Socialist Worker

How radical socialists began the tradition of International Women's Day

Issue No. 2343

The call for 8 March to be celebrated as International Women’s Day was made at a conference for socialist women in Copenhagen in 1910. It was originally called International Working Women’s Day.

German revolutionary socialist Clara Zetkin proposed that date in honour of the inspiring struggle of women workers in the needle trade sweatshops in New York.

These “shirtwaister” workers were often recent immigrants from all over the world. They worked in atrocious conditions and lived in overcrowded tenements.

The workers led a militant demonstration through the heart of Manhattan on 8 March in 1908. They called for the vote for women and trade union rights. It opened up two years of magnificent struggles.

Suffrage

Zetkin wanted the day to be like a May Day for working women and socialists all over the world.

The resolution passed in 1910 read, “In agreement with the class conscious, political and trade union organisations of the proletariat of their respective countries, the socialist women of all countries will hold each year a women’s day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage.”

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911.

Every year until the outbreak of the First World War 8 March saw women out in the streets in all the major cities in Europe.

But the most important one of the 20th century was celebrated in Russia in 1917. Demonstrations on the day were the spark that ignited the Russian Revolution.


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