By Meteor Blades
Today, March 8, is the 150th anniversary of a protest by garment and textile workers in New York City. Those workers, as you might guess from their jobs, were women. Bad working conditions, a euphemism for the reality of their Dickensian factories - and appallingly low wages - pushed these previously powerless women into the streets.
The cops acted for the plutocrats and their legislative puppets, attacking the protesters and forcing them off the public thoroughfare in a fine example of the bloody reality which so often has accompanied the ideals enshrined in our nation‘s great documents, but has been frequently ignored by state authority right up to the present day.
The protesters responded by forming a union before the end of May.
Happily, women - sometimes by themselves but usually in common cause with men - have been going into the streets and founding and joining organizations of dissent ever since. To right labor wrongs, to oppose slavery, to seek the vote, to oppose this or that insane war, to demand racial equality, to demonstrate for gender equity, for legislation protecting the environment, for rejection of laws constraining reproductive freedom. For peace. For liberty. For bread and roses. For the right just to be.
Ninety-nine years ago today, New York City women were out in the streets again, this time in their thousands, demanding higher pay, an 8-hour-day, voting rights and some damned respect.
It was the Socialist International which, in 1910, ultimately called for an International Women's Day, which members agreed to, and the next March 8, there were a million demonstrator-commemorators in the streets of Europe. As anyone knows who has a passing acquaintance with the Socialist International - not to mention the Communist International - despite the recognition of a "day," women were, as in other male-dominated organizations, mostly an afterthought. And fodder for propaganda. For instance, revolutionaries in Latin America talked a good game, encouraging women to join the fight against wicked regimes and making them promises of change. Women took them up on their offer. But they were always told to take a back seat to the "more pressing needs" of "the people." In other words, wait until after the revolution, then we'll talk. Maybe.
These days, International Women's Day, in the United States at least, has been corporatized and neutered, a sort of second Mother's Day, but without the cards and flowers. If it gets mentioned by the American media at all, the most favorable coverage is barely lukewarm, analysis nonexistent.
In our era, working conditions are deteriorating (even with the latest computer on the desk, cubicle life can be Dickensian) and the once-untouchable eight-hour day is under vigorous assault. Reproductive rights are being attacked. The environment is deeply stressed. And we've got a 4-year-old war that is likely to turn 6 before it's over. We should thus remember International Women's Day for what its originators - those who inspired it and formalized it - had in mind: Protest. Dissent. Skepticism. Activism. Pissed off and not gonna take it anymore.
So, although the reality of IWD is a tad milquetoasty, let me be the first to greet you with a hearty "'Happy' International Women's Day" in support of the idea that this might be a good time to restore it to its roots.