Chelmsford TUC

Special Days of our Movement

International Women’s Day 8 March

In 1903, in the United States, women trade unionists and professional women who were campaigning for women’s voting rights set up the Women’s Trade Union League to help organise women. In 1908, on the last Sunday in February, socialist women in the United States initiated the first Women’s Day when large demonstrations took place calling for the vote and for political and economic rights for women. The following year, 2,000 people attended a Women’s Day rally in Manhattan.
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Celebrate International Women’s Day

In that year, 1909, women garment workers staged a strike, and up to 30,000 shirtwaist makers stopped work for 13 weeks for better pay and working conditions. The Women’s Trade Union League provided bail money for arrested strikers and large sums for strike funds. In 1910, Women’s Day was taken up by socialists and feminists throughout the country. Later that year delegates went to the second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen with the intention of proposing that Women’s Day become an international event. The notion of international solidarity between the exploited workers of the world had long been established as a socialist principle, though largely an unrealised one. The idea of women organising politically was much more controversial within the socialist movement. At that time, however, the German Socialist Party had a strong influence on the international socialist movement and that party had many advocates for the rights of women, including leaders such as Clara Zetkin

Inspired by the actions of US women workers and their socialist sisters, Clara Zetkin had already framed a proposal to put to the conference of socialist women, that women throughout the world should focus on a particular day each year to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and International Women’s Day was the result.

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International Women’s Day
Chelmsford Women Celebrate

The first International Women’s Day was held on March 19, 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and some other European countries. This date was chosen by German women because, on that date in 1848, the Prussian king, faced with an armed uprising, had promised many reforms, including an unfulfilled one of votes for women. A million leaflets calling for action on the right to vote were distributed throughout Germany before International Women’s Day in 1911. Russian revolutionary and feminist, Alexandra Kollontai, in Germany at the time, helped to organise the day, and wrote "it exceeded all expectations. Germany and Austria .... was one seething trembling sea of women. Meetings were organised the small towns and even in the villages, halls were packed so full that they had to ask (male) workers to give up their places for the women. Men stayed home with their children for a change and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings. During the largest street demonstrations, in which 30,000 were taking part, the police decided to remove the demonstrators’ banners: the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament."