Once again this year, Socialist Fightback Students chapters enthusiastically celebrated International Women’s Day in several cities and drew the link between the fight for women’s emancipation and the need to overthrow capitalism. We held four public events attended by close to 140 people in three cities, where we discussed the origins of women’s oppression, the socialist roots of International Women’s Day, and the most effective way to fight oppression and achieve liberation. The success of our various events shows how more and more students, workers and youth are interested in class struggle methods to fight women’s oppression in society.
On the Saturday before International Women’s Day, thousands of people gathered in Toronto for a rally and march. Fightback had a contingent of 45 comrades, with our own banners, placards and slogans. We marched under the slogans, “Woman free from man, both free from capital;” “The capitalists profit from women’s oppression;” and “Strike to: End unequal pay! End workplace harassment! Win universal child care!” Our chants targeting the Trudeau and Wynne Liberals for their hypocritical use of feminist language met with an enthusiastic response from rally-goers. By the end of the day, comrades had sold 160 papers, which featured the IMT statement on the struggle against women’s oppression, demonstrating both the enthusiasm and drive of comrades as well as the thirst for Marxist ideas in the movement. The march ended at City Hall, joining a vigil that was being held for Tina Fontaine, underscoring the interconnectedness of the struggles of the oppressed in capitalist society.
On International Women’s Day, Toronto comrades held a packed event on Socialism and Women’s Emancipation. Fightback full-time organizer Jessica Cassell spoke to a room of 60 people on the origins of women’s oppression, rooted in class society and private property.
She explained how capitalism continues to benefit from misogyny by dividing the working class and preventing them from uniting against their common oppressor, paying women workers less and driving down the wages of all workers, as well as from the unpaid reproductive labour women perform in the home. Ultimately, it is only by eliminating the material basis for inequality and exploitation through socialism that women and all oppressed people can be emancipated. One way that socialism can begin to eradicate the oppression of women is by providing universal child care, genuine pay equity and socializing domestic work through public cleaning and laundry services as well as public eating halls. A lively discussion followed, covering topics from the limitations of corporate and liberal feminism, to the gains made for women from the Russian Revolution, to Rojava. Comrades from York University, who had spent the day with striking CUPE 3903 workers on the picket line, gave a practical example of how the fight against women’s oppression can be linked to the labour struggle, as the union is demanding more child care spaces, as well as support for survivors of sexual assault on campus.
On Thursday March 8, activists of Fightback and La Riposte Socialiste participated successfully in International Women’s Day rallies in Montreal. Two demonstrations were organized for the day and our comrades were present at both. One was organized by CUTE (Coalition Unitaire pour le Travail Étudiant) who linked the phenomenon of unpaid internships with the struggle against the oppression of women. Around 300 people came out to denounce the inequalities that exist between men and women, and sexual violence that women experience in the workplace. We were there to make an explicit link between the oppression of women and the whole capitalist system. After a series of speeches, the demonstration marched to meet with the second demo organized by the collective Women of Diverse Origins, which was attended by reportedly 800 people. The comrades were able to sell a few dozen copies of Fightback and La Riposte socialiste before having to leave the demo early to go to the event we were organizing nearby at the Université de Montréal.
The topic of this event was the socialist origins of International Working Women’s Day. Despite being held during reading week, the event still had over 30 in attendance. Comrade Hélène explained that the struggle for women’s emancipation has always occupied a central place in the international socialist movement. In fact, International Working Women’s Day was founded by the socialist Second International in 1910 and 7 years later it was striking women workers on International Women’s Day in 1917 that sparked the Russian Revolution! The presentation was followed by a lively discussion, where attendees brought up many interesting points. Some people brought up the flagrant wage gap that is present in so many fields, the difference between bourgeois feminism and the Marxist conception of women’s emancipation, and how most gains made in terms of women’s rights were won using working class methods such as strikes and mass demonstrations. The massive advancements for women’s rights after the Russian revolution were also discussed. After the event, a number of the attendees continued the discussion at the pub.
At the same time at Concordia University, we held an event on the same topic. Around 20 people attended the event and more than half participated in the discussion. The event attracted a few new faces in addition to people who have attended events of ours in the past. In the discussion, a variety of topics were touched upon like intersectionality, the LQBTQ question and the role of religion. Most people came with us to a local bar after the event to continue the discussion in a more informal fashion.
The comrades of the SFS at Alberta University in Edmonton held an event on Marxism and Women’s Emancipation, on March 8. About 25 people came out to discuss this important topic. Five of them bought our paper Fightback, and one of them even agreed to get a subscription.
Comrade Larissa began the presentation by discussing the MeToo movement, and how it reflects just how pervasive and systemic the issue of sexual harassment and assault toward women is. Next, she explored the root of women’s subordination and discrimination referring to The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State by Engels to show how gender inequality arose with the advent of private property and the split of society into antagonistic classes. We also discussed liberal solutions to the oppression of women, namely legislation and identity politics, and explained why they don’t work as long-term solutions. Formal equality under the law and equal representation on their own cannot address the oppression of women as long as we live under capitalism. In countries that have formal equality under the law and women leaders in government, the conditions for the majority of women workers do not improve. That is why we say that the oppression of women is a class question. Women from or representing the ruling capitalist class will side with the men of that class at the expense of working class women. For these reasons, we concluded by explaining how a socialist revolution and class solidarity are the only permanent solution to women’s oppression.
In the discussion, some attendees suggested that more individualistic solutions are valid ways to address inequality, such as men taking a pay cut to show solidarity with women. Socialist Fightback members and the speaker explained that what we want is not to have equality in poverty, but instead to raise the living standards of everybody. This is possible only by taking control of the commanding heights of the economy out of the hands of the capitalists, and put them under the democratic control of all workers. That is why socialism and the liberation of women are inherently one and the same struggle!
Discontent and Class Militancy on the Rise!
Millions of people around the world demonstrated, marched and even went on strike for International Women’s Day on March 8th. Notably, many of these actions took a sharp class character. In Quebec, a dozen student associations called a one day strike to protest unpaid internships and sexual violence on campus. In Spain, a remarkable 6 million workers, mostly women but also men, went on strike in what was “almost a revolution”, to protest the gender pay gap and sexual violence. There were International Women’s Day strikes in 70 countries around the world! This reflects the growing discontent of women workers who are doubly burdened under capitalism. But these issues are not just women’s problems as they are symptomatic of a system that exploits and oppresses all of us, making all of our struggles inherently linked. It is also not only women workers who are increasingly fed up with the capitalist system. These historic International Women’s Day marches and strikes took place in the context of a general questioning of the capitalist system and a rise in mass movements against capitalist austerity and all forms of oppression which have been taking place around the world.
In order to overthrow oppression and exploitation once and for all, we must organize ourselves here and now. We appeal to all those who want to fight for the overthrow of capitalism to join their nearest Socialist Fightback chapter or to take the initiative to create one on your campus! If you are not a student, do not hesitate to contact us as we are not just a student group, but actively seek to link up the struggles of the students and workers. Only a Marxist program for the socialist transformation of society provides a clear path forward to ending the oppression of working women and emancipating all of the exploited and oppressed! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved!