Originally published March 5 at internationalsocialist.net.
International Women’s Day (IWD) 2023 approaches as the wave of women leading movements and struggle against oppression and capitalist exploitation continues to develop, often explosively. The dire consequences of war, mass hunger, climate destruction, political crisis, and social breakdown falls heaviest on working-class and impoverished women around the world, and it is no surprise that they are fighting back. On IWD demonstrations, socialist feminists make the link between feminist movements, labor strikes, revolts against price hikes, mass movements against men’s and state violence against women, climate devastation, and war. At the root of the multiple and interlinked crises is the capitalist system itself, and the insatiable greed of the hyper-wealthy class that the system serves.
Since IWD 2022, new explosive and revolutionary struggles have taken place, with working-class and young women on the front line. In Iran, the slogan “women, life, freedom” has captured the mood of a generation unwilling to accept the systematic brutality of the Iranian regime, whose rule relies on the oppression, subjugation, and rigid control over women and their bodies. The rallying cry of this movement has resonated around the world.
In 2023, socialist feminists organized in ROSA and International Socialist Alternative (ISA) will draw inspiration from such struggles and seek to play our part in organizing protests to fight for all the things that all women need to live free of oppression, from abortion rights to a fully funded care sector, a society free from fear and violence, an end to right-wing attacks on migrants and more. Join us!
No Matter How Hard We Work, the System Never Works for Us
Working-class women are bearing the brunt of rampant inflation across the globe. The gender pay gap; greater responsibilities for caring for children and/or other family members; and overrepresentation in insecure jobs as well as in the shadows of the ‘informal’ economy, particularly in neo-colonial countries, mean that women are buckling under the cost of living crisis. More than 900,000 people worldwide are struggling with famine-like conditions. This is ten times more than five years ago. In the United Kingdom, while one in four households cannot afford energy and food costs, energy corporations BP and Shell are reporting record profits.
Women are disproportionately employed in the care sector: nursing, education, childcare, social work, etc, a sector that has been ravaged by cuts and underfunding. Struggles on the job have been growing over wages and working conditions, as well as for high-quality services that are accessible for all. Fighting privatization and campaigns for increased public services have also been a feature. Privatized services can never provide quality service for all, as one look at the appallingly unequal private U.S. healthcare system confirms.
After the absolute brutality of care work in hospitals and nursing homes during the pandemic, massive staffing crises are increasingly the normal state of affairs with a new acceleration of workers leaving the sector when they can, and a high level of workers having long-term illnesses who are not being replaced. This is also the case in underfunded schools, where children have come back to school post-pandemic farther behind in learning and with more emotional needs than before.
Health services in the imperialist centers are now cynically escalating their poaching of health — and other care workers from their former colonies, which are bleeding thousands of educated workers every year. Some struggles have won improvements, but fundamental changes are necessary to stop the full-scale collapse of health and education services we are witnessing today, cynically used by some governments to drive privatization even further. We need a massive investment in free public services that are fully staffed, with higher wages and better conditions, including a shorter work week without loss of pay. The nationalization of the massively profitable pharmaceutical industry, as well as the healthcare industry where it is private, would provide the means to do so.
Public care and education are among the most important gains of working-class struggles of the past, with huge importance for working-class women in creating both secure employment and the services that allow them to gain economic independence through work. However, the capitalist ruling class has cut these services to the bone, or is running them for profit, pushing workers, predominantly women, to care for more and more people during a shift. What the bosses call “productivity,” or how much work is done by each worker, is really how the billionaire class rakes in profits, with inhuman consequences for patients and students.
The breakdown of these and other services over decades of underfunding and privatization has pushed more work back into the family, enlarging the number of hours mostly women spend on their “second shift.” This is the unpaid housework, childcare, and elder care that must be done outside of work hours, mainly by women, as part of the role of the family in women’s oppression in capitalist society.
When We Fight, We Can Win!
Women workers in the care sector are leading a fightback against impossible working conditions caused by understaffing, low pay, and the consequences for people in need of care. Whereas in the past the moral obligation felt by care workers was used by the bosses to hold back strikes, today strikes are increasingly seen as the only way to fight for quality services, as well as for improved staffing and higher wages. Across all continents, from the UK to Argentina, from Zimbabwe to the U.S., from Germany to Sri Lanka, healthcare workers have been staging major strikes, which have become a universal feature in the last few years. In the education sector as well, teachers and workers in higher education are getting organized and going on strike to fight for well-funded schools and higher wages.
In France, a feminist strike against gender-based violence, against the pension reform, and for abortion rights on the 8th of March, called for by the most combative women’s organizations and supported by the most combative trade unions and Nupes (the left alliance of which La France Insoumise is the driving force) forms part of the mass movement against the pension reform of Macron. It’s a brilliant example of how these two movements can join forces against the ruling class, which we’ve also seen in the Basque Country and in Brussels with working-class organizations organizing action against femicide and sexist harassment. French workers are raging against Macron’s attempt to drive up the pension age to 64, the average life expectancy in good health. Women workers are at the front of struggle, as women’s pensions are already only 40% of men’s.
The gender pay gap and the highly unequal and mostly uncompensated role of women in childcare means that elderly women are far more likely to live in poverty than men. We need fully paid parental leave, flexible work options that give women and men opportunities to care for children without loss in pay, free high-quality childcare centers, and a decent retirement for all.
Service jobs are another sector where worker combativity is rising. In the U.S., it has generally been women food service and retail workers that are leading an upturn in new union organizing. Store clerks, food service workers, hospital staff, nursing home carers, etc, were celebrated during the lockdown as “heroes,” but are now treated as “zeros.” Their economic reality is no cause for celebration. Dubbed “essential workers,” their role in keeping society running during lockdowns has had a radicalizing effect.
Fighting the Right and Gender-Based Violence
A rising threat in countries around the globe is the populist right-wing or far-right political formations. In Europe, South Asia, the US and Brazil, the right wing has been strengthened in the past several years as liberal governments have only attacked workers living standards, and left-wing, pro-working class parties either haven’t yet been built or have capitulated to pro-capitalist liberal parties. The right wing viciously targets the most vulnerable groups in society, scapegoating them for the problems that people face in society. Migrants, trans people, racial and religious minorities, homeless people, and oppressed castes – these are amongst the groups that the sexist, racist and LGBTQ-phobic right wing is primarily targeting. At the same time, under the conditions of growing militarisation and refugee movements worldwide, gender-based violence has also grown. The imperialist tensions between the blocs not only affect economic, political, and environmental issues, but also the living conditions of women and LGBTQ+ people.
Everywhere, migrants and refugees are under attack by the right. In Turkey, Syrian refugees who have fled the horrors of war in their home country are being scapegoated by pro-regime media, state forces, and the nationalist far-right to divert people’s anger away from the criminal regime of Erdogan and its profiteering buddies in the construction industry, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
While the last few years have seen an increase in reactionary attacks on our rights, Rosa has played an active role in developing the fight back against any forms of sexism, misogyny, transphobia, and racism. Our strong record on fighting against gender-based violence has played a key role in our ability to cut across the far right. Recently far right agitators in the south of Ireland tried to use the old disgusting racist tropes of blaming gender violence on black and brown men to justify violent, racist attacks on migrants. Because of our record on exposing the reality of gender-based violence (83% of victims knew the perpetrator, this is linked to patriarchal sexist values that continue to pervade our personal relationships in capitalist society) we were able to sharply expose the hypocrisy of the far right’s antiquated racist, anti-choice, anti-feminist rhetoric and mobilize working-class communities to stand up against racist division and hatred.
This is just one example of the power of collective action in highlighting issues such as gender-based violence. Yes, it is about putting the completely inadequate response of the state in the dock and demanding more resources. But it is also important because it challenges attitudes around power relations, violence, and control that have a damaging effect on our personal relationships and empowers victims to speak out. It links the struggle against gender-based violence with the necessity for all of us to collectively fight for a world in which our family relationships are not burdened with huge care responsibilities, economic pressures, and power inequalities. We oppose racism in all its forms and stand for socialist feminism that fights against all the prejudices that the capitalist class uses to maintain its power in society including racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and sexism.
Opposing War and Imperialism
While contemporary events and threats (global warming, the Covid-19 pandemic, etc) all underline the urgency for international cooperation and solidarity, the capitalist system is moving in the exact opposite direction, with the world increasingly divided into two main competing blocs, intensified geopolitical rivalry, and a multiplying risk of further and even more dangerous military conflicts. Beyond helping to promote and normalize patriarchal institutions and values in society, the new global phase of feverish militarisation will be an additional reason for capitalist governments everywhere to shift public resources away from sectors that are particularly vital for women, such as education and health.
Choking on their own contradictions, the main imperialist powers on the planet are trying to export their crisis abroad, which involves a renewed race for the control of resources and zones of influence, and the heightening of their exploitative and unequal relations with large parts of the planet. Many poor countries are struggling to service a suffocating debt burden to rich and profiteering creditors – debts aggravated by global turbulences and by the interest rate hikes of major central banks – and are teetering on the verge of debt defaults and economic collapse as a result. Against this background, the return to mass austerity programs and acceptance of the diktats of imperialist institutions like the IMF has become the default option of the ruling elites in those countries, with particularly devastating consequences for poor and working-class women and non-binary people— as epitomized by the numerous former garment workers in Sri Lanka turning to sex work to feed their families.
However, even in dire circumstances, women have often been on the frontline to resist and mobilize in many parts of the world – against austerity, imperialist exploitation, and war. The revolutionary movement in Iran and protests in Afghanistan are shining examples. In Russia, women in particular helped family members and friends to flee to avoid being caught in the meat grinder of war. In September, when the second wave of mobilization was announced, they set up blockades in some cities and sometimes drove to the front to get relatives out.
Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Right to Decide!
The powerful feminist movements across Latin America have won inspiring victories on abortion rights in Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico. Mass mobilizations in the streets, including on IWD, have been one of the key weapons in the victories won in Latin America. In Spain, the right-wing government of the Castilla y León region was forced to backtrack on a plan to force women to have a sonogram before having an abortion–this illustrates the strength of the feminist movement in Spain, where 5 million went out on strike on IWD in 2018.
The necessity of building a powerful mass movement in the streets, sustained by organizations of struggle, is a lesson that needs to be fully absorbed in the U.S., where the right-wing Supreme Court majority has overturned Roe v. Wade, resulting in abortion bans in 13 states. Tens of thousands came out on the day the decision was announced, many in protests organized by Socialist Alternative (ISA in the U.S.), as the large, well-funded liberal feminist organizations refused to take real action. Majorities have voted for abortion rights in every referendum that has been on the ballot, even in states that are Republican-dominated, showing the breadth of support for abortion rights. However, the right-wing lawsuit currently threatening to make one of the two medications used for abortion illegal illustrates that it will take a mass movement to fully defeat the right, a section of which is highly motivated by opposition to abortion, and to women’s rights more generally.
Trans Liberation and Socialist Feminism are Intertwined
There is a strong connection between reactionary attacks on abortion rights and the war being waged by the right on trans and gender-non-conforming people. In Scotland, the right-wing Conservative UK government has intervened in an unprecedented way to block legislation passed by the Scottish parliament that would improve the rights of trans people to self-identify their gender. In the U.S., abusive anti-trans laws are being pushed in some states which go as far as enabling the separation of trans children from their parents if they are supportive of the child’s gender identity.
In Britain, the terrible murder of a 16-year-old trans woman, Brianna Ghey, has generated a wave of grief and anger and highlighted the horrific real-life consequences of the hostile political environment being created for trans people by right-wing politicians and the capitalist media alike. Thousands attended vigils across the country in the days following Brianna’s murder. ISA members have taken part in these, and Socialist Alternative in England, Wales, and Scotland is calling for the building of a mass movement for trans liberation — to win real justice for Brianna Ghey and all those lost to transphobic violence.
ISA says the fight for trans rights is an integral part of the struggle against the rigid gender norms the capitalist system seeks to impose. It is a vital component of the feminist struggle and we stand for the maximum solidarity and unity of all those who face oppression under this system.
Woman Life Freedom
Feminist movements everywhere are enormously inspired by the revolutionary uprising led by young women in Iran, where anger over the brutal state killing of Jina Amini sparked a massive movement against not only the misogyny of the Iranian state but also against the repressive, corrupt capitalist regime itself. The slogan of the movement, “Woman Life Freedom” encompasses not only the demand for the liberation of women but also the national aspirations of the Kurdish people, as the slogan was originated by Kurdish women activists. The regime has responded with a bloody crackdown on protesters, with especially harsh treatment of the Kurds and other national minorities.
The movement in Iran is an expression of the wave of feminist struggle of the past many years, but on a qualitatively higher level. Young people and particularly women have been the driving force of a struggle that challenges the existence of the fundamentalist Islamic regime itself. It’s possible that the regime has regained its footing somewhat, but this will undoubtedly be temporary. The final chapter of the movement in Iran is not yet written, but it is clear that the uprising of women, workers, and young people has changed everything.
While on a much smaller scale, the protests against Covid lockdown in China were a watershed event. Young women were in the lead at the protests, which began as vigils but rapidly took on a politicized character including calls for the fall of Xi Jinping. Socialist feminists stand in solidarity with the courageous protesters in China and in Iran, and we march on IWD in support of their demands to free political prisoners and for an end to the repressive governments in China, Iran, and elsewhere – including those regimes the self-proclaimed “human rights” and “democracy” defenders in Washington, Paris or London are cozying up with and whose brutal attacks against women are being brushed under the carpet, like Modi’s India or the Saudi dictatorship.
History of International Women’s Day is rooted in Socialist Feminism – Socialist Feminist Struggle Offers Hope for the Future
In 1908, 15,000 garment workers marched through the streets of New York to protest their working conditions, demand an eight-hour work day, a pay rise, an immediate end to child labor, and the right to vote. The next year, the Socialist Party of America declared the first “National Women’s Day” in recognition of their struggle. German pioneering socialist feminist, Clara Zetkin, in 1910, inspired by the New York garment workers, proposed the adoption of an international working women’s day, a proposal which sought to link the universal struggle for women’s political and social rights to the fight for an end to the exploitation of all workers; and conversely, to link the fight to end the exploitation of workers to the struggle for women’s political and social rights. The following year, more than one million women took part in marches and meetings to mark the first International Women’s Day.
In 1917, St Petersburg’s female textile workers walked out on strike, beginning the tremendous revolutionary movement that overthrew the Tsar and began the Russian Revolution.
Socialist feminists founded International Women’s Day and used it to intertwine feminist demands with the broader working class, left and socialist struggle; to oppose war and imperialism; and to strike forward in struggle against the capitalist establishment and system in every way possible. That’s the International Women’s Day and struggle that ROSA and ISA are seeking to build today – and it’s urgently necessary.
From the thousands who died due to the corruption of the building industry in Turkey, to the vicious oppression of women in Afghanistan, to the horrors of war in Ukraine, Yemen, and more, it is clear that the capitalist system generates one horrific crisis after another. Working and oppressed people are paying the price for the climate crisis, which is a mortal danger for millions all around the globe. This is even more so in the neo-colonial world, where people, despite contributing the least to climate change, are paying a horrifying price for its effects, primarily driven by the relentless pursuit of profit of the major industrial and imperialist states.
Because of the entrenched gender inequalities, when disaster strikes women and children are disproportionately affected; studies have shown that on average they are 14 times more likely than men to die. From the explosion in child marriages to the unbearably long distances they are forced to walk to find water, the worst droughts in decades in the Horn of Africa have seen women and girls paying the heaviest toll. In Pakistan, tens of thousands of workers, women in the majority, have lost their jobs after last year’s devastating floods wiped out much of the country’s cotton crop. Challenges for women continue well into the aftermath of disasters, as many women and young girls face high risks of gender-based violence and sexual abuse in relief and refugee camps and shelter homes set up for victims — as is already observed in Turkey and Syria following the recent earthquakes.
Capitalist pillaging of the land is intrinsically linked to the disproportionate violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and LBGTQ+ people worldwide. In North America, the movement around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is organizing resistance to the epidemic of gender-based violence linked to colonialism.
Attacking Oppression and Exploitation at the Roots With a Socialist Alternative
Struggling for equality and an ending of oppression necessitates a truly radical vision for change. It means struggling for the socialist alternative to capitalism. This means disempowering the parasitic capitalist class that is profiting from sexism and the destruction of the ecosystem. It means taking the wealth and resources out of private hands – and for democratic, public control and ownership of the banks and the major corporations, the key levers of the economy.
The means to do this is through the working class and the poor and oppressed masses struggling together to turn society on its head — through the masses participating in politics, organized everywhere including in workplaces, seizing control and ownership of wealth and resources. This would mean working people exerting democratic control in society in a way we can barely imagine given the lack of control over so much of our lives which we have under the capitalist system.
It would be a struggle against the capitalist state that protects the status quo, and via the movement of the masses from below an alternative to the same would have to be actively built and organized. It means democratic ownership and management of the economy by working people, all as part of a major plan according to the needs of people for housing, healthy food, and healthcare; and according to the needs of the environment including a radical and urgent shift wholesale to renewable energy.
This necessitates international struggle, international socialist feminist and working-class organization and solidarity, and unity in the struggle against oppression. The feminist movement that has emerged since the 2010s is an indication of the possibilities for movements to spread quickly and globally – with the idea of the feminist strike taking off in country after country, or with the resonance of #MeToo felt in some way in every country in the world.
The sort of socialist change that is required to really end oppression would necessitate a mass and revolutionary struggle. Women have an integral role to play in any such revolt of the working class and oppressed masses. Demands for bodily autonomy, freedom from violence, free and high-quality childcare and elder care, public housing, rent cuts, price controls, striking back against misogyny and transphobia, and racism in every single way it is reproduced by the capitalist state and corporations, etc., all must be inextricably part of that movement. That very reality means that in the process of building such a movement, as well as building major political forces organized around revolutionary and internationalist socialist ideas that can help foment and sharpen such a movement, all sorts of enduring sexist and oppressive attitudes and behaviors as they reflect themselves amongst the exploited majority will be challenged.
On the basis of that a society can be built that produces collectively for the needs of all, where the wealth produced can be used for society to take care responsibilities and domestic work in hand without the distorting impact of gender roles and the market, and in which each contributes to their capacities and receives according to their needs. Such a society would give everyone a real part to play in running society, recognizing the enormous capacities and knowledge of women in playing decisive roles in the discussion of what society needs. Such a society would also do away with national oppression and oppressive attitudes. Such a society would elevate caring for each other and the natural world in a way that is an anathema to, and an impossibility under, capitalism’s ruthless profit drive. Build the socialist feminist struggle internationally with us on International Women’s Day, March 8 2023, and beyond!
For an international socialist and anti-racist feminism!
- For an international struggle against war — working-class women of Ukraine, Russia, and the world unite against war and imperialism!
- For the expropriation of large fortunes — run the economy under the democratic control of the working class!
- For the end of social inequalities — only if we own the economy can we stop exploitation!
- For the breaking of patents and nationalization of the pharmaceutical industries — as a way out of the pandemic and other health problems linked to poverty!
- For full sexual and reproductive rights — sufficient resources for sex education, contraception, and access to free and safe abortions as well as the possibility to raise children without a life in poverty!
- For the end of violence against women and for the end of all forms of LGBTQ-phobia including transphobia — for an immediate increase in public spending and the development of policies to fight violence against women, including shelters and sexual violence services accessible to all. There should be a living wage and a guaranteed job for everyone to make an independent life possible.
- For a dignified life without violence and with full rights — while fighting for every grain of improvement in today’s capitalist world we are aware that to achieve this, we need the overthrow of capitalism!