Happy International Working Womyn’s Day: History and the struggle today

Opinion, Revolutionary Perspectives, THEIRstory

 

In celebration, through centuries of toil—bruises, scars and pain—it is March, so we must, dedicate everything we can for womyn.[1] March 8th is International Working Wom[y]n’s Day (IWWD), in 1909 the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) was honored by the Socialist Party of America (SP) because of inspiring strike for better wages, shorter hours and safer working conditions.[2] 1910 saw the convening of the Socialist International, officially the Second International[3] succeeded by the International Workingmen’s Association, in—Copenhagen—where with a unanimous vote, 100 delegates decided to celebrate March 8th as Womyn’s Day, later IWWD, no date was set.[4] It was not until 1975 when the United States (US) officially made March 8th—International Wom[y]n’s Day.[5] Moreover in 1981 Congress passed a resolution calling on the President to authorize the first “Wom[y]n’s History Week,” starting in 1988 Congress passed other resolutions to authorize March as “Womyn’s History Month” and since 1995 succeeding Presidents continued the tradition.[6]

March may be “Womyn’s History Month” but celebrating womyn everyday should be tradition. Studying womyn’s herstory, in the US, reveal the difficulties womyn faced fighting to earn privileges—and dignity of being a womyn, endowed upon men. However—resiliency, power and revolutionary—are more accurate reflections of womyn’s position in herstory. Most clearly, seen in the labor movement of the early twentieth century.

Womyn organizing proved paramount during the rise of intense class struggle in the early twentieth century that attempting to write of it all—would do womyn no justice. Instead narrowing in on the ILGWU encapsulates the power of the organizing done. Formed in 1900, ILGWU was a combination of seven garment producing unions. Early on they struggled to grow, due to inconsistent dues cycles, small membership and manufacturer’s hostility, after nine years of inconsistent struggles—1909—saw, what became known as, the “Uprising of 20,000” where mostly women from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory go on strike. They become famous because of the strike duration, size of the union and the support they received from middle class white womyn. However in 1911—changed the course of garment apparel and labor history—the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught on fire. In total 146 people, mostly womyn, were killed or jumped off the building, incredibly tragic. In response, the ILGWU, organized a funeral procession, leading to a strike by ILGWU members and for the first time—unions, government and activists—work together towards safer working conditions, ends up being the impetus for many labor laws, not possible without the work of the ILGWU.[7]

The ILGWU grew rapidly after the 1910s and by 1969 their membership was almost half a million—making them one of the largest union in US her-story. However, due to deindustrialization, corporations and ruling class capitalists, saw outsourcing garment production to the global south[8] as more profitable and seemingly—less exploitative, to their consumers at home. With the beginning of the 70’s, ILGWU shrunk in size and in 1995 ultimately was forced to merge with their male union counterpart, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, forming Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). Regardless the history of the ILGWU remain legendary.[9]

Today deindustrialization changed the US’s economic policy, like aforementioned, it is cheaper to import garment from the global south, therefore the 1970’s, onwards, opened up trading, influence and leading to the proliferation of sweatshops across the global south. Specifically in countries like India, China, Vietnam and, in this case, Bangladesh.

2013, Dhaka, Bangladeshi, the Rana Plaza Factory collapsed on April 24th—killing 1,134 killed and over 2,515 injured—disastrously making history as the deadliest sweatshop collapse ever.[10] In the wake of Rana Plaza our collective indifference, or momentary empathy, illuminates unconsciousness consumerism’s deathbed. Moreover, worth noting is that the collapse was not a—‘accident’—on the contrary, it was just the opposite, in other words, completely and wholly preventable. Exactly like the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, victims of the Rana Plaza collapse, womyn labor in Dhaka took to the streets with solidarity from the global north.

Ironically, the conditions of sweatshops, in the global south, are exactly replicable to the garment factories here in the twentieth century, as well as meatpacking plants, coal mines and steel mills. History is not repeating itself, it’s intentional, a process of neocolonialism.

Kwame Nkrumah, well-known Ghanaian liberator, Pan-African and the Ghana’s 1st Prime Minister Post-independence, developed the idea of neocolonialism—“as the last stage of imperialism.”[11] He posits that this “last stage” of imperialism and capitalism is the most dangerous because at the surface it is docile,even humanitarian, conversely at its root—neocolonialism—is a vicious policy, with a benevolent facade. In other words, defined as an external power controlling many aspects of subject nations sovereignty by way of economic domination. [12] Currently, multinational corporations have pivoted their spending from western nations to the global south. Aided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and governmental approval have carved out policies that benefit the global north, appease the public, while exploiting womyn in places like Bangladesh.[13] In sum, countries like the US are responsible for deplorable work conditions globally, just like—the US was in the early twentieth century, the connection is inextricable. Therefore, we must fight today as the womyn who sacrificed their lives in 1911 through today, simply fighting for what they believed—justice.

Let’s continue to celebrate—honor—give thanks to the womyn who have fought, died and continue to fight today; never forgetting that the fight is not over. Ranging from closing the wage gap here in the US to ending sweatshop abuse in Bangladesh to abolishing prisons, as womyn of color make up the fastest growing population, to demanding justice for Trans* womyn murdered/committed suicide, the struggle for womyn’s liberation is not over—in 2015 as the fight grows, so must we.

Happy International Working Womyn’s Day! Solidarity to all those who uplift womyn’s struggles in all their work. Onwards towards liberation for womyn and collectively for all.


 

 

Sources (Footnotes):

 

[1] “Womyn” is used instead of wo “men” to reclaim an identity lost because of discrimination and oppression caused by defining oneself –in opposition to the oppressor (i.e. men). https://www.msu.edu/~womyn/alternative.html

[2] Spedding, Lisa S. 2012 “International Women’s Day and World NGO Day: Celebration and Balance” Women Lawyers Journal 97, no. ½; 13-16. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOHost (Mar. 4th 2015)

[3] “The Second International: Social Democracy 1880-1920” https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/index.htm; archive of Social Democracy with prominent socialist parties, figures and documents.

[4] 2015. “History of International Women’s Day” United Nations: Woman Watch. 2015; Accessed: Mar. 4th 2015

[5] Spedding 2012, IWD; Mar. 4th 2015

[6] “Women’s History Month” http://womenshistorymonth.gov/about.html; various governmental and nongovernmental archive documents, pictures and much more in March.

[7] University, Kheel Center – Cornell. The Kheel Center ILGWU Collections. Accessed: Mar. 4th 2015. http://ilgwu.ilr.cornell.edu/

[8] “Global south” may not always be accurate, geographically, instead it provides us with a framework of understanding geopolitics not as a dichotomy between “developing” and “un/underdeveloped” nations, those pejorative titles are remnants of colonial ideology of the “civilized” vs. “heathen” parts of the world. Global south is more accurate for both political correctness but to uplift the lives and struggles of the people in non-western nations.

[9] Kheel Center; Cornell.

[10] Motlagh, Jason. Apr. 18 2014 “A year after Rana Plaza: What hasn’t changed since the Bangladesh factory collapse” Washington Post

[11] Nkrumah, Kwame. 1965. “Neocolonialism, the last stage of imperialism” Marxist.org; accessed Mar. 8th 2015 https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/nkrumah/neo-colonialism/introduction.htm

[12] Ibid.

[13] Good resources on globalization can be found at: https://www.globalpolicy.org/globalization ; this article provides a simple list of the negative effects of global capitalism: https://www.globalpolicy.org/globalization/globalization-of-the-economy-2-1/general-analysis-on-globalization-of-the-economy/49750.html?itemid=49750

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