International Women’s Day 2016

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This year, let International Women’s Day be a renewed call to people around the world to join the struggle against women’s oppression. Every day, millions of women face down sexual violence, domestic violence, disproportional household  obligations, and severe economic inequality  – including, here in the US, an extreme pay gap, tip penalties, and egregiously low minimum wages.

Yesterday, the Seattle City Council passed a proclamation recognizing International Women’s Day. Let us use this day to organize and build the fight for our rights – including paid family leave, union rights, full reproductive rights, and an end to big business’s oppressive control over our society. For more, please see my speech below.

To all my Sisters and Brothers in struggle, happy International Women’s Day tomorrow. It is celebrated all over the world, and in many countries it is an official holiday.

But, as Councilmember Juarez said, it started here in the United States. Women textile workers formed some of the most radical and courageous first unions in this country.

In 1908 the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union went on strike, which was commemorated by a day of demonstrations the following year organized by the Socialist Party of America.

Socialist Parties around the world, at that time, that were fighting for the rights of women workers, women’s rights in the family, women’s reproductive rights, and the right to vote for women, spread International Women’s Day around the world.

At their international conferences, socialists from around the world voted to make International Women’s Day an annual day for working women to fight for our rights, and on International Women’s Day in 1911, over a million people demonstrated, and this continued to grow over the next few years.

On International Women’s Day in St. Petersburg Russia in 1917, women workers celebrated the holiday with a one day strike which grew over the next five days, as you all know, into a worker’s revolution that overthrew the czar (the monarchy), overthrew capitalism, and ultimately forced a much needed end to World War I.

While defeating czarism and capitalism, these socialist women also won the right to vote, their reproductive rights, and other rights, also for marginalized groups.

It is no coincidence that, over the next few years, women won the right to vote in country after country around the world – including in the United States, in 1920.

Today, for International Women’s Day, my hope is that we will celebrate the courage of these activists who came before us, but also use that history to build our own confidence for the struggles to come.

It is excellent that councilmembers are proclaiming tomorrow International Women’s Day, but it is important that we not make an empty gesture and make sure that every vote we cast, as elected officials, are in the interests of women and others who are marginalized.

The council, last November, voted against a paid parental leave extension to 12 weeks (for city workers), and voted for economically oppressive policies – many of which are doubly harsh for women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and other oppressed minorities. Such as when the council voted to penalize tipped workers in the minimum wage, that disproportionately impacts women, and people of color. Or earlier this year, when the council voted to give special treatment to Amazon and their ally vacation, instead of using that opportunity to hold Amazon accountable for its gross violations of labor law – which, again, disproportionally affect women and people of color.

So let us use this International Women’s Day for the purpose socialists originally built it for – to fight for our rights, to fight for family leave, to fight for union rights, and for reproductive rights. And to fight to break big business’s oppressive control over our society.

I’d really like to thank Councilmember Juarez for bringing forward this proclamation, and for including my added language, and I’d grateful to the Seattle Women’s Commission – the members of which are right here – for writing it, pushing it forward, and for fighting for a paid parental leave extension over the past few years.