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London Women’s Day convention a big success

Róise McCann, North London Socialist Alternative

On 8 March 2020, Socialist Alternative held its first London-based ‘Bread and Roses - Socialist Feminist Convention’, marking International Women’s Day. Over 30 people attended the event throughout the day, including many students who had heard about it via Socialist Alternative campaigning linked to support for the current university staff strikes.

The backdrop to this event was the feminist movements are shaking many parts of the globe, posing a challenge to the capitalist structures which nurture such gender-based oppression. Despite the attempts by big business to co-opt International Women’s Day, it is in fact part of a rich tradition of socialist struggle. It was on this day that female textile workers in St Petersburg walked out on strike, sparking the revolution of 1917.

This Bread and Roses event was all about re-visiting that rich history, discussing the struggle for women’s liberation in the era of Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi and Boris Johnson, and drawing the links between the battle against sexism and the fight for socialist change.

Meena Kandasamy, a socialist-feminist activist and well-known writer, gave crucial perspectives on the culture of women’s oppression currently rife in India and how this is inherently linked with the caste system. She spoke about how the Modi government’s new repressive citizenship laws form part of a vicious ratcheting up of the persecution of Muslims, members of oppressed castes and, disproportionately, women.

Rita Harrold, a member of ROSA – Ireland’s Socialist Feminist movement – spoke in her contribution about Mexico where, after a string of femicides which included the murder of a seven-year-old girl and the publication of images of a young woman’s brutal murder, women have mobilised and called for “a day without women” - a general strike in which millions are expected to participate. After mass struggle and protest, Argentina is set to be the first Latin American country to legalise abortion.

We discussed how members of International Socialist Alternative, which SA in England, Wales and Scotland is part of, had been taking part in International Women’s Day marches around the world.

In Chile, protesters fighting tenaciously against their right-wing government and rising living costs have adopted a chant which encapsulates the feeling many of these movements “La Revolución será feminista o non sera” – the revolution has to be feminist, or it will be nothing.

Other speakers, including Jacqui Berry – a member of the Unison NEC, speaking in a personal capacity, tackled the fundamental question: can we win liberation under capitalism? She criticised liberal feminist ideas which suggest what’s needed is “girl bosses” and increasing female respresentation in the boardrooms. The truth is that winning the liberation of women requires a mass, united working-class movement which challenges the capitalist system.

In some ways, this has been illustrated by the #MeToo movement, which started as famous and wealthy women in the spotlight coming forward to express their experiences with sexual assault and harrassment, and which soon led to a mass condemnation of sexual harrassment throughout society – with workers in Google and McDonalds taking strike action – recognising that this is a workplace issue.

Under capitalism, a system based off profit for the 1%, the oppression of women and LGBT+ people are intrinsically linked to the question of class. Capitalism benefits from and perpetuates women’s oppression – profiting from the super-exploitation of women workers, from the free labour which millions of women are expected to perform in the home, and from the commodification of women’s bodies.

We call for a mass movement of socialist activists, trade unions, and working-class people to win genuine systematic change for the betterment of the lives of working-class people of all genders.

As Yaara Cliff, from North London Socialist Alternative explained in summing up the day’s discussions, we will be continuing to organise discussion and campaigning around these issues – taking up socialist-feminist struggle on streets and in workplaces.

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