Clara Zetkin, the German delegate at the International Socialist Women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910, was instrumental in establishing International Women’s Day. ‘The day must be international, she argued, because these sufferings are shared by all the oppressed, regardless of national borders. It is women’s day because, in her words, the inhuman burden of global capitalism weighs with especial heaviness on women.’ It may be that her political stance, her uncompromising opposition to capitalism, is perceived as outdated, even embarrassing to some of today’s sponsors of International Women’s Day.
However, as Dalia Nassar and Kristin Gjesdal argue, concerning 8 March and International Women’s Day, one of the takeaways from Clara Zetkin is that once her work is read within a broader context of women’s philosophical contribution, there is no tension between a radical fight for women’s rights and living conditions and a universalist analysis of oppression in its many shapes and forms. For Zetkin, 8 March could never be a celebration of womanhood. It was, instead, part of a sustained fight for a society under which women, of all colours and walks of life, could lead genuinely human lives. Her mission was radical; her message was universal.
One of the most important and formative moments of my political life was travelling down to London overnight to be on the Grunwick picket line – the year 1977. I did so in the company of a convoy of cars and coaches carrying trade unionists and supporters travelling to the Grunwick film processing plant in Willesden. Twenty thousand strong, we were there in solidarity with the courageous group of Asian women workers led by Jayaben Desai out on strike fighting for trade union recognition. They remain an inspiration today – an expression of Zetkin’s universal message,’ all for one, one for all’.
There are many herstories of the dispute – for example https://www.striking-women.org/module/striking-out/grunwick-dispute
I was moved to scribble this post by the chance appearance of these two posters from the period in question.
POWER TO THE SISTERS