This article first appeared in Proletarian Revolution No. 28 (Spring 1987).
Like May Day, International Women’s Day arose as a working-class holiday out of workers’ struggles in the United States. On March 8, 1857, women textile workers in New York City demonstrated for shorter hours, better pay and working conditions and an end to child labor. A half-century later, on March 8, 1908, middle-class women demanding the right to vote joined in mass demonstrations in New York with women from the needle trades.
In 1910, on the proposal of Clara Zetkin, the Congress of the Socialist International designated March 8 as a day to commemorate these struggles and all struggles of women internationally.
Seven years later it was again women textile workers who led the most important demonstrations marking the day. This time it was not in New York but in Russia. On International Women’s Day of 1917, February 23 by the old Russian calendar, the Petrograd textile workers went on strike and called on the metalworkers to join them. In all, 90,000 workers, women and men, participated. The result was unanticipated by the participants, but the events of that International Women’s Day triggered the February revolution that overthrew Czarism.
Over the years, the middle-class women’s movement has tended to dominate the celebrations of International Women’s Day and removed the working-class content. With attacks increasing against the working class and against women workers in particular, it is important to restore the proletarian content, the struggle against exploitation. It is only through the proletarian revolution that women can gain their liberation, and only through the full participation of working-class women can the proletariat succeed.