by Robyn Banks
The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on the 8th March in 1975, but the day actually has its roots in a variety of strikes and class struggles across industrialised nations long before.
On March 8th in 1857 there was a strike at a New York City garment factory. Here women and girls between the ages of 13 and 25, mostly Jewish, Russian and Italian immigrants, worked 81 hours a week for three dollars, of which one and a quarter went for room and board. The strike was sparked when factory foremen, noticing that the women were less ‘energetic’ if they were allowed to eat before working, changed the factory opening time to 5AM. For a day the factory workers marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day and equal rights for women. Their ranks were broken up by police. Fifty one years later, on March 8th 1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again in honour of the 1867 March, this time demanding the vote, an end to sweatshops and child labour. And then, in November 1909, came the uprising of the 20,000.