“Sister Workers, have you heard this?” Chicago IWW speech for International Working Women’s Day, 2015

Sister Workers, have you heard this?

A woman’s place is in the kitchen. A woman’s place is in the bedroom. A woman’s place is in the nursery. A woman’s place is in the union hall. It’s no coincidence that the only one you haven’t heard is the only one that is true.

One hundred and ten years ago, a feminist, anarchist, and union organizer named Lucy Parsons stood before the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World and proclaimed “We, women, are the slaves of slaves. We are exploited more ruthlessly than men. Whenever wages are to be reduced the capitalist class uses women to reduce them, and if there is anything that you men should do in the future it is to organize the women”.

Luckily, the others present at the IWW’s founding listed to her advice and the IWW became the first union to organize across the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, color, language, industry, trade, skill, and employment status. The IWW became the one big union, the union for all members of the working class, standing by the motto of ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ .

Fighting for the liberation of all workers necessitates doing more than organizing workplaces and building collective power on the job. It means fighting all forces of oppression which affect all members of the working class in intersecting ways- economic exploitation, alienation from one’s labor, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, incarceration, nationalism  and patriarchy.

Capitalism is designed to perpetuate the economic structures which keep material power in the hands of the ruling class, chaining the working class into wage slavery. Capitalism is also designed to maintain the social forces which divide the working class in order to prevent them from uniting against their truest enemy, their bosses. Capitalism relies on the oppression of the majority to maintain the power of the minority, and oppression thrives in the crushing inequality and desperation caused by the capitalists theft of our labor and our freedom.

The relationship between patriarchy and capitalism is one of mutual benefit, creating a situation in which women are subjected to interwoven forces of economic and social domination. Not only are women expected to wait on their husbands and children hand and foot without pay, they must also wait on others for a fraction of men’s already inadequate wages.This is the economics of capitalist patriarchy: if it doesn’t make a profit, make women do it for less.

Those who profit from our exploitation know the revolutionary potential of a class conscious women’s movement. They knew our power in 1857 when they attacked the garment workers’ picket in New York City where women workers demanded a 10-hour workday, better working conditions, and equal rights. They knew our power in 1912 when they arrested striking women in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts, for demanding not just bread, but roses too. They know the threat organized militant working women pose today, or they wouldn’t be writing our successes out of their history books.

We must not allow the history of International Womens’ Day to be diluted by a bourgeois agenda, much the way Labor Day has replaced May Day as the widely celebrated working-class holiday in the United States. The true working class roots of International Womens’ Day must not be forgotten.

Another revolutionary woman and IWW member, the Rebel Girl, Elizabeth Flynn, once said that “The IWW has been accused of putting the women in the front. The truth is- the IWW does not keep them at the back- and they go to the front”

I am deeply honored to come to speak to you on behalf of the Chicago Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World. I am proud to follow the fine tradition of wobbly women who come to the front.

Women have always been leaders of the labor movement.

Working women are forced intro class-consciousness by a patriarchal society of wage gaps, discriminatory hiring, withholding of gender-specific health care, and a denial of bodily autonomy or self determination, all of which points to where we stand on the capitalist pyramid and, let me tell you, it’s not on the top.

We’re sick of three quarters on the dollar, we’re sick of unpaid domestic labor, we’re sick of unrealistic expectations of beauty, we’re sick of being subject to violence and abuse, and we’re sick of being legislated literally inside and out.

There is no hope for emancipation in this class society so we must change this society all together. We must continue forward in the spirit of our sisters who went on strike in 1857 and 1912, fighting to abolish patriarchy and sexism alongside capitalism.

After all, who are we as feminists if we let the prospect of a woman CEO cast a shadow over a single mother facing eviction because their full time job pays a starvation wage?

Who are we as feminists if we prop up a female candidate for president while apologizing for her stance on the criminalization of sex workers, disregarding their struggle for physical safety and economic security?

Who are we as feminists, if we look up to outspoken female celebrities who say how far we have come in our struggle against oppression, without admitting to ourselves how far we have to go to finally reach liberation?

Who are we if we call ourselves feminists and ignore the class war being waged on our sister workers and ourselves?

Women must always be leaders of the labor movement.

We must go to the front of the picket line.

We must go to the front of our own distinctly feminist organizations.and ensure that, as we fight the bosses, we also challenge sexism and patriarchy within our organizations and within the working class movement.

Women have come to the front today.

We have come to celebrate our history, not only as women, but as working women and as feminist workers.

We have come together today, united in the struggle for the liberation of our sisters and of our class.

We have come together today to work towards the revolution.

Working women, hear me!

The revolution begins when we go to the front.


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