Ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March, Kezia Davies of Liverpool Sisterhood explores the origins of the celebration and contemporary campaigning continued here in Liverpool by Women’s Strike Assembly.
You’ve probably heard of INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, but did you know that its origins go as far back as 1911? It was first observed by over a million people in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark, following a decision at the previous year’s International Socialist Women’s Conference. In 1914, the date was officially set as March 8th, and it’s been celebrated by an ever-growing number of countries since. Notably, this was also the year that IWD was first observed in the UK, with a march in London from Bow to Trafalgar Square, resulting in the arrest of the famous suffragette, Sylvia Pankhurst.
On March 8th 1917, a group of Russian women working in the textile industry went on strike, prompting the February Revolution, which in turn led to the Russian Revolution. So, essentially, women brought about the end of the Russian monarchy, which is pretty sick. But why is this never taught in schools?
After this, International Women’s Day was predominantly celebrated in Communist countries as a holiday, until the 1970s when it was taken up by Western second wave feminists. While the marches, strikes, and other events they organised were successful, over the years International Women’s Day has become increasingly corporate, and, given the day’s socialist origins, it’s pretty bleak to see that one of this year’s official IWD sponsors is Amazon. Because, you know, Jeff Bezos is clearly so dedicated to the feminist struggle.
Over the last few years, groups have started emerging in response to this scary new brand of corporate feminism to try and take IWD back to its socialist roots. Most notably in the UK, the Women’s Strike Assembly has developed as a nationally coordinated network of protests and strikes happening across the country, in line with the international women’s movement. This year, there will be actions in Liverpool, London, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, and Edinburgh, not to mention globally. This day is an opportunity for us to transgress borders and unite against issues faced by all women, from femicide in Latin America, to reproductive rights in Poland. The Women’s Strike is antifascist, anticapitalist, antiracist, against transphobia and homophobia, for sex workers, migrants, prison abolition, climate justice, and care work. It is a resistance beyond borders. It is not a traditional strike in that it is not a refusal of just paid work, but of all forms of labour. This includes the unpaid care work that is so often undertaken by women, from housework to childcare. To quote the iconic Silvia Federici as part of the 1970s campaign Wages For Housework “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.” In the London group, this is being taken beyond theory and into practice, with men organising to provide childcare on the day (and at their meetings) so that mothers are able to attend the strike and organise. They will also prepare a meal for all the attendees of the march, taking on the care work and allowing womxn to be the voice of the strike, something that is so often the other way round in strike action.
Specifically in Liverpool, we are focusing on not just the wider global issues, but the local ones that affect the women of this city. Whether that’s from the amazing work of the Save Liverpool Women’s Hospital campaign, to the fact that the women of Liverpool face the harshest cuts under Tory austerity than any other group. This is down to women facing worse cuts than men in general, and Liverpool facing the highest cuts per person out of anywhere in the country. But we’re not a city that is known for backing down, from our consistent overwhelming rejection of the Tories to our ongoing 30 year boycott of The S*n. We’re getting loud and we’re shouting about it, and we encourage you to get down to our march and do the same.
We are hosting a march from the bombed out church to Derby Square with a wide range of inspirational speakers, from MPs to grass roots organisers. Bring yourselves, your placards, and your loudest voice (and maybe a percussion instrument or two). We are also throwing an afterparty at Blackburne House that is free to attend and open to everyone. We are using this as an opportunity to promote some of Liverpool’s best femxle artists (16 of them to be precise!) from punks to poets and dancers to DJs. Check out our social media to see details of all of our performers. On top of this, we will also have a feminist fair with stalls from local makers and activist groups for you to get involved with, a raffle with prizes from an amazing selection of local businesses (did someone say £50 Down the Hatch voucher?), a wide selection of food and drink, a kid’s area, and a quiet zone. We’ve really got something for everyone so get yourself down even if it’s just for an hour or two.
Words: Kezia Davies