Originally published by Breaking the Chains magazine
The history of International Women’s Day teaches us that when we fight, we win. Working class, socialist women around the world have paved the way in struggle and have been at the forefront of the movements for workers’ rights, social provisioning and ending imperialist wars.
A History of Connecting Domestic and International Struggles
On International Women’s Day in 1917, tens of thousands of women in Russia struck for “bread and peace” in response to the death of over two million Russian soldiers at war. As Zetkin declared, “The workers have nothing to gain from this war, but they stand to lose everything that is dear to them.”
Alongside demands to end the war, women strikers protested food shortages and poor living conditions. Kollontai, Zetkin and their comrades understood that the economic conditions of working women are inseparable from the ruling class’s voracious drive to war. It is workers who die in rich men’s wars abroad and working women who shoulder the burdens of the economic war at home. It was the tens of thousands of Russian women striking that sparked the revolutionary foment which ultimately led to the overthrow of the tsar, proving that only an independent people’s movement can defeat an oppressive state and lead the way to a new society.
Today, working class and oppressed women in the United States can draw inspiration from socialist, anti-imperialist women around the world and across more than a century of struggle. As socialist women living in the center of imperialist aggression, we have a special responsibility to speak out against the death and destruction unleashed in our names, to show the connections between the U.S. war drive and the dire social problems that go unaddressed in our communities and to fight alongside working women of the world for an end to capitalist exploitation, patriarchal violence and endless imperialist wars.
The Mounting Crises Working Women Face
Here in the United States, women workers make the economy work, but the economy doesn’t work for us. We are in the middle of a spike in inflation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and capitalists taking advantage of these crises to gouge prices even further. Inflation–though commonly blamed on things like “the supply chain,” higher wages and government spending–is actually dictated by the capitalists. More than half of inflation dollars line corporate pockets, whereas only 8% goes to increased wages.
Working people are struggling to keep up with rents and to put food on the table. Working women are some of the hardest hit, often in ways different from men. Women, particularly specially oppressed women, are much more likely to be trapped in violent and abusive homes or exploitative jobs due to the lack of financial means to break free. Women are also bearing the brunt of the 10.1% increase in the cost of food and the ongoing childcare crisis. In 2020, women were forced out of the workforce at twice the rate of men to care for their children. And 29% of childcare workers, who are predominantly women, faced food insecurity because wages are so low.
Working women around the country are facing a child care crisis, expansion of child labor exploitation, the evisceration of reproductive rights and rampant inflation. Despite all this, rather than meeting the needs of working women in our own country, the U.S. government has sent $100 billion for the war in Ukraine, where the U.S. war destroys women’s lives abroad. Even during an inflation crisis, the U.S. government finds no shortage of funds for the war machine, with annual budgets approaching $1 trillion annually. The U.S. spends more on its military each year than the next 9 countries combined. As working people suffer from rising prices, the social programs that might have once offered some small relief are being slashed. The U.S. government claims there’s no money to continue the universal free lunch program, the childcare tax credit or rental assistance programs it established at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the military budget is ever increasing.
The economic hardships women face today are exacerbated by the attacks on basic democratic rights. The Supreme Court declared war on abortion rights with the Dobbs decision, which has paved the way for further attacks. A conservative federal judge is poised to outlaw the abortion pill nationwide, after many states have enacted bans on abortions in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. Trans rights are also under attack, with the passage of a bill by the Oklahoma House of Representatives to ban gender transitioning care for minors. Voting rights, environmental protections, workers’ rights and more are all on the chopping block, as far-right sectors of the ruling class attempt to reverse the achievements accumulated by working class and oppressed people since the mid-1930s.
A Broad Women’s Movement Propels Change
The U.S capitalist state will only do more if a strong people’s movement demands it and organizes for it. We know the U.S government can and will act when it’s pressured from below. Though it was the bare minimum, we saw peoples’ needs addressed to a higher extent during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. ruling class did not expand social and economic programs for working class and poor people out of the goodness of their hearts. We fought to cancel the rents. We fought for student loan forgiveness. We fought for paid sick leave and for safer working conditions. We fought for our students, our patients and our coworkers. And we joined or started unions in droves.
All of the gains made by working people have been through struggle. Over more than 100 years of IWD history demonstrates this to be true. This International Women’s Day, in solidarity with working women around the globe, we struggle again for bread and peace in the United States and all over the world!
Join us in this call! We encourage all women of conscience who consider themselves fighters of justice to join over 200 organizations in Washington D.C. for the National March on Washington: Fund People’s Needs, Not the War Machine on March 18th at 1p.m.