International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day occupies a special place in the history of women’s and workers’ struggles on this continent. It grew out of the actions of militant working women struggling for better working wages, working conditions, and the vote.

In 1857, women in the needle trade staged a demonstration in the Lower East Side of New York City to protest poor working conditions and to demand equality for working women. They were angry about indecent wages and a twelve hour working day. When their procession left the poor districtin which they lived and worked, and moved into the wealthier areas of town, they were dispersed by the police; women were arrested, and some were trampled when confusion resulted. Three years later, in March 1860, these women formed their own union. March 8, 1908 Thousands of women, this time in the garment- textile industry, marched once again from the Lower East side of New York City. Fifty-one years had passed since the earlier demonstration but their demands remained the same: shorter working hours and better working conditions. In addition, they wanted laws against child labour and they wanted the vote.

March  8, 1910 –  Clara Zetkin, the German socialist champion of women’s and workers’ rights, proposed that March 8th beset aside each year as International Women’s Day, in memory of those first struggles.Our slogan, “Bread and Roses”, also comes out of the struggles of working women. On January II, 1912, 14,000 textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts went out on strike for better wages and working conditions. With the cry of “Better to starve fighting than starve working”, these women stayed out for nearly three months. Their courage inspired the song that has become the anthem of the women’s movement, “Bread and Roses”.

Since the rebirth of the women’s movement in the 1960’s we have reclaimed March 8th as a day of protest, solidarity and celebration. In memory of the pleas of those earlier working women for economic security and a better quality of life, we celebrate our on-going struggle for bread and roses.

Reprinted from Toronto March 8th Coalition 1984 International Women’s Day Pamphlet

Many IWD archival documents currently on the Rise Up! website are from the Toronto International Women’s Day events. You will find these on the  March 8th Coalition/International Women’s Day  page in the Organizations section. Click on the link in Related Organizations below. 

Please help us expand our collection to include materials about the many other IWD celebrations organized from the 1970s to the 1990s across Canada.