FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

On March 8, 1997 workers at the University of Vermont were at the beginning of a struggle to unionize.  The units of the workforce that were prime for unionization (and most likely to vote in a union) were those units that maintained the buildings and grounds of the university.  These units were composed of a large number of new immigrants and women.  The union we were working with was the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America or UE.  This union is one of the few US unions that refused to kick leftists out of the union in 1948 and is therefore not part of the AFL-CIO.  We held a rally that day at the university.  The reason we chose March 8th was because of its importance as International Women’s Day.  It was the first that many of the workers had ever heard of this day.

Unknown to most US residents, International Women’s Day has its roots in a strike by female garment workers in New York City. On March 8, 1857 these textile workers marched and picketed to demand improved working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for women. The police attacked the march.  On March 8, 1908, women textile workers marched again, recalling the 1857 march and demanding the vote, an end to sweatshops and child labor. The police attacked this march, also.  Two years later, revolutionary Clara Zetkin urged the international socialist Second International to adopt March 8th as a holiday honoring the struggle for women’s rights.  The motion passed.

Besides the fact that it celebrates women in a society primarily controlled by men, it is the socialist roots of International Women’s Day that have discouraged its celebration in the United States.  After all, this is a nation that created Labor Day to prevent workers from celebrating May Day, even though that workers’ holiday was established in the United States in the late nineteenth century.  The insistent capitalism of America’s ruling classes will not so much as even acknowledge a holiday determined by the workers that celebrates something besides the domination of Wall Street and Washington.  Nonetheless, both holidays continue to be celebrated in the United States, albeit not on the same scale as elsewhere.

The first that many US residents alive today became aware of International Women’s Day was in the late 1960s and 1970s.  Thanks to the leftist foundations of the feminist movement that developed in those years, International Women’s Day was retrieved from the dustbin of history where it had been tossed.  Since those days, it has been consistently celebrated by most women’s groups, much of organized labor, and even given a mention by some elected officials.

However, like so many other movements with their current roots in the struggles of the 1960s, the women’s rights movement is much more than a single holiday.  Just like people did not protest, go to jail, fight the police and even die so that school children can celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday every January, neither have women and their allies fought merely to wear a ribbon or attend a celebration of International Women’s Day every March 8th.

Women’s rights have always been human rights.  The very fact that this day has its roots in a labor struggle proves that.  Women and girls comprise much of the workforce, the student population and, in some nations, the military.  In today’s world, where the wars and economic policies of neoliberalism force millions of people to leave their homes and countries, it is the women that make up the bulk of those refugees.  Given that females continue to be the primary caregivers of the human species, it becomes even clearer that their struggle is synonymous with the struggle for human rights.  Yet, every day the news is full of attacks on those rights.

In the United States, the right wing and many Christian churches are conspiring to deny easy and affordable access to an essential element of health care-birth control.   At the same time, budget cuts on both state and federal levels are targeting low-income children and women, leaving many of them without essential needs like food, shelter and healthcare.  These budget cuts are the direct result of polices that cut taxes for the rich, fund the war industry at ever greater cost, and attach more and more riders on the tax burdens of working people.  Meanwhile, unemployment maintains a relatively constant level of several million capable workers and real wages continue to sink.  In other countries in the western neoliberal zone, like Greece, Spain and Portugal, the situation is even direr.

Meanwhile, most women in countries that are part of what economists call the developing world are in even worse straits.  Many of them have never lived in anything other than a refugee camp.  Education is something not even considered for their male children much less for themselves or the girls in their families.   Tribal and ethnic wars that are exacerbated by the neoliberal economic crisis bring death and illness without warning.  Other wars brought on by Washington and Wall Street’s perceived need for hegemony create their own havoc and death.  Religious fanatics whose similarities with their kinsmen in the United States and the Vatican outweigh their differences do their best to insure women remain subjugated to their medieval belief systems.

The list continues.  It is apparent that the need for a women’s movement as represented by those textile workers that took to the streets of Manhattan over a hundred years ago exists as much as it ever did.  From Manhattan to Mumbai; from Beijing to Bagdad, the struggle for women’s rights and lives is the struggle for human rights and lives.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

August 20, 2018
Carl Boggs
The Road to Disaster?
James Munson
“Not With a Bomb, But a Whimper” … Then More Bombs.
Jonathan Cook
Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail –By Design
Robert Fisk
A US Trade War With Turkey Over a Pastor? Don’t Believe It
Howard Lisnoff
The Mass Media’s Outrage at Trump: Why the Surprise?
Faisal Khan
A British Muslim’s Perspective on the Burkha Debate
Andrew Kahn
Inhumanity Above the Clouds
Dan Glazebrook
Trump’s New Financial War on the Global South
George Wuerthner
Why the Gallatin Range Deserves Protection
Ted Rall
Is Trump a Brand-New Weird Existential Threat? No.
Sheldon Richman
For the Love of Reason
Susie Day
Why Pundits Scare Me
Dean Baker
Does France’s Economy Need to Be Renewed?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Mighty Voice for Peace Has Gone Silent: Uri Avnery, 1923-2018
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail