March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), a celebration of women that takes place in countries on every continent. It has a deep socialist heritage, one connected to the cause for women’s suffrage, women’s right to vote, and importantly, for working women’s right to fair wages and safe working conditions. Today, it is recognized by the United Nations as part of a global call to promote gender equality as a fundamental human right.
Watch: International Women’s Day 2017 (UN Women)
It may be that a strike by female textile workers in New York on March 8, 1857 may be inspiration for this historic day. By 1909, women’s suffrage movements were taking place in many parts of the world, and people began to understand that the conditions of working class women were central to voting rights. The same year, socialist women in the New York City’s Lower East Side marched to commemorated the women who had demonstrated for their right to vote and to end sweatshops and child labor. Women marched with red flags.
After the Second World War, International Women’s Day celebrations lapsed, partly because of its association with socialism. But in 1967 when “red diaper babies,” or women who had heard of International Women’s Day from their parents, commemorated the day with a screening of “Salt of the Earth” (date), International Women’s Day was reborn. In 1971, women in Boston and in New York marked the day with sit ins. Newly emerging women’s studies programs facilitated the spread of history about International Women’s Day—a story of women’s civil and labor rights—and this new consciousness helped establish Women’s History Week in 1981, and by 1987, Women’s History Month.
Temma Kaplan, “On the Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day” Feminist Studies 11 (1) 163-71.