March 8 – All out on International Women’s Day!

International Secretariat of the League for the Fifth International

March 8, International Women’s Day, will see millions of women worldwide rally in demonstrations and mass meetings. In a number of countries, they will respond to the call for a global women’s strike, as they did in recent years. In Spain, an unprecedented six million took up the appeal issued by women’s organisations and feminists, joined by rank and file trade unionists, who successfully initiated strike action and were able to pressurise their leaderships into giving it tacit support.

A central purpose of the organisers is to make visible, not only women’s work in the factories, on the land, in hospitals, schools, shops and offices but also the unpaid labour women perform every day in the home.

By focussing on working women, as the originators of March 8 did over a century ago, the global women’s strike marks an important step forward. All socialists, communists, indeed all organisations of the working class and the oppressed and, in particular, the mass membership of the trade unions, should support the call, so that a huge global strike becomes a reality.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go to achieve that, but every journey begins with the first step and a number of important steps have been taken in the last decade.

In Latin America, we have seen mass movements against femicide and violence against women like “Ni una menos (“Not one woman less”) in Argentina or “Ele Não (Not him)” in Brazil. In the United States, millions thronged the women’s marches against Trump and his sexist agenda.

In many Asian countries, too, women have not only been enrolled into the working class in their millions, they also have waged mass struggles. In India, millions demonstrated against sexism, violence, sexual abuse, harassment and reactionary religious bans on women. Female workers also played an important role in the 150 million strong two-day general strike in January this year.

In countries like Turkey, they have demonstrated, and will demonstrate again, in huge numbers, despite bans and police repression. Even in Saudi Arabia, we have seen courageous protests by women.

In Europe, huge movements in defence of abortion rights took to the streets in Poland, Ireland and Spain – clashing with the agenda of the churches and right wing populists. In short, we have seen the rise of a new global women’s movement.

Attacks from the right
This new movement is to a large extent a result of the changes in global capitalism, particularly since the great recession, which have transformed the living conditions of the mass of women. Millions in the semi-colonies have been turned into wage labourers but for most this means they now bear the double burden of exploitation and harassment at the workplace and at home.

Women still earn less than men, often less than half the wage of male workers in the same branch of the economy. They are more frequently forced into low waged work, on short-term and extremely precarious contracts.

In addition, neo-liberalism has undermined, or even destroyed, many of the social gains achieved by the women’s and workers’ movements. Attacks on welfare, the privatisation and commercialisation of social services from health, child care, education, care for the elderly to public transport, all affect women disproportionately, reinforcing and increasing the double burden of unpaid housework and low paid work in the factories, fields or sweat-shops.

Migrant women, refugees and LGBT people are hit particularly hard, since they are often denied even the basic democratic rights of the citizens of the countries in which they seek work and refuge. Having fled wars, invasions, violence and super-exploitation in their own countries, they now face racism, abuse and super-exploitation in the countries where they seek refuge.

Around the world, for example, after the bloody counterrevolutions that defeated the Arab Spring, the rise of the far right, of right wing populisms, of religious fundamentalism of all sorts and even of fascism, always goes hand in hand with an onslaught on women’s rights.

These attacks hit the working class and peasant women particularly hard, but also threaten gains made by middle class or professional women and they will not stop unless they are fought and defeated. The Trumps and Bolsonaros, the Kaczyńskis and Erdogans, the Modis and bin Salmans of this world will not go without a determined and courageous mass struggle.

The religious reactionaries, be they Christian Evangelicals, Catholics, Islamists, Hindu or Buddhist fundamentalists, are closely tied to the rise of the right, attacks on democratic rights and moves towards authoritarianism or even overt dictatorships. Forcing women into a subservient role, strengthening a gender based social division of labour, reactionary attacks on “genderism” and feminism, all go hand in hand with a rise of male-chauvinism and a downplaying of sexism and machismo of all sorts.

International response
This global onslaught needs a global response. The struggle against women’s oppression and for the rights of LGBT-people constitutes a key part of the global struggle against neo-liberal attacks, capitalist exploitation, the rise of racism, environmental destruction and the threat of war and occupations. The next round of the capitalist crisis will bring this home to millions with even greater force. The struggle for the re-division of the world between the big imperialist powers and would-be regional powers, which is driving the rise of nationalism, chauvinism and racism, points to the need to coordinate the struggle for women’s liberation, itself an indispensable part of the class struggle.

International Women’s Day and the global women’s strike can be and must be a rallying point both for the building of a truly international, and internationalist, women’s movement and for the revival of the global working class movement.

For this, we need to demand that the leaders of the working class organisations, trade unions and parties as well as the women’s movement support the actions, strikes, mass rallies and demonstrations on the March 8.

For too long, International Women’s Day has been conducted as a “celebration” of “how far we have come”, with the implied self-satisfaction of the minority of upper class women with their individual “achievements”. In fact, it needs to be a day of mass struggle, an angry demonstration of how far we still have to go to reach equality. It needs to be a warning to the rulers of the world. As they said in the South African struggle against Apartheid, “When you strike the woman, you strike a rock!”

Within the movement, we need to stress the necessity of going beyond single day or nationally focused action, often in response to extreme reactionary attacks. The women’s movement, the supporters of the global women’s strike, should take the initiative to call for national, regional and global action conferences, delegate meetings to coordinate the struggles. This initiative would obviously have a focus on the rebuilding of a global women’s movement, but it should also address all the other key issues of the international class struggle; exploitation, racism, authoritarianism, environmental destruction, imperialist plunder and war.

In this it should follow the historic example of the socialist women’s movement before and during the First World War; acting as one of the most dynamic, progressive forces to rally opposition to imperialism and capitalism and thereby promote the creation of a new revolutionary international.

Such a perspective will clearly require political clarification and struggle within the movement. The liberal bourgeois forces like the US-democrats and bourgeois or petit-bourgeois feminists, but also the reformist parties and union leaders, have failed the women’s movement. They either want to make peace with a “reformed” or more liberal capitalism or they reject a strategy that puts the rallying of the working class masses and the creation of a working class women’s movement at its centre. They either refuse to address the fact that women’s oppression is itself tied to the capitalist system or they fail to advocate the means necessary to overthrow it. Like all other forms of social oppression, the oppression of women cannot be overcome without fighting capitalist exploitation itself.

  • All out on International Women’s Day!
  • For a new, global, working class women’s movement!
  • Link the struggle for women’s and LGBT liberation with the struggle against capitalism!