Commemorating International Women’s Day: Report on the Forum Sponsored by The Organizer newspaper

(Part 1 of 2 Parts)

Presentation

On March 7, The Organizer newspaper sponsored a digital commemoration of International Women’s Day in the framework of the call for an International Conference of Working Women issued by Rubina Jamil, general secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF), and Christel Keiser, national secretary of the Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID) of France.

Forty-four participants, including 11 speakers, took part in the discussion. The event was also live-streamed thanks to the teamwork of women in the Sacramento chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO.

The meeting was co-chaired by Mya Shone and Coral Wheeler, members of the Editorial Board of The Organizer newspaper. It began with greetings from Rubina Jamil and Christel Keiser, and was followed by an introduction from Mya Shone and the presentations from the following:

• Donna Dewitt – South Carolina AFL-CIO, president emerita (id only)

• Connie White – Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), Los Angeles

• Liliana Plumeda – Organization of Workers and People (OPT), Mexicali, Mexico 

• Carolle Alexis MagloireHaiti Liberté and Independent Workers Party of Haiti

• A member, Rwanda National Congress Women’s League (in exile)

• A member, Rwanda National Congress Women’s League (in exile)

• Andrea Williams-Muhamad – Nzuri Malkia Birth Cooperative; Reproductive Health Equity Alliance, Maryland

• Desirèe Rojas – Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Sacramento

• Betty Davis – New Abolitionist Movement; Black is Back Coalition

• Millie Phillips – Labor Fightback Network

The Organizer is publishing in two parts the full speakers’presentations. In this Part One, we have included the introduction by Mya Shone, the greeting from Christel Keiser and the presentations by Donna Dewitt, Connie White, Liliana Plumeda, and Carolle Magloire. In Part Two, we will include the greeting from Rubina Jamil and the presentations from all the other speakers.

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Forum co-chair Mya Shone welcomes participants to the March 7 forum.

Introduction by Mya Shone

It is 111 years since the first annual International Women’s Day event organized in 1911 by the Second International Conference of Socialist Women to commemorate the role of women in the Revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune.

Six years later, in 1917, Russian women textile workers in St. Petersburg took to the streets where they were joined by others with a demand for bread, a clarion call which soon evolved into bread, land, and peace. Their demonstration became a spark for the Russian Revolution. From 1920 onwards, International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8.

Today, as then, women are engaged in and central to the struggle for our rights as well as the rights and emancipation of all from exploitation and oppression.

Examples can be cited of women mobilizing all over the world, and we shall hear about some from our speakers today, but I should like to mention one in particular. As we gather today, workers at the Amazon Distribution Center in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting for union recognition. They are doing so against all odds: undermining of union rights by the U.S. government but, most of all, the pervasive assault from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who has become one of the wealthiest men in the world off the backs of their labor.

We hope you become involved in the solidarity efforts for the Amazon workers. Winning union recognition in Bessemer will send shockwaves across the country and embolden workers at Walmart as well as Amazon, the two largest private employers in the United States.

Our meeting today is taking place within the framework of a call for an International Conference of Working Women issued by Rubina Jamil, General Secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Union Federation and Christel Keiser, National Secretary of the Democratic Independent Workers Party in France. Over 300 women from 32 countries — workers, youth, trade union and political activists, as well as leaders of community groups and associations — endorsed the call immediately. We hope that you, too, will endorse the call and distribute it widely as well as join with us to form a preparatory committee and delegation.

The International Conference of Working Women will be held later this year – if circumstances permit – the day before the next gathering of the World Conference Against War and Exploitation prepared by the International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers’ International (IWC).

The International Workers Committee was formed in November 2016 by 350 delegates from 28 countries who met in Mumbai, India. Numerous delegations were not able to take part in the conference itself because of war taking place in their regions and have since aligned themselves with the IWC.

The IWC is first and foremost an initiative that brings together political and trade union forces, whatever their origins or background in the workers’ movement, who seek the road of class independence and its unity at the international level. In essence, each of the individuals, labor unions, and political and community organizations involved recognize that the class struggle remains the motor force of history. And we see this confirmed with the demonstrations, general strikes and other mobilizations involving millions of workers, peasants, and youth taking place throughout the world. Thank you.

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Greeting from Christel Keiser

Hello. My name is Christel Keiser, National Secretary of the Independent Democratic Workers Party (POID), France.

Every year, the POID and its Working Women’s Commission organize a public meeting on the occasion of March 8th. This year, despite the difficult conditions, we have decided not to break with this continuity and to organize the meeting via video-conference.

Women, workers, housewives, trade unionists and political activists will describe the consequences of the Macron government’s policies, and furthermore they will explain the fight they are waging against these policies.

Canteen staff, supermarket employees, care assistants, cleaning staff, home and household helpers, lawyers and students, will tell us about their working conditions and how, without waiting for anyone’s permission, they have taken charge of their own affairs and called on their organizations, particularly the trade unions, to help them win their demands.

In a situation where the crisis has, according to the report published on January 24 by the NGO Oxfam France, “has had an effect that multiplies the already-existing inequalities”, and in particular the inequalities between women and men. 

For, women are over-represented in the most precarious and lowest-paid jobs. Of the 5 million part-time jobs, 3.8 million – or 76% – are held by women. Nearly 30% of women hold part-time jobs, compared to 8.4% of men.

And we also find these inequalities in wages: men earn 28.5% more. For single mothers, this is a double whammy: they are particularly hard hit by the crisis because they assume childcare alone, and also because they are over-represented in precarious contracts and low-paid jobs.

During the first lockdown, 83% of women living with children spent more than four hours a day on childcare, compared with 57% of men. Mothers were twice as likely as fathers to give up work to care for their children.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of women (and men!) have been laid off from their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic.

They have been fired by bosses who have benefited from hundreds of billions of euros in State-guaranteed loans and various aids, with a unanimous vote – which cannot be repeated often enough ­– in the National Assembly on March 19, 2020: 343 billion euros, an amount that has since become 560 billion. These are huge sums, in exchange for redundancy plans that allow companies to increase their profits and distribute dividends to their shareholders.

The POID along with its Working Women’s Commission is fighting for the satisfaction of women’s specific demands, and supports their legitimate mobilizations, because we recognize the double oppression of women.

But we also know that this double oppression is rooted in capitalist exploitation, which affects not only women but also the entire working class. This is why we systematically link the specific demands of working women to the struggle against capitalist exploitation.

Thus, facing the terrible situation we have been confronted with since the beginning of the pandemic, the POID has put forward demands for real equality between women and men, but also more generally: the requisition of the pharmaceutical industry, including the question of patents for vaccines; the massive creation of beds in hospitals – especially in the intensive-care units; the massive hiring of hospital staff; the massive hiring of teachers to avoid the perdition  of the young generation; the requisition of school premises; the immediate reopening of universities; and the repeal of all education counter-reforms and the labor code; retirement pensions and unemployment insurance.

Let us make it clear that this ambitious program can only be implemented by a workers’ government, serving the sole interests of women and men.

So, we say Out with Macron and his policies, and the sooner the better!

These slogans and demands are also linked to the struggle of women all over the world, a struggle for emancipation and against all forms of violence.

This year, the Working Women’s Commission organized this meeting as part of the appeal that Rubina Jamil, General Secretary of APTUF in Pakistan, and I myself launched together, an appeal for an international conference of working women to be held within the framework of the International Workers’ Committee, on the eve of the World Conference Against War and Exploitation that should take place this year, if conditions permit.

This appeal was endorsed and launched by more than 300 working women, young women, political and trade union activists, and leaders of associations and organizations from 32 countries.

Our appeal proposes that, on the occasion of the public meetings, demonstrations and rallies organized on March 8th, the initiative for this international meeting be submitted to the participants in order to set up  the first delegations to the conference.

That is what we will do in France on March 6th.

Thank you very much.

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Presentation by Donna Dewitt

[Intro Note: In 1996, Donna Dewitt was the first woman elected president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, only the third woman to head the labor federation’s state councils at the time. She has been the co-chair of the South Carolina Labor Party since 2006 when it was formed and is on the national advisory board for Labor Campaign for Single Payer.]

It’s an honor to join the event with so many dedicated leaders. While our regions and work may vastly differ, we share a love for workers that continues to drive our challenges, to continue the struggles to make the quality of life better for all workers.

As we observe the work of women, I want to address a few qualities I think we all share and experiences that I have encountered in my 52 years in the labor movement.

Women are nurturing. We probably all recall the time we recognized an injustice and felt the need to address it. As women it’s a natural instinct.

Trust is an absolute must for success. As the legislative chair of my Local I would become frustrated with members, especially women, for not getting involved. One day one of our older members told me that she, like others, are not comfortable with politics and they trust me to ensure the right thing will be done. This was a lesson that would serve me well throughout the next 50 years. Everyone does not want to be a leader, and many are intimidated and want good leaders to speak for them.

Our local was located in a small city in a large rural county. There was a large textile union with 90 percent minority women workers. They were politically savvy, but I recognized that their international leaders, who were mostly white men, made sure they had operational funds, but there was little to no funds for coalition efforts. Our Local, while small, had international, district and local political funds for activity. Congressman Jim Clyburn was running for the first time and he was very dependent on the minority Local. Our local would attend conferences and invite members from the textile local to share rooms and expenses with our delegates. This enabled our delegates to, also, meet other minority locals who were friends with our textile local. One of these minority locals was ILA dockworkers. When I ran for state Fed President, I had the support of minority unions that I had earned the trust of throughout the years.

My 16 years as state Fed President was an opportunity to put my faith to work. Being a woman and representative of SC workers, the press was always interested in my views. This was sometimes good and sometimes not so good. However, either way my comments would be covered and scrutinized. It became expected that the state Fed would have a resolution introduced in the SC General Assembly to recognize the contributions and work of women in March each year but there was, also, a press conference and legislation to address the ongoing fact that women make less than men performing the same job.

The members enjoyed the attention I drew being a woman. They liked me being tough on issues but in my remarks to the membership, especially trades and coworkers comprised of mostly men I learned quickly they wanted me to look like a woman and act like a lady, which could be very difficult as a labor leader.

I think one of the most important things I have learned is that most men in leadership position retire and move to a new phase of their life, something that most women leaders appear to have difficulty in doing.  Many people continue to value and respect the experience we have. We have served as mentors to many. There are many opportunities to share that experience. However, it is important to recognize the significance of our time and age and use it wisely with those who respect our decisions.

Throughout all circumstances you can never underestimate the support of the men in your life that support your work. They are valuable to your success. It is difficult to find success with a partner that does not share your love for your work. I, personally, had to deal with this as my husband owned his own businesses and did not like the amount of time I spent with my work. Many women have been held back or experienced difficult relationships without an understanding partner. It is so rewarding to have the support needed to do your job. Now that my husband is retired, he is much more understanding of my love for workers and understands my new phase of continuing my work.

Women have much to offer workers in our current environment. Fewer leaders, women and men, are willing to make the sacrifices and commitments needed to stand up for all workers. It takes nurturing, developing trust, recognizing opportunities and having faith to move forward with those who share our visions. It’s not simply celebration, but education on women’s issues every day, not only on International Women’s Day.

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Presentation by Connie White

[Intro Note: Connie White has been a political organizer nationally and internationally for almost five decades. In 1974, in Boston during the school desegregation and busing crisis, Connie worked with the community to protect children from attacks. She is a longtime advocate for a labor party in the United States and was a delegate from Los Angeles to its founding convention in 1996. Today, Connie is on the organizing committee of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP).]

Revolutionary greetings to those gathered in this Zoom forum, and a special revolutionary greeting and thank you to the organizers!

The world capitalist economy is in crisis, and it is more important now than ever before to gather often to discuss strategy to leverage this crisis in the interests of the working classes in our respective countries to win the battle for democracy – as is spoken about by our revolutionary Sister Rosa Luxemburg. I quote from the November 2020 Alarm Manifesto of the Organizing Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International:

“The time has come to put an end to the failed capitalist system. The time has come to fight for workers’ emancipation, which demands the socialization of the means of production and the transfer of political power to the working class taking control of the economy.”

As has already been stated, today’s forum is prepared as a commemoration of International Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was in 1908 – although not declared such at the time – when 15,000 working-class women marched through the streets of New York City, USA, to demand shorter hours, better pay, and the right to vote. The very next year, in 1909, the Socialist Party of America declared that a National Women’s Day be celebrated.

Working-class women have a consistent and radical history. Revolutionary-minded and radical women have always been in the leadership of revolutionary movement, and in the leadership of the fight for civil rights. In 1910 in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Second International Conference of Socialist Women decided to organize the first annual International Women’s Day for March 19, 1911, to commemorate the Revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune.

Sadly and unfortunately, in March 1911 the “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire” in New York City took the lives of over 140 immigrant women in the city’s garment industry. This fire and loss of life brought to the forefront of the fight for labor rights the need for legislation to protect women and all workers in the garment industries worldwide.

During the years 1913-1914, European women marched against the war and for peace as they honored our fallen Sisters on International Women’s Day. On March 8,1917, Russian women marked International Women’s Day by demonstrating in St. Petersburg to demand bread, peace and freedom. These are just a few of the marches and protests held in commemoration of International Women’s Day, and demanding civil rights, an end to war, and world peace and freedom.

Civil rights are hard-fought battles, but we seem to be fighting those same battles over-and-over. In the United States, women won a battle for reproductive rights when, in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision. However, in the U.S. today, women are threatened with reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision, and an end to an important aspect of reproductive rights for women in the U.S.! Our civil rights are non-negotiable; however, we must, as a class, operate in our own class interests, and from a position of state power, in order to solidify the civil rights that women are demanding!

The time has come for working classes all over the world to take state power and win the battle for democracy in our respective countries! In the United States, many women are in the leadership of an organization called Labor and Community for an Independent Party whose objective is to build a labor party based in and accountable to working-class labor-community assemblies that we are building along-the-way. Our strategy is to run labor party candidates for local and national offices – like city councils and U.S. Congress – and to win the majority in these governing bodies. In every country, working-class civil rights will not be a reality until we, as the working classes, take control of the governing bodies and legislate in our own interests.

We are the ones we have been waiting for. 

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Presentation by Liliana Plumeda Aguilar

[Intro Note: Liliana Plumeda Aguilar is an activist in the Baja California chapter of the Organization of People and Workers (OPT) and a member of its committee building the International Working Women’s Conference. In 2019, Liliana ran for the Mexicali City Council as an OPT candidate. She is on the steering committee of the Bi-National Conference Against NAFTA 2.0, the Wall of Shame and Deportations which has held conferences in both the United States and Mexico, as well as via zoom last year, and initiates many campaigns.]

Greetings, my name is Liliana Plumeda, and I am a member of the Political Organization of the People and Workers (OPT) in Mexicali, Baja California. From Mexico we send fraternal and combative greetings to all working women.
This March 8, women around the world, even though we are in the 21st century, have much to fight for. This year, in particular, is marked by the violent effects of the health and economic crisis that falls heavily on the shoulders of young and working women, increasing their oppression.

To the governments that tell us that we can’t go out and protest, that we can’t demonstrate because of the pandemic, we respond that there is still much to fight for — and our fight is in the streets!

Throughout the length and breadth of the country, femicides have not been quarantined; they continue to increase. Disappearances continue. Working class women, in particular, suffer from domestic violence. But there is also organized crime, which has turned Mexico into a strategic point for the trafficking of drugs and young women and children to the United States, The dual crises have unleashed high rates of violence and social decomposition, which have worsened in the last year; this is especially the case of the disappearances and murders of women in a way that could only be seen in horror series. 

The drug, pornography, and prostitution industries have used these women, girls, and boys as disposable commodities, with the complicity of the Mexican State. And today the situation is out of control.

Poverty, precariousness, deregulation and loss of rights, caused by the “free trade” policy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its updated version in the Mexico-United States-Canada Agreement (T-MEC in its Spanish acronym), have generated favorable conditions for organized crime to develop.  The drug, prostitution, and arms industries have flourished in the last 30 years of NAFTA and have their most grotesque expressions in these types of murders of women, which have become daily occurrences.

Under NAFTA, Mexican governments have dismantled the economic and legal foundations of the nation to submit the country’s basis of existence to the dictates of the large foreign transnational corporations. They have complemented this with “national security” and migration agreements with the U.S. government. Under the guise of “national security,” U.S. military equipment and army training are supplied to the cartels, maintaining a permanent armed conflict in Mexico, which represents great benefits to the U.S. government. The signing of the new “security” agreement will only deepen this situation, as will the implementation of the Immigration Pact, which obliges the Mexican government to stop Central American migration and serve as a wall on the southern border, thus making thousands of Central American women and children available to the drug and trafficking industries.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, precariousness and the violation of labor laws have worsened in Mexico. We now have lower wages and illegal layoffs. For those who continue to work, employers prioritize profits over the health and life of workers in general.

The appearance of teleworking, without having laws to regulate it, has generated a situation where the workers, besides going into debt to pay for internet and computer equipment, suffer the excessive increase of working hours without the right to rest. We have witnessed the increase of domestic work with the extra home care for children and no day care or school nor a means to take care of the sick. To get by, girls as young as 5 or 6 years old are used to “help” in the house. Young women also have put their studies at risk.

In this period of confinement, working women have been forced to continue living under the same roof as their aggressor, since the economic dependence of women continues to be a reality in Mexico.  These women do not have housing and work alternatives, leading to situations that often end in femicides.

But all is not lost, we women are resisting and organizing ourselves. We have taken to the streets to demand justice every time we hear of a femicide or disappearance. Young students are organizing themselves to resist situations that in many cases lead them to drop out of school. With the approval in Argentina of the right to the interruption of pregnancy, the mobilizations in Mexico resulted in the legalization of this right in the state of Quintana Roo — and the president has been forced to declare that a referendum will be held in each state of the republic so that women can have the right to decide on the legal interruption of pregnancy.

The women’s movement has grown enormously in recent years, but it is necessary to begin to raise demands that go beyond bourgeois gender demands, because the structural causes of violence not only come from machismo; they are an essential part of the capitalist machinery. To combat gender violence, it is necessary to fight for a dignified life, a fair wage, access to education and health care— and the working class must take the lead in this struggle.

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Presentation by Carolle Magloire

[Intro Note: Carolle Magloire is a writer and supporter of Haiti Liberté, a mass-circulation weekly newspaper published in Brooklyn that is distributed widely across the United States and Haiti. She is also a member of the Independent Workers Party of Haiti (PETA).]

I can confidently say women are the spinal cord of my country, Haiti.

They not only bear and raise our children. They are the circulatory system of our nation.

A poor peasant woman from the countryside walks dozens of miles barefoot at night down rocky paths with a fifty-pound load on her head to bring her family farm’s produce to the market.

She will arrive in the city in the middle of the night and sleep on the cement floor of a building’s galri, or porch, wedging herself between other market women. They lie chest to back like sardines in a can.

In the morning, she rises before dawn to set up her products on a small table. A few hours later she seeks shelter from the brutal sun under a battered straw hat. She has no protection from the dust and fumes of the passing vehicles. Sometimes, she has to scramble to move everything out of the way of a fast-moving large truck coming through the market and blaring its horn.

After a long, hot day, she may have sold enough to buy a little bread and a bottle of fruit-flavored sugar water. She may even have enough to buy four batteries for the small radio back at the lakou, which is what you would call her family’s collection of thatch huts. As the sun sets, she packs up her things and heads back by foot, dozens of miles, up into the mountains, back to her fourth child, a 3-year-old girl, who is sick with fever. She has already lost two sons in the past four years.

This is the life led by many of Haiti’s six million women. It is hard, relentless, and, all too often, short.

Some women, mostly young ones, try to escape these hardships of the countryside by seeking a job in one of Haiti’s three “sweatshop” parks in Port-au-Prince, Ouanaminthe, or, now, Caracol. The factories are hot and for a hard day’s work, they make $5, if they are lucky. Most of the work is piece-work and tedious. The bosses are arbitrary and cheat them out of wages.

But this is not all for the women of Haiti, these women are also leading the fight against these terrible conditions in the cities and the countryside. They can be found marching in demonstrations, organizing meetings, and building support networks for everything from rape to child-rearing to finding water and healthcare.

On this International Women’s Day, we salute the strong, struggling women of my country, who carry our economy and are in the forefront of our struggles. Today, we are fighting to remove a corrupt, repressive, lying neo-Duvalierist, Jovenel Moïse, who has overstayed his term in office. We know it is only a first step forward on a very long road, after being pushed backwards politically and economically over the past decade since the 2010 earthquake.

On March 8, long live Haitian women! Long live gender equality! Long live Haiti in its struggle for justice, peace, and sovereignty!

Thank you!

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