Last month was the 112th anniversary of the first ever International Working Women’s Day, but it feels as though the “working” part of the global holiday’s title has waned over the years, fading into the background of a holiday that now forefronts womanhood and girl power without the context of class consciousness. By decontextualizing the origins of the holiday and prioritizing “girl bosses” who do not represent the majority of women, it paves way for capitalist ideals. But by centering the struggles of working, incarcerated, migrant women and gender nonconforming people–from last month’s IWD to next month’s May Day–we can build solidarity among the most oppressed sectors of society, and challenge the root causes of our oppression.
Members of Vancouver-based grassroots collectives including Anakbayan BC, Defund 604 Network, Gabriela BC, Migrante BC, Samidoun Vancouver, Sulong UBC, the Worker Solidarity Network, and Unite Here Local 40 held a joint rally on March 11, 2023 to specifically commemorate the revolutionary working class origins and actions of International Working Women’s Day (IWWD). Speakers from the organizations addressed topics ranging from structural violence towards Indigenous and working women, international solidarity, and cultural performances such as poetry readings about Filipino migrant workers.
Policing has no place in women’s rights
Hailey Yasmeen Dash from Defund 604 Network highlighted the gender-based state violence from policing and incarceration. “The families of Chelsea Poorman, Tatyanna Harrison, and Noelle O’Soup are still demanding justice one year later, and this is on top of them experiencing racist, dehumanizing, and dismissive treatment from the VPD (Vancouver Police Department) during the inquiry of their childrens’ deaths. They were not taken seriously during the search for their missing children, or after their bodies were tragically found.”
She adds that “an overwhelming 82% of incarcerated women in this country are in prison because of behaviour related to coping with poverty, histories of abuse, substance use, and mental health issues that commonly arise from these experiences. This includes women defending themselves from attackers.”
She mentions the anti-policing and abolitionist struggle globally, stating, “Imperialism takes hold of countries abroad by means of police, military, and border enforcement. The Canadian government funds and trains police forces in occupied Palestine, the Philippines, Latin America, Haiti, across Africa, and elsewhere to suppress mass dissent and to violate Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. Women are on the frontlines of these fights.”
“Sexual violence against women is rampant in areas nearby Canadian military bases or where so-called peacekeeping missions take place” she said.
The “international” of International Working Women’s Day
Kristine Castanos from Gabriela BC connects the roots of migration of Filipino migrant workers to underdevelopment in their home countries, and how imperialist countries like America maintain that underdevelopment. “The Philippine government continues to allow US military bases and troops on our land” who “train the Philippine army and police who then use those tactics to suppress their own citizens, especially activists and land defenders” she states. “The United States presence in the Philippines is both to project its military power in the region in the face of its inter-imperialist conflict with China, but also to maintain a system of underdevelopment within the Philippines which keeps its people impoverished,” she says.
“There are no jobs back home due to decades of government neglect and imperialist plunder,” she says. “This forces millions of Filipinos every year to leave our country to seek employment to support their families in places such as Canada. Canada welcomes these Temporary Foreign Workers knowing they are able to further exploit their labour, leaving them in precarious work situations, with no rights, no status and given extreme barriers when applying for Permanent Residency.”
Themes of family separation caused by migration, the need to work multiple jobs to pay for rising costs of basic commodities and housing in Canada, as well as to send remittances to their families in their home country were also discussed by some of the speakers.
“We highlight the ‘workers’ in IWWD because it is only through our class consciousness will we be able to understand the root causes of our oppression,” Castanos says. “At a grassroots level we need to organize ourselves around our common struggles and connect them internationally.”
This coalition of grassroots collectives will take further worker-led actions for May Day:
- Defund 604 Network will be celebrating May Day on May 1st from 3 PM to 6 PM at Oppenheimer Park. More details on their instagram and facebook.
- Migrante BC, with Anakbayan BC, Gabriela BC, Sulong UBC, and Canada-Philippines Solidarity, will host a May Day event on April 30th from 1 PM to 5 PM. Venue and details to follow on Migrante BC’s instagram and facebook.
- The Worker Solidarity Network will host its May Day event on May 1st at Grandview Church, off Commercial Drive from 3 PM to 9 PM. More details here.
Photos from Michael YC Tseng and Bayan Canada.
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