On the 8th of March, all across Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England, members of the IWW were involved in actions related to International Women’s Day and the Women’s Strike.
The history of Women’s industrial action is long and proud, however, the well known ‘second shift’ of caring labour and social reproduction – traditionally roles for which women are denied a wage – finds difficulty with being properly recognised and meets with resistance to progressive change. The IWW recongises that unpaid labour is a cornerstone of the capitalist system of oppression which reinforces, through patriarchal hierarchies, the rampant inequalities in our societies:
“A feminist movement which doesn’t recognise that liberation is not possible under capitalism only increases the gap in income, safety and freedom between the most and least privileged women. It erodes solidarity between women, and reduces our collective power.” (you can read the full statement here)
On International Women’s Day, our members joined and organised a vast array of events aimed chiefly at building solidarity and raising class consciousness. From large public events to small personal actions supporting social reproduction, the enthusiasm and dedication shown by our members will be built upon each and every day to build true class solidarity through a living philosophy of direct action.
Members of the Clydeside Branch of the IWW were involved in a number of events on the day including:
- The court action in support of a Fellow Worker unjustly arrested at the Pride March last summer (read more here), and for the defence of civil liberties in general
- The unveiling of a statue of Mary Barbour, one of the leaders of the Glasgow rent strike of 1915– still vivid in the minds of the people of Govan, where Mary Barbour lived and where the statue has been placed
- A rally, initiated by the Equality officers of Clydeside branch, at the statue of La Pasionaria, which included singing, a new International Women’s Day banner (designed by one of their branch members!), IWW flags, placards showing the links between women’s rights, workers rights, and human rights, and culminating in a Walk of Pride along a busy pedestrian way to George Square to join the final event
- A demo for the replacement of onerous abortion legislation in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland with laws acknowledging abortion as a woman’s right (you can read more on that here).
West Midlands Branch
Members of the West Midlands branch based in Birmingham were heavily involved in the Brum Women’s Strike assembly, helping to organise many events in the lead up to March 8th. We in the IWW worked alongside comrades from many other groups, collectives and unions to lay the foundations of a powerful feminist movement in the region, always conscious and learning from of the history of Women-led social movements over the past 100 years both locally and internationally.
On March 8th, there was two community breakfast events held at Artifact Cafe in Stirchly and East Side Gallery in the City Centre with breakfast provided with thanks to worker’s co-ops Loaf. There were various children’s activities such as making placards, badges and banners and playing games. This was part of our strategy to make sure there was free food and children’s activities at all of the day’s events. We would like to thanks our male comrades for stepping up for this. There were a few workplaces on strike during the day including Aston University via the UCU strike, Grand Union gallery, Eastside Projects gallery, the GAP arts project and Autonomic Co-operative.
At midday there was a rally and march through the city centre attended by around 200 people. There were speakers from UCU Aston, GMB B49 Education Branch, Feminist Action Birmingham, Sisters Uncut, Save Birmingham Nurseries! campaign, Feminists Work for Change, women from the Kurdish feminist movement and several other individuals talking about topics like reproductive rights and migrants struggles.
The mood was joyous. As we marched down New Street, many other people in the streets cheered us on and danced to tunes from our soundsystem. We were applauded by other groups autonomously demonstrating in the streets from Women Against State Pension Inequality and some people calling for end to the war in Syria. We finished up back in Pigeon Park and heard the reminder of the speeches, ate some soup and danced to some Rihanna (thanks to London sisters for that playlist).
In the evening, there was an event at The Edge in Digbeth. Here we discussed feminist issues in our city. it is clear that policies of austerity and of an attack on the very fabric of our collective society as a whole through decades on neo-liberalism has been led to incredibly traumatic experiences for women and non-binary people and that before we can organise and tackle systemic issue we must have time to heal and share.
We then heard music and spoken word thanks to some amazing local performers. Of special note (though you were all brilliant) were Sayyara Syed from Writers Without Borders, who performed beautiful poetry about the women in our lives and the struggles of migration and the Birmingham Clarion Singers, a radical socialist choir who performed songs that we felt connected us to the history of radical struggles. We also read a statement from the 120 women and men currently on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. These people should be here with us and are locked up for no reason – this is a grotesque injustice that we must organise against.
Throughout the events IWW members handed out a leaflet about organising in your workplace, made connections with other unions in the area and chatted to people about joining the union. We would like to see more workplaces choosing to go on strike on March 8th. We know this is possible, as over 5 million women walked out in Spain on the day and we have seen massive strikes in Poland and South America. West Midlands IWW looks forward to participating in building similar movements in the UK. This is only the beginning!
Irish members of the IWW attended a march in Dublin alongside other pro-choice groups seeking to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish constitution which restricts any government in power from introducing legislation which would allow abortion across Ireland except in exceptional circumstances. The IWW believes that:
“Abortion Rights are Workers’ Rights and the IWW will not stand back and allow the ruling and employing classes to continue to divide our workplaces and communities. As an organisation, and as a diverse group of individuals, IWW members in Ireland will be campaigning in solidarity with the Abortion Rights Campaign in the coming months to Repeal the 8th.”
You can read more on the full statement here.
On the same day, members of IWW Ireland held a solidarity action for the fellow IWW member from Clydeside Branch who was in court on the 8th March in Glasgow for attempting to prevent the harassment and unjust arrest of a 16 year old by the police during last years Glasgow Pride march. You can read more about that here.
Fellow workers in Bristol held an open event at Hydra Bookshop in Bristol about Women in the IWW. The aim of the event was to raise awareness and celebrate the place of Women at the forefront of our movement and within the radical movement in general. The event was well attended by both branch members and the public, with people enjoying learning more about the history of women in the IWW and the great work they are doing today to continue that proud tradition!
Below is an extract from Bristol IWW’s event – the full write-up, including some amazing videos can be read here
“From its beginnings, the IWW has always distinguished itself in its resolution to be the One Big Union for ALL workers, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age…this, at a time where mainstream unions in the US were only open for membership to white men with American nationality.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn once famously remarked, when responding to criticism of the IWW for using women as shields: “The IWW has been accused of putting the women in the front; the truth is: the IWW does not keep them at the back – and they go to the front.”
But what now, is the IWW still relevant to today’s work struggles? Do we still have space in the IWW for womyn? And do they still go to the front? The answer to all those questions is: YES. We may never be dubbed “the most dangerous womyn in the country” or “more dangerous than 1,000 rioters” but we can still – and MUST – go to the front of our own lives!”
Rallies and demos on International Women’s Day are often focused on single-issues which, although important, can feel quite isolated from a wider movement. Arriving at Russell Square at 1pm on International Women’s Day for the Women’s Strike assembly, it was clear that something different was happening. Amongst banners and placards from campaigns for abortion rights, migrant justice, trans rights and sex work decriminalisation, were union banners. UCU and IWGB members were out in force, having spent their mornings on picket lines around London. UVW were there before their pickets in central London that afternoon. It was clear that people understood all these struggles as being connected, and wanted to fight collectively.
Early that morning a group of trans people and their allies had picketed the Department for Health, demanding a democratic approach to trans health care and highlighting current failings in the provision of services. One person was arrested and spent the day in Charing Cross police station, before being released pending charges.
At 3pm a group of us paid a visit to Christian Medical Fellowship, an anti-choice organisation who also support conversion therapy for queer and trans people. We made a lot of noise, with the aim of ensuring their neighbours and passers-by know exactly what they get up to. With the aid of our black umbrellas, a megaphone and some DIY percussion, we got our point across and were joined by a worker from a nearby office. Other people joined workplace pickets with UVW, and demonstrations outside the Home Office in solidarity with the women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
In the evening, we met on Dean Street for the Strike 4 Decrim rally and march through Soho. Sex workers had been integral to the organisation of the Women’s Strike in London – showing solidarity with their struggle for the decriminalisation of their work felt like the perfect way to thank them. Hundreds of us walked, cycled and danced down Soho streets until we reached Picturehouse Central, where we joined the picket line with striking cinema workers. Several people who had crossed the picket line to see a film had a serious shock when they had to fight their way back out through a crowd of jubilant feminists.
The day ended on a high, with hundreds of us dancing and embracing outside the cinema. It felt as though this was the start of something, that the day represented a shift in the focus of feminist struggle. There is talk of a 3-day strike next year. Let’s make sure there are plenty of Wobs of all genders getting involved and lending our perspective as radical workplace organisers.