This week's installment of #SolidarityStories, written by ISO Columbus organizer Pranav Jani, commemorates the history and enduring legacy of International Working Women's Day.
Today we are participating, alongside many thousands of others across the world, in the International Women’s Strike, which brings back not only the working class roots of International Women’s Day, but the tactic of the strike itself.
In fact, socialist and working women created International Women’s Day. In 1910, the German socialist Clara Zetkin passed a resolution at the International Conference of Working Women to celebrate the day every year, internationally. Zetkin was inspired by the strikes of mostly immigrant women in US textile mills in 1908 and 1909, who had gone on strike against low pay, poor working conditions, and repressive bosses.
Another famous strike of the time involving women textiles workers happened in 1912, in the town of Lawrence, MA. 10,000 workers, mostly immigrant and mostly women, went on strike against a law that stole their wages. To give you a sense of the solidarity it took to wage that battle: the workers represented 25 different nationalities and spoke 45 different languages, and still managed to come together.
The phrase coined by labor organizer Rose Schneiderman – “bread and roses” – get to the heart of what this day is all about. “What the woman who labors wants,” Schneiderman said, “is the right to live, not simply exist … the right to life, and the sun and music and art … The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”
“Bread and roses” – the right to a good living tied to the right to the beautiful things of the world. The bringing together of the public and the private, the body and the heart. Women’s struggles – in the workplaces, in the home, in the family, in challenging the restrictions of gender and sexuality, of who to love and how – these have taught the world about something essential to the entire working class. We don’t struggle just for job security or better conditions, but we struggle for those things because we want back our whole lives. Without alienation, without stress, without dividing ourselves into tiny little fragments of ourselves.
A feminism that draws from this way of thinking is a socialist feminism, a feminism of the 99%, a feminism that does not exclude trans women, women of color, women around the world. A feminism that combats imperialism and colonialism. That fights for the abolishment of prisons, and the end of apartheid in Palestine. Such a feminism does not stop at bread or at roses but brings them together, always.
A brief history of the OSU Divest campaign, from ISO Columbus organizer and OSU alumn Haley Swenson:
Next week, OSU undergrads will, at long last, have the opportunity to vote on whether they believe their university should invest in corporations that benefit from the occupation of Palestine. This moment is the result of a long and often-difficult struggle for countless student activists and their allies on campus, dating back long before the OSU Divest Campaign formed in 2014. The many examples of solidarity in struggle leading up to this moment serve as important lessons we can’t forget. Whether Issue 2 passes next week or not, these lessons are part of the history of social justice activism at OSU, and will be crucial as we move toward the next steps in the history of the struggle for justice in Palestine.
In the winter of 2014, after a meeting on Israeli Apartheid and the Occupation of Palestine, a few folks from the ISO met with a few folks from what was then-called the Committee for Justice in Palestine (now Students for Justice in Palestine). We knew there was a need to bring the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel to our campus, and that it would take a deliberate campaign bigger than both of groups to make that happen, especially in a university environment that can often be virulently opposed to Palestinian rights.
In our first year of organizing, we began with basic education about the issue in order to recruit more members to the coalition and increase general knowledge about Israeli settlements and practices of apartheid, as well as the history of the region. We brought writer Ali Abunimah to campus and we hosted a study group on his book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Though those early meetings were nerve wracking for many of us, testing our arguments for the first time, often against an opposition that was organized and extremely confident, it was here that we became assured of the need for what we were doing collectively and determined to see it through, year after year, no matter how long it took. We were Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Atheist. We were Palestinian and not. And our increasing confidence and strength came through our principled anti-racism, our serious study of the issue, and our openness to all people who wanted to fight for Palestine.
In the winter of 2015, we made our first attempt at getting the Undergraduate Student Government to take a stand on divestment. After undergraduate petitioners worked tirelessly to engage the student body and acquire thousands of signatures to get a divestment referendum on the spring ballot, USG used a technical loophole to invalidate all of those signatures OSU Divest turned in, and rejected the ballot referendum. When, in an appeal hearing to have the decision overturned, OSU Divest organizers pointed out that candidates for office, two of them Palestinian students in the room, had made the same technical mistake but had still been allowed on the ballot, USG retaliated by removing them from the ballot as well. I wrote an article at Socialist Worker about the disgraceful way in which free speech for Palestine was denied to OSU students in that decision.
Last year, students returned for what they called Round 2. Instead of attempting the ballot referendum again, organizers decided to try a different tactic, asking USG’s senators themselves to vote to back a Divest referendum. In the build-up for the hearing, OSU Divest reached out to a wide variety of student and community organizations for support, uniting over twenty organizations to come forward to speak in favor of a divestment resolution before USG’s senators, including groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Femunity, and the African Student League. During the hearings for the resolution, Republican and Democratic Ohio legislators co-authored an article urging USG to defeat the resolution! Despite impassioned arguments from the many different voices supporting divestment, and careful rebuttals to every argument that emerged against divestment, USG’s senators rejected the resolution by secret ballot. The ISO’s Coco Smyth covered that effort here.
In the build-up for 2017’s Round 3, OSU Divest hosted frequent teach-ins on campus to raise awareness about the shared interest students across campus had in defending Palestinian rights. These included teach-ins on why Palestine is a feminist issue and why Christians should support divestment. This winter, the new generation of students leading OSU divest was back, this time returning to an old strategy, but with a new partner. OSU Divest united with students from the OSU Coalition for Black Liberation to draft a ballot initiative that called on OSU to divest both from private prisons and from a handful of corporations currently profiting from the occupation. To our knowledge, this is the first Black-Palestine initiative put forward on campus. Whatever the outcome of next week’s vote, this movement at OSU has been historic, and the coalitions of solidarity behind it will be around for the next year and the next struggle.
The fight for justice in Palestine at OSU is the story of hundreds of students, staff, faculty, and their community allies, making constant strides to bring new people from different backgrounds into the cause and to understand that if any people are subjected to settler colonialism and discriminatory policies, none of us can rest, especially when the school many of us call home is complicit in those injustices.
If you're an OSU Undergrad, make sure to vote for divestment March 6-8. You can find instructions on how to do so by following this link.
In the spirit of the upcoming International Women’s Strike on March 8, this week’s installment of #SolidarityStories is an excerpt from Candace Cohn’s excellent International Socialist Review article on the struggle for women’s washrooms and facilities in the steel industry in the 1960s and 1970s.
Though women who had fought for their right to jobs in the difficult industry initially faced misogyny both from the bosses and their male coworkers, their fight for workplace accommodations eventually united men and women across race in their workplaces, and led to a major upsurge in union resistance. Here, Cohn describes one of her own experiences of newfound solidarity with men in her workplace:
“One small incident may serve to illustrate several of those forces which operated more widely: the companies’ attempts to get rid of the women they had been compelled to hire by giving them the hardest jobs; the sympathy, support, and solidarity many males, particularly Blacks and younger whites, demonstrated toward their female coworkers (and especially toward their actively antiracist female coworkers); the ripples sometimes created by a “woman’s issue;” and the integrated leadership shared among women, men, Blacks, and whites.
The recently-hired (white) author had been assigned, like most of her sister steelworkers, to some of the heaviest physical labor at Clairton Coke Works. The track gang spent the day manually hauling railroad ties weighing several hundred pounds, and swinging sledge hammers or pickaxes over-shoulder (in order to pound in railroad spikes and dislodge the rock-like coke that fell between and clogged the tracks). As a former construction worker, the author had succeeded in pulling her weight on the crew for the better part of her three-month probation. On this particular day, however, she had cramps and must not have looked well. Some of the Black guys on the crew expressed concern.
Upon hearing that she felt both near-faint and unable to leave work due to probation, they came up with the following recommendation: Under the local union’s agreement with the company, despite the general lack of union recourse while on probation, no one could be fired for not doing their job so long as they were moving—regardless of how fast. While her coworkers were clear that they did not intend to slow down, they insisted that the local union always stood firm on this line in the sand. She might, they offered, at least feel a bit better; even as an individual, she could not be fired, so long as she was moving—at least a little, “guaranteed.”
Dubious but desperate (and not a little naïve), stressed about losing the job no matter what, the author began walking, moving, and digging coke—slowly—grateful for the limited but welcome relief. As she continued moving in exaggerated slow motion, time dragged; the expected foreman did not materialize. After awhile, another of the guys on the crew began moving in slow motion, too, then another, and before long, nearly the whole crew. The foreman stomped over. Sternly, he told the author to drop her shovel.
She was being transferred to the labor gang, he announced, commanding her to follow. He delivered her to the new job site. Not another word was said. The guys on the track gang resumed their normal pace. They had made their point. Slowdowns were not an everyday occurrence at Clairton, but the dynamics of this story were—even in that environment of rampant misogyny. These dynamics—of solidarity and shared initiative—were experienced and deepened by many hundreds of workers during the washroom campaign.”
Read her entire account of the rebellion here: http://isreview.org/…/working-class-womens-liberation-and-r…
For this week's installment of #SolidarityStories, we will share a story submitted to us by a veteran of the movement, Roger Barriteau. If you'd like to share your own Solidarity Story, just send us a PM.
In 1978 I taught Black Studies in Marion Correctional Institution - Marion OH. The course I presented was the best parts of what I had been teaching in my Black Studies Courses at Ohio State over several years.
My time with the fellas in Marion was fortifying to me. The most astonishing moment was when I decided to hand back graded midterms outside of class. I asked for and got help from a couple of officers who let me in to where the guys were lining up for lunch. I was handing back the exams when out of the blue a very tall and very big Brother who I had never seen before came up to me. I looked up to him towering over me and he said: “Are you the brother who is teaching a Black Studies Course?” I said – 'Yes” .
“I want to thank you for bringing those books in here – I have been borrowing them from ... and they have been helping me to realize just who I am”. Those words continue to give me such fulfillment. I know that those Brothers really wanted me to be there and they have so much Hunger for self knowledge.
The class was not large and the men were Black – except for four White guys. Their very presence in this course which was about Black lives as revealed in our history obviously raised questions. “Why are they here” was certainly on my mind as well as on the minds of my Black brothers. I elected to make no mention of their being different and to get busy with what turned out to be my most satisfying experience as a teacher. The course was given in a wing where there were inmates and educators but no officers – so I got a chance to observe and to some extent live under Inmate's rules. For example I was not to ask where an absent inmate was – the inmates risked coming off as tattlers or worse by answering that question. But I found that out by asking the class why they could not simply tell me. One of my students explained the rule to me and I asked the class to guide me with such stuff so that things would go more smoothly. That set the mark for an easy give and take between us.
One of the 4 White men commenced to open one of his texts, lean back and place it over his eyes – he remained like that for the rest of the class session – but in subsequent sessions he quit doing that. The White students never asked questions – while there was considerable discussion among the rest of us.
I made eye contact with my students – my feelings were with them and they still come to my mind quite often. I could see the White students were taking it all in. I was interacting with other White inmates who worked in the office and I also learned from them – one of the men working in the office was helpful to all and quite likable. One day we were exchanging a few words and he suddenly looked me in the eye and blurted out to me "I killed two people - I don't know what happened - I will never get out of here!". I did not even blink - I looked him directly in the eyes back and I said "I like you - I am glad that you are alive". He was a bit stunned and then he turned and walked away. One of my White students had written a very fine midterm and when I handed his graded exam back to him in that line up for lunch I mentioned above – I was able to lay a little praise on his work.
On the last day of class I was very moved. I was gratified with what I had learned from the inmates – my own class prejudices had been broken down some and I was joyous over what they had brought to the course – how they had shared with each other and how HOPE had been stirred by what we learned together. I thanked them for this course and promised them that I will tell what I had learned from them. As they stood to walk from the classroom I took a position by the door and shook every man's hand as he left. The White student who wrote the superb exam was startled that I offered to shake his hand. I gave him a look of ' please accept me in this ' - we shook hands and he was clearly moved.
Later I saw one of the Black students and he asked me “Did all the White guys shake your hand?” - and when I told him with a smile “Yes, every one did” he smiles and shook his head. There was much self regulated racial segregation in the joint. These 4 White men had to negotiate with the rest of the White inmates over why they took this class with all those Blacks. I don't know how that worked out but I am convinced that the White inmates had a similar Hunger for self knowledge and a perception that knowing more about us Blacks would help them to discover themselves and their situation.
I took a lot with me from Marion Correctional:
■ Maintaining a calm demeanor is the Way. Its the way to get by.
■ That Inmates care for and look after each other. That friendship is a great prize.
■ That while I was behind the walls I wanted to be out.
■ I wanted to share what I knew and the skills I had – that was my motivation. But on several occasions an inmate ( student or a clerk in the office) - would speak to me from the heart. That deepened my compassion.
In 1936 Jewish-American writer Dorothy Parker, who was known for gender politics that were far ahead of her time, helped found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League (HANL) to raise awareness of the developing travesties in Europe, especially among her fellow workers in the film industry. After the War, when anti-communist fervor took over the country, Parker was among the many workers in the film industry blacklisted as a result of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings. Though Parker had never actually joined the Communist Party, her work in HANL cast her as "prematurely anti-Fascist," which for HUAC was just as bad as being a card-carrying communist, especially for a Jewish woman.
When she died in 1967, Parker left the value of her entire estate (about 20 thousand dollars) and her future royalties to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help with the civil rights struggle. Though she had never met King, she admired him deeply and saw the future of anti-racist struggle in his organizing. After his assassination a year later, the money and future royalties transferred to the NAACP, as Parker had requested if King should die. Today, Parker’s ashes rest in a small garden outside the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore next to a plaque with the words she once joked should mark her grave: “Excuse my dust.”
In the summer of 2014 Israeli violence against the people of Gaza escalated to a shocking extent, with missiles purposely targeting civilian buildings and roughly twenty percent of the casualties Palestinian children. People around the world held solidarity rallies to pressure Israel to stop the assault.
About one month into the assault on Gaza, Black, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot at close range in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer. After witnesses who saw Brown with his hands up when he was shot expressed outrage, the almost all-white police force of Ferguson added insult to injury by leaving Brown’s body in plain view of the street for hours. As protest erupted, the Ferguson police and Missouri national guard escalated the conflict by bringing in heavy military equipment to repress the protests.
Though Palestinians were still facing the immediate threat of the Israeli military, they took the time to Tweet messages of support to the protesters in Ferguson and drew comparisons between what residents of the two places were experiencing, pointing out not only that the police in the U.S. travel to Israel for training but that the same U.S.-made tear gas canisters were being used against both civilian populations. One tweet read, “The oppressed stands with the oppressed.#Palestine stands with #Ferguson.,” while others offered more immediate, practical advice: “Solidarity with #Ferguson. Remember to not touch your face when teargassed or put water on it. Instead use milk or coke!” Solidarity like this has been a part of the Black liberation movement and anti-apartheid movement for decades, resulting most recently in messages of support between the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions National Committee and the Black Lives Matter Platform.
One of the most powerful slogans of our organizing in the last few months has been, "Solidarity trumps hate!" What is solidarity exactly? In these stories from the history of the struggle for human liberation we share examples of the power of solidarity and the many creative forms it takes. We will share another #SolidarityStory each Wednesday. If you have a story of solidarity you'd like to share, please send them to us!