International Women’s Day Statement – March 8th 2004
Below is an International Women’s Day statement by Carmel Gates, Socialist Party member, Time For Change activist and NIPSA President.
It was in the USA that the first International Women’s Day protest demonstration happened, organised in 1857 by female textile workers in New York. That protest was part of an ongoing struggle for pay, trade union rights and equality for women workers.
Since 1857 it is on 8 March every year that, across the world, activists in the workers’ movement remember all women who have fought to transform their conditions and the class-ridden society around them.
Not only do we remember those who have given so much to the struggle, we recommit to completing the work that they have begun.
INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY
International Women’s Day is a day of celebration, commemoration and recommitment.
Those of us who have the privilege to stand in the traditions of activists who went before remember with pride the struggles fought by all workers, female and male. We remember those who gave so much, the well-known fighters and the anonymous hundreds of thousands who here and across the world have given us a history and tradition to be proud of. We take this opportunity to restate our commitment to continuing their struggle to build a new society based on an end to inequality and oppression.
THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY
The struggle for equality has been a difficult one. Inequality is rooted in the social and economic fabric of society. It is in the economic interests of employers and their governments to maintain inequality and women have learned long ago that not one step forward can be taken without a fight against that interest.
Every fundamental improvement for women, the vote, equal pay legislation, maternity leave, childcare etc had to be fought for. We do not expect or beg for concessions or reforms we demand them and we clearly say that any concession won today will be the launching pad for new struggles tomorrow until we have won our equal rights.
A great trick has been played on workers. They have been fooled into thinking that people of another race, creed or sex are a threat and therefore play a role in maintaining the status quo. By playing into the hands of employers not only are they making it easier to continue their own exploitation they a collaborating in the double exploitation of others.
It has suited employers and governments to exploit division between women and men. With cold, brutal logic they have reinforced this division at every level of society, their aim, divide and rule. Where they succeed the economic facts of life are stark. Women can expect to earn less in their jobs and all workers can expect to have a lower living standard.
A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN HER UNION
Trade unions must put more energy into fighting for women’s rights as workers. NIPSA must fight any discrimination against women and protect women workers from sexual harassment at work. We must ensure that the struggle against inequality becomes central to NIPSA policy and not just a token issue to be raised in speeches at annual conference.
Within NIPSA a struggle is ongoing on the issue of a woman’s role in the union. The old conservative leadership raises the demand for more positions for women at the top of the union but ignores the failure of the union to systematically fight on the day to day issues that affect the thousands of women who make up the majority of NIPSA members. We must fight to change the internal structures of the union to allow women to play a full role but we must also ensure that the union fights on the issues that will make the union relevant to the day-to-day lives of women members.
I strongly believe that Time For Change is the best vehicle to begin such a transformation in the union and that NIPSA is the best vehicle to begin the fight for real equality in the work place.
A women’s place is in the struggle for a fighting democratic union.”