Tomorrow is International Women's Day. To commemorate the day, there will be a $45 a ticket breakfast at Parliament Buildings. We've certainly come a long way from when International Women's Day ushered in the Russian Revolution...

AS PART OF events to commemorate International Women's Day (IWD) on March 8, the Minister for Women, Paula Bennett, is hosting a breakfast at Parliament Buildings. It's being held in association with the UN Women National Committee Aotearoa New Zealand.

Bennett will be enjoying her big breakfast at a time when more women than ever before are living in substandard housing. Many have families and they are living in cars, garages and damp, mouldy and barely-affordable rentals. Some have been shunted into motel rooms as part of the Government's 'emergency' housing programme.

In a recent column the national secretary of the Unite Union, Mike Treen, pointed out that Work and Income's punitive culture - largely developed while Bennett was Minister for Social Development, led directly to the suicide of a woman that WINZ was supposed to be helping.

The woman Mike Treen was referring to was Wendy Shoebridge, a 41 year old mother.

She killed herself after receiving a letter form WINZ informing her that she was being referred for prosecution over an alleged $22,000 benefit fraud. That amount was subsequently reduced to $5,000.

Wendy suffered from acute depression.

If the presence of Bennett still doesn't put you off from attending, then it'll cost you $45 for a ticket to attend the breakfast. Or you can buy a table for ten at just $400. Perhaps Bennett will regale her audience with the story of the time she leaked the details of the welfare benefits of two solo mothers, after they publicly criticised her cutbacks to training allowances. How we all laughed!

It's a travesty that IWD has come to this but, under the auspices of the United Nations, it has become a politically sanitised and corporatised event. This years theme is 'Women in the Changing World of Work.' The focus is on the UN's "commitment to gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights." Apparently all this can be achieved under capitalism.

Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollantai, Clara Zetkin.
But it was Clara Zetkin, the woman who proposed that March 8th be International Women's Day, who observed that  '...reforms ameliorate the situation of the working class, they lighten the weight of the chains labour is burdened with by capitalism, but they are not sufficient to crush capitalism and to emancipate the workers from their tyranny.'

These individual empowerment-themed causes ignore the revolutionary origins of IWD.

IWD has its origins in the  first official National Woman’s Day declared in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America. It held several large events on a single day in New York City

The Second International held its general meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark later that year. An International Women’s Conference was held, just before the general meeting. One hundred women were present, from seventeen countries.

Inspired by the success of National Women's Day, the conference resolved to choose a day which would be International Women’s Day, on which women in different countries would march, to promote their demand for the right to vote, and other issues of concern to women.

In 1910 Clara Zetkin, a German revolutionary socialist and a close friend of Rosa Luxemburg, proposed that March 8th be declared as International Women’s Day to honour the U.S. demonstrations and working women all over the world.

After consultations between women leaders of different socialist parties across Europe, at the beginning of 1911, March 8th was chosen. The first IWD was a huge success. Over one million people marched in some five countries across Europe.

Russian socialist Alexandra Kollantai declared that IWD was "a day of international solidarity in the fight for common objectives and a day for reviewing the organized strength of working women under the banner of socialism."

International Women's Day, St Petersburg, 1917.
In this year, the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, we should remember that the IWD became the gateway to revolution in Russia.

At that time, World War I had lasted for almost four years. There was hardship in Russia, food was being rationed as a result of the war.  

In St. Petersburg (later Petrograd), in an IWD walk-out, thousands of women factory workers marched through the streets, chanting their demand for "Peace, bread and land!" As working-class men joined them, the crowd swelled to 90,000, and the spark of revolution lit that day led first to the overthrow of the czar and a class struggle that culminated nine months later in the Russian Revolution.

None of this will be commemorated at Paula Bennett's big breakfast bash.

But there's nothing pink and cuddly about IWD. While it might of been co-opted by the political establishment for its own ends, the real colour of IWD is red - the colour of revolution. 


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