Copenhagen is now associated with a dirty deal on climate change concocted by big business and compliant governments. But 100 years ago, in 1910, Copenhagen hosted a different gathering with a very different outcome. In the city’s Folkets hus (The People’s House), the second International Conference of Socialist Women – 100 feminists from 17 countries – launched International Women’s Day.
Early capitalism was driving working class women
into the textile and manufacturing industries and domestic services where the wages and conditions were so wretched, they organised. Throughout Europe, Great Britain and the United States, their struggle culminated in industrial strikes and a campaign for the vote. On March 8, 1908, women workers in New York City’s needle trades demonstrated for voting rights and the building of a powerful needle trades union. This started Women’s Day and inspired Clara Zetkin, leader of the German Socialist Party, to propose at Copenhagen that March 8 become an annual International Women’s Day – a day of solidarity dedicated to fighting for equal rights for all women throughout the world.
The first IWD took place the next year, 1911
. More than a million people marched in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. Russian revolutionary feminist, Alexandra Kollontai, helped organise the event in Germany. She described the day: “Germany and Austria…was one seething trembling sea of women. Meetings were organised everywhere…in the small towns and even in the villages, halls were packed so full that they had to ask [male] workers to give up their places for the women.” Six years later, in the depths of World War I, IWD in Russia shattered the status quo. With two million Russian soldiers dead and starvation gripping the country, women textile workers in Petrograd chose IWD to strike for “bread and peace” and called on all workers to join them. They did, and four days later, the Czarist autocracy fell. In November that year, the world’s first socialist revolution was victorious.
A century later, war, poverty, climatic catastrophes, sickness and homelessness are a way of life – all at the hands of capitalists struggling to hold onto power. Women are still corralled into poorly paid, dead-end jobs and expected to keep together the bodies and souls of our families and communities.
Women today are carrying on the fight of our foremothers for liberation
. From Iran and Palestine to the Northern Territory and Queensland, we are standing up to autocrats, warmongers, genocidal land grabbers, homophobes, anti-abortion misogynists and bosses. Like our forebears, we want full equality, independence and respect. And, like them, we won’t give up. We have an advantage they didn’t have: capitalism is no longer in its ascendency. It’s weak and it’s dying. In the spirit of our Russian sisters, let’s knock it over and re-make the world into one based on equality that’s safe, sustainable, cooperative and shares the plenty that workers produce.