Jayaben Desai, one of the mostly British-Asian women out on strike at the Grunwick factory in 1977, pictured on the picket line.
Image Credt: Photograph by Getty Images.
It was in 1857, that on 8 March in New York City, garments workers went on strike. Suffering horrific conditions, endless hours and low pay, they took to the streets demanding better money and working conditions.
Dispersed after being attacked by police, the women continued to fight and from their movement the first women’s labour unions were established.
In the early 20th century, their movement blossomed. New York City’s streets again saw women march demanding shorter hours, better pay, an end to child labour and the right to vote in 1908. Leading labour organisers sought to strengthen the movement internationally.
At the Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen in 1910, Clara Zetkin asked over 100 women from 17 countries – representing unions, socialist parties and women’s working clubs – to pass a motion for an International Working Women’s Day.
They did so, unanimously, and so International Women’s Day was born.
Zetkin, in conjunction with other well-known women from the movement including Rosa Luxembourg and Theresa Malkiel focussed on the conditions that dictated women’s lives.
They organised with women working in inhumane conditions for long hours and no pay.
Women who also went home to complete their “second shift” – cleaning, cooking, childrearing and household managing; women who were the engine keeping families, communities, companies and countries running, but whose work received little pay and even less recognition.