“Socialist women all around the world are at the forefront of resistance to inequality and injustice – fighting for progressive solutions to the health, environmental and other crises people face.”Labour Peer and former NUT General Secretary Christine Blower
By the Arise Festival Team
On International Women’s Day, Arise Festival brought together hundreds of activists for the ‘Women for Socialist Change’ online rally, with thousands taking part since Wednesday.
The rally brought together voices from around the world, including left parliamentarians from Britain, Ireland and France, trade unionists, and a campaigner for democracy and resistance in Peru.
Former teachers’ union leader and Labour member of the House of Lords Christine Blower chaired the event and opened by saying, ‘Socialist women all around the world are at the forefront of resistance to inequality and injustice – fighting for progressive solutions to the health, environmental and other crises people face,’ and adding that ‘we need to raise and amplify our voices building links and solidarity internationally – fighting back here but also around the world.’
Opening speaker South Wales Labour MP Beth Winter, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, talked about her conception of socialist change, saying, ‘fairness, equality, justice, will only be achieved when we have a socialist society, that puts people before profits, and that meets people’s needs by treating everyone equitably’.
She said women were under attack from the draconian Tory Government, including women refugees who are fleeing war and persecution.
She also expressed solidarity with the trade union struggles for better pay currently taking place in women-dominated sectors like the civil service, education and health.
French National Assemblee member, Danielle Obono, from the La France Insoumise party, then talked about the role of women leading in the struggles against the neo-liberal reforms of the Macron Presidency. She said the pension reforms currently proposed were an anti-feminist reform and would particularly hit millions in professions dominated by women, such as cleaning, education and health who had held the country together through the covid crisis.
She said French women suffered from lower pay and lower pensions, highlighting how French pensions were designed for men – those with long working lives without career breaks to look after children or family members, impacting their final income.
She said, ” women hold our country together, they take the burden of work in many sectors, and so they need to be respected for that and be compensated for that so they can retire and enjoy their life not just working and toiling for a poor wage,” before concluding with, ‘Long live working class women fighting for their rights.’
Francesca Emanuele, a Peruvian democracy campaigner, talked about the heroic struggles for justice in Peru, with her sisters in the country fighting the worst state sponsored political violence in two decades, following December’s coup.
She said women – and in particular, indigenous women – were leading the struggle against a government that most citizens now believe is illegitimate. Women were being injured and killed in political violence from the police and the military.
Now was the time to speak up internationally – and activists in Britain, the US and elsewhere must to campaign for end military support and arms sales to the government in Peru, as Spain had recently announced.
Holly Turner was introduced as an NHS nurse and founder of the grassroots workers’ campaign NHS Workers Say No. She talked about how worsening working conditions in the NHS as it has been underfunded over the past decade has led to the current struggle for pay and safety for a predominantly female workforce.
Of particular concern is staff burnout, signalled by the thousands leaving the sector (including 40,000 nurses last year,) and the numbers registering for training courses falling away. She said the government was gradually shifting to talk about pay but there was little trust in an administration that had been responsible for low pay and understaffing. That they were talking at all was down to thousands of women who had taken strike action and joined picket lines.
Rallying attendees, she asserted the nurses campaign was not just about NHS staff but about safeguarding the NHS, and about kicking out the profiteering privateers. For these reasons, we must all join the SOS NHS demonstration in London on Saturday.
Fellow campaigner, from Orgreave Truth and Justice, Chris Peace, opened by paraphrasing Angela Davis, saying as women, ‘We are not accepting the things we cannot change but we are changing the things we cannot accept.’
She identified the current Conservative Government’s assault on trade unions and the right to protest with that of Thatcher in the 1980s, especially with regards to their approach to the miners’ strike. There were clear parallels with the attack on the right to strike and picket now with the policing of pickets in the 1980s.
She recalled the politicisation of women in the miner’s strike and said as the strike got harder and deeper, women’s resolve got stronger and empowered women for their future lives, teaching them the need to stand up for our workplace rights and stand up for our fundamental rights in a democracy, including current and future campaigns against Sunak and co.
In her contribution, Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Fein MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone, celebrated the role of women in the Irish civil rights struggle and national liberation movements, including the election of Constance Markievicz as the first women in Westminster, for Sinn Fein.
She recognised the dominance of men in both Britain and Ireland’s cultural, social, political and legal structures. As part of disestablishing male-dominated structures in Ireland, she highlighted the lead role of women in Sinn Fein, with Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at its head.
With Sinn Fein polling well in the South and North, she hoped Mary and Michelle would lead in Dublin and Belfast soon, with parity of esteem, equality and respect, for all identities cemented under the Good Friday Agreement.
The Labour MP Apsana Begum‘s inspirational and emotive address was a highlight of the event for many.
Opening by referencing Greta Thunberg’s remarks that International Women’s Day is “not just for celebrating, [but] rather it’s for protesting,” a central element of her contribution was to recognise how International Women’s Day is not about individuals but about collective strike action and liberation politics. She illustrated this point by paying tribute to relevant historical struggles in her legality, including the East London matchgirls, the East London Federation of Suffragettes, and the leadership of Minnie Lansbury on Poplar Council, jailed for refusing to charge poor tenants full rates.
We can learn from these struggles as we launch new ones today.
In her contribution, she also called out her treatment in recent years which she went into more detail about in this important interview with Owen Jones here, which outlines why Labour stands accused of a terrible failure in their duty of care to her – while Apsana is being hounded.
She also highlighted some key struggles of women today, not least in light of the Tories’ current reactionary ‘Stop the Boats’ campaign, which is part of creating a ‘hostile environment’ that condemns women risking drowning “at sea when they try and seek safety,” and has seen the “system tightening around women facing deportation,” against their rights.
Attendees left inspired by the fights of women around the world for equality, justice and a socialist future – and also, here in Britain and the Labour Party, determined to continue to stand in solidarity with Apsana Begum.
- “International Women’s Day 2023 – Women for Socialist Change” was hosted by Arise Festival on March 8th, 2023. You can watch the online rally here; or listen to the event as a podcast here.
- You can follow Arise Festival on Facebook and twitter, and see what events they have coming up here; as well as listen to the Arise Festival podcast on Spotify.
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