a new mass workers’ party.
To have true autonomy and choice in our lives we need socialism. There can be no socialist revolution without the liberation of women – There will be no liberation of women without a socialist revolution.