International Women’s Day, or International Working Women’s Day as it was originally known as takes place each year on the 8th of March. As socialists, we use this day to mark, discuss and look forward to how we can strengthen the movements of working class women taking place at the current time and take part in the demonstrations happening around the world.
This day was first celebrated in the US to commemorate striking women of the labour movement who demanded shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. In 1910, at an international socialist event attended by many prominent socialist women including Clara Zetkin, International Working Women’s Day was established.
International women’s day is inherently political and socialist, and is historically grounded in the struggle of the working class. Present day celebrations often try to rewrite the history and pose it as a day of celebration, but the origins of IWD are of struggle and protest.
Here in Ireland, we have had historic victories for women’s rights in recent years, namely the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment and legalise abortion in 2018. This campaign was a cross class movement but the abortion ban, and the oppression by the Catholic Church it was a part of, had a much more significant impact on working class women in Ireland. The scale of the victory, and the victory of the marriage equality referendum in 2015 were clear indications that the grip the Catholic Church once held on Irish society was being rejected by a whole new generation of young people, as well as the generations who had been oppressed for too long.
This was followed by Westminster legalising abortion and same sex marriage in the North following years of feet dragging from the establishment politicians. While implemented by Westminster it must also be taken in the context of years of campaigning by activists in the North.
These victories have represented a big change for women, but the struggles are by no means over. In the South we still have the 3 day waiting period for women accessing abortion, the scandal of the cervical cancer checks that saw many women receiving incorrect smear test results and not being informed they had cancer and a continuing lack of knowledge and education on women’s health. We still have the majority of schools being run by the Catholic Church and preventing proper education on reproductive options for women and fact based LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education for young people. Refuges for women fleeing gender based violence and rape crisis centres are desperately underfunded and rely on charity instead of being funded by the state as a basic and necessary service.
Battles are being waged in the health services, with the recent health strikes in the NHS in the North and the nurses’ strike in the south in 2019. These struggles have highlighted the underfunding, poor conditions and bad pay received by healthcare workers, many of whom are women.
The Trade Unions should launch a serious campaign to fight against all forms of oppression, for genuine equal pay and opportunity in the workplace, for an end to sexual harassment and gender based violence. This must be alongside a campaign to improve working conditions in the health service as well as other work places.
CWI Ireland members have fought for women’s rights in Ireland for many years. Some of our members campaigned against the introduction of Ireland’s abortion ban back in the 1980’s, while many more of us joined to be a part of the campaign to remove the abortion ban in 2018. There are still many battles to be waged in which our forces will engage enthusiastically.
As socialists, we believe that it’s necessary to fight against all forms of oppression. This must be linked to the need to build a mass party of the working class to transform society into a socialist one that rejects all forms of oppression. We need a united working class movement of all genders, races and sexualities to fight for a socialist society as the only possible way to fully reject capitalist oppression and create a better world for all.