From Socialist Voice, April 2011

International Women’s Day

This year, the hundredth anniversary of the first International Women’s Day was celebrated by a range of groups and organisations around the country. This breadth and scope of the celebration is essential if we are to confront capitalism in its current “financialised” phase.
     The CPI began to publicly celebrate International Women’s Day in the mid-1970s. If anybody here in Ireland had heard of such a day, even fewer were prepared to celebrate it: to do so would have drawn the inference that you where either a communist or a sympathiser. But over the years it developed and grew, with trade unions and other organisations taking up the day so that it could become the important event that it now is and should be.
     But over the last decade or more, as more and more establishment women’s organisations have come to dominate and shape what is the “women’s” agenda, so also we can track the steady move away from its roots and the assimilation of the day and what it stood for into the safe and stifling grip of the well-heeled.
     The radical history of working women has been quietly replaced by concern at the “glass ceiling” in the board-room, accounts of women setting up their own businesses, and the like. There is the odd mention of poverty and its effect on women, the growing mass unemployment, and the harsher working environment being experienced by both women and men. But the hated universal social charge, the conditions of part-time workers and the cut in the minimum wage all appear to be too hot to handle for the official women’s organisations.
     This year the National Women’s Council launched its “Charter for Women’s Equality” not in Oliver Bond House, in Garranabraher in Cork or Southill in Limerick: no, they chose the offices of the European Commission in Dublin. It says a lot for these fine ladies that they chose such a venue while the European Union continues its assault on workers’ rights.
     While these well-heeled ladies were meeting in the EU offices, an organisation calling itself An Cosán was holding its annual dinner for International Women’s Day in the salubrious surroundings of the Four Seasons Hotel.
     Both events are a far cry from the roots of International Women’s Day, which was to be a rallying-point for publicising the inequality that women experienced and continue to experience daily. It was also a day for expressing solidarity with women in oppressed and colonised countries.
     This assimilation of a radical celebration and mobilising occasion shows that the establishment has great capacity and reserves on which to draw in luring organisations into its swamp and quietly, without them even noticing, extracting their teeth.
     The EU heads of state and heads of government met recently to look at issues that are barriers to making the European Union more “competitive.” One area under scrutiny is collective bargaining. Workers—men and women—can have rights only so long as they don’t interfere with the “market.”
     But all was not lost. The women of St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, Dublin, celebrated without official Ireland’s approval. Women trade union activists gathered both to celebrate and to raise money for sending a ship to break the blockade of Gaza. In Belfast thousands of women marched to demand an end to the cuts.
     One would like to see the reaction of the fine ladies of the National Women’s Council if a letter landed on their table calling for them to take a stand on Gaza, on the rip-off of our national resources, on the savage cuts in public services, or on the crippling debt burden placed on the back of our people at the behest of the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
     It remains a task to win back this day for working women.

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