Friday, March 06, 2009

Women's struggle, Workers' struggle, Worldwide struggle
to pit closures in Britain was fight for whole communities. Women did not just support their menfolk in strike but came to the fore, as in camp at Parkside colliery, near Newton Le Willows, Lancashire.
GRUNWICK strike (left) involved mainly Asian women, drew support from other trades unionists.
WOMEN in IRAN (below, on May Day march) are fighting for their rights both as workers and as women.

March 8 is International Women's Day, and though the importance attached to it varies, it has a special significance in linking the struggles of women for their own rights and as part of the working class. It was as far back as March 8, 1857 that women garment workers in New York came out on strike, along with male colleagues. Their demonstration for better pay and conditions was attacked by police but they persevcred and formed a union. So arguably the Women's Day is older than May Day as a labour day(also inspired by an American struggle, in Chicago), though it took longer to gain recognition.

On March 8, 1908, some 15,000 took part in a women garment workers' strike in New York, and then at the Socialist International's congress two years later in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed that an international women's day be adopted. Its celebration in 1917 in St.Petersburg, by women demanding "Bread and Peace", was the start of the Russian Revolution. After the October Revolution, Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin that Women's Day should be an official holiday, but it was not until 1965 that the Soviet Union adopted it as a holiday.

International Women's Day this year comes amid some important anniversaries. Yesterday marked 25 years since miners at Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire walked out fearing their pit was marked for closure, and began a national strike that became one of the longest and bitterest struggles in British workers' history. The miners' strike saw Margaret Thatcher's government unleashing brutal, well-equipped riot police against the miners, and secret state and media orchestrated 'dirty tricks' against their leaders. The women of the mining communities, moved on from taking responsibility for food and welfare, to a political campaign which continued after the strike, to resist the pit closure programme and destruction of their communities, and alert the rest of the country to what was happening.

Had the official labour movement given them the backing they deserved we might not be facing some of the problems we have today, with a badly weakened trade union movement and a 'New Labour' government that has continued Thatcher's policies at home and abroad, and now presides over yet another capitalist crisis. But hopefully, as we remember and honour those who fought before, we can summon up the energies and awareness that we need to fight in today's crisis.

Last month saw the thirtieth anniversary of an even bigger upheaval, when the Iranian people, particularly workers like those in the vital oil industry, brought down the Shah's regime, and confounded Western intelligence services, in February 1979; but then lacking political leadership, had the revolution snatched from their hands, and a new type of oppression installed, cloaking capitalist exploitation in religious garb.

Even so, on March 8, 1979, the women who were not prepared to wait patiently until things changed for the better, or the clergy was enlightened, came out against Ayatollah Khomeini's proposal to make Islamic Hijab compulsory. Some on the left, in Iran and abroad, thought the women should have relegated their demands and aspirations to the back, for the supposed good of the 'revolution'. But as a result of the women's protests, Khomeini backed off, and announced "Hijab is not mandatory".

Only later, when the regime had consolidated its power and forces of repression, did it enforce hijab. The position of Iranian women has undergone change and contradictions.Capitalism needed them to work in industry and education, particularly when the war with Iraq strained manpower, but they have been the first laid off and worst affected by cuts and privatisation. With neo-liberal economics have gone the most illiberal restrictions and enforcement of strict Islamic dress code, punishment of young girls for the slightest supposed infringement, and in the more backward country areas at least, reports of stonings and honour killings.

International Women's Day was commemorated by some left-wing women in Iran as far back as 1915, in Resht. But on March 4, 2007, police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a women's day rally. Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. Two activists were held for over a fortnight and only released after staging a hunger strike.

A new generation has come out fighting from the schools and universities, and the aspirations and taste of freedom in 1979 are not forgotten. Aware of what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranian women cannot entrust their liberation to imperialist intervention., and must turn to the socialist and workers movement. This movement has learned from experience that at best it fights with one arm tied behind its back unless it brings to the fore the youth and women, their needs and hopes. The same is true of any people resisting imperialism.

As International Women's Day approaches, let us remember that it is international. We have all seen the kind of bourgeois opportunist whose "feminism" only serves to advance her own position in an exploiting society. But no labour, peace or women's movement here can claim to be for equality if it neglects solidarity with sisters and brothers overseas, or expects them to put up with anything less than the rights we would demand for ourselves.

Women and the Iranian Revolution, article by Azar Sheibani

Article by Yassamine Mather on Iranian women' struggle:

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