Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Batay Ouvriye (of Haiti) on International Working Women’s Day

"Most workers in the world don’t know the date of March 8th is of the greatest importance for them. And many of those who do know it don’t realize what the date really represented in history. For us, conscious workers, for whom the struggle is our daily life, it is absolutely necessary we know our true history, the various battles waged by our class and the lessons we should draw from them.

First of all, since many workers in Haiti and throughout the world, especially in the maquilas and free trade zones, work in the textile industry, we should know that the mobilizations held on March 8th, 1908, were carried out precisely by textile industry workers. Despite this, presently, most workers in this branch know nothing of this part of our history.

In 1975, the United Nations proclaimed March 8th “International Women’s Day.” Once more, this was a recuperation of the international ruling classes to distort the real significance of our battles. In this way, they have attempted to wipe out the collective memory of the real working-class mobilization that occurred on this date, turning it into a wide-ranging, limited celebration completely void of class content, in which all women partake, including totally anti-worker and reactionary bourgeois women. In this way, the nature and logic of our battles are obliterated. Our own history is robbed from us.

What was March 8th?

March 8th is a historic date! Doubly so. First of all, on March 8th, 1857, a large number of factory workers in the United States took to the streets to demand their economic and political rights. The owners called the police who arrived immediately and opened fire, engaging in blind repression. Later on, in 1908, the same date of March 8th was once again a memorable date of struggle. On this day, capitalist bosses in Chicago set fire to a textile factory where over a thousand women worked. A very large number was terribly burnt. 120 died! This heinous crime happened simply because the workers were demanding that the legal 8-hour work day be respected, as well as substantial ameliorations of their work conditions since they were working in a hellish environment in which their very dignity was constantly and totally denied. In this factory, however, the workers refused to cower. They fought daily. And having reached a certain level of organization, they held protests, work stoppages and strikes… On this day of March 8th, 1908, instead of obeying the law and satisfying the workers’ legal and legitimate demands, the factory owners decided to bar in this way what they called “the rising disorder”.

Solidarity Mobilization and the “Commemoration”

An enormous national and worldwide solidarity campaign was launched, denouncing the workers’ situation. Work stoppages, strikes and even factory occupations were held throughout the world to protest against this practice that revealed so crudely how capitalism has no consideration for human life when its economic interests are on the line. The campaign didn’t succeed in really dealing with the capitalists responsible for this organized crime that happened on March 8th. But combatants in the entire world registered this date as highly significant of this factory’s working women’s immense courage; and, for all, this eternal flame glows in our hearts. Several years later, in Germany, Clara Zetkin, a great combatant and revolutionary, suggested setting this precise date of March 8th as international day of the WORKING WOMAN, given its double significance for working-class struggles. But, with the ebb of our class’ struggles during the second part of the 20th century, March 8th began to lose its true meaning and, progressively, mainly due to petty-bourgeois deviationists, it was changed into “women’s day”, in which much talk goes on concerning feminism and where, instead of consolidating working-class unity by calling men and women workers together in the struggle – just as, precisely, occurred during these historical March 8ths –, we’re called to fight one another. The field thus prepared, in 1975, the UN easily resumed March 8th as “International Women’s Day”.

To Understand and Draw Lessons

It’s important to point out that one of the reasons for this deviation is the partial abandonment of working-class memory by members of this very class and, at the same time, the taking in hand of such an important theme as that of women by agents of other classes. Indeed, the specific theme of women, concerning the contradictions that may exist – and do exist – in the relations between men and women of the working-class, is of great importance. But it should always be resolved within our own class. First, because there exist here specificities that ar totally our own; secondly, because once regrouped, only within our class can we find a true and complete solidarity. Finally, and above all, because we can’t and shouldn’t, under any conditions, consent to class collaboration under any circumstances, since these options will always lead us to lose our own independence, which is the most important for our class’ emancipation, a key element for that of the entire humanity.

It is no coincidence that our struggles, of the working-class, gave rise to the date of March 8th. All battles for the peoples’ emancipation, for the emancipation of humanity, emerge from the class interests of the working-class. This is also true of the struggle for women’s rights. The working-class’ liberation, in its true, wider, sense, will have to be a total liberation. Otherwise, it won’t exist. The emancipation of the working-class is the only one that demands, indeed commands, concurrently, the emancipation of women. Since this theme affects them too, many middle-class and even liberal bourgeois women have engaged in gender struggles and, deliberately – since they have several objectives and never forget what’s most important – combine all women as having the same nature, mystifying us and, especially, taking the lead of initiatives. They completely detach March 8th from its first and basic meaning as a class battle where working-class women headed the struggles with hope and courage. They obscure all but gender considerations, thus twisting this date so profoundly belonging to us, when in practice, precisely the practice of struggle, we, men and women, had united together.

At present, during March 8th celebrations, women denounce the abuses they endure in patriarchal society. These problems are real and these denunciations have great importance. We can say that they contribute to the resolving of real, significant, human problems that we, as women workers and women of the peoples’ camp suffer in our flesh as well. But never, either, will we forget that during this March 8th, we faced the bosses – and their women! As always. We bear in mind the exploitation that we, women workers, suffer in the factory-prisons, the humiliations owners and managers submit us to on a daily basis, the constant and casual sexual harassment. This capitalist domination that feeds off our dehumanization, treading our human dignity, reminds us, that just like on this historical date of March 8th, capitalism is built over our corpses. And that, always, each time our deep, economic class interests are concerned, when even death may come into question, we’ll clearly and surely find ourselves standing across from these bourgeois women organized with us in the gender struggle. The only permanent and fruitful unity for us is within our own class, in alliance with the entire people – brothers, friends, comrades. Here and only here can we resolve our problems."

Read the full post via Batay Ouvriye

Batay Ouvriye (Workers Fight) is an autonomous workers’ organization—not run by establishment unions, NGOs, students, or other outside groups, but by workers. In 1995 it launched a struggle against Disney contractors who were paying workers 30 cents an hour to stitch together Pocahontas t-shirts. It has branches in most geographical areas of Haiti, organizing garment workers in assembly factories of the Free Trade Zones, agricultural laborers, unemployed workers, and others.
Batay Ouvriye also organizes amongst other sections of the popular masses, such as small peasants, and builds alliance with other organizations. They fight for better conditions, livable wages, and for an end to occupation by UN military forces.

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