Saturday, March 8, 2014

Its Socialist and Labor Roots are Showing—International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day.  Rooted in the international push for women’s suffrage and in the labor/socialist movements, the first celebration was held in 1911 on March 19, a date selected to commemorate the 1848 uprisings when the King of Prussia was compelled to acknowledge the power of the people. 
The occasion and date were suggested by Clara Zetkin of the German Social Democratic Party at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910.  Delegates from 17 countries representing trade unions, socialist parties, and working women’s clubs unanimously approved the call.  News of the event, spread by the socialist press and word of mouth helped make the first observance successful in much of Europe with packed meetings, parades, and at least one tense standoff with police.
In 1913, International Women’s Day was moved to its present date of March 8.  Despite the eruption of the First World War, which damaged many international relationships, Women’s Day grew year by year. 
In the wake of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, American unions, the Socialist Party, and latter the Communist Party spread the celebration through the next two decades, but because of its radical association, the Suffrage movement and middle class women’s organizations shunned it. 
It faded in this country until it was taken up by new generation of feminists in ‘60’s, shorn of its original working class basis. 
In 1975 the United Nations officially began promoting and sponsoring International Women’s Day.  Each year the U.N. designates a theme for the celebration, although individual countries and groups are allowed, even encouraged, to develop their own themes based on their own experiences and challenges.  The theme for 2014 is “Inspiring Change encouraging advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way and challenging the status quo for women’s equality and vigilance inspiring positive change.”
Today, it is observed as a national holiday in many nations, although disguised as a version of Mothers’ Day in some conservative societies.  Among the hold outs in designating an official status are many Islamic nations like Iran where attempts to mark the Day with public demonstrations in 2005 were met by police attacks and the jailing of many leading women militants. 
And, of course, in the United States a deep fear and resentment by conservatives of any International celebration, particularly one with Socialist roots and promoted by the United Nations, prevents any official participation, even when it was—or especially because it was—smiled upon and acknowledged by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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