International Women's Day is celebrated worldwide on March 8. It dates back to 1908 when women needleworkers marched through the Lower East Side of New York City to protest child labor, better working conditions and to demand their right to vote.
The labor struggle in the United States traditionally focused on men. Women supported their weight and their share from the beginning, supporting men's organization, and very soon, after realizing that women's needs were ignored in existing unions, they formed their own unions.
The first women's strike took place in 1820, women working in New England's tailoring industry demanded better conditions, decent wages and shorter hours.
The most famous of the first strikes took place at the Lowell cotton factories in Massachusetts. Here young women worked 81 hours a week for $3 dollars, of which 1/4 went to food and board to the Lowell company pensions. The factories originally opened at 7 a.m., but the employers, noting that women were less "energetic" if they ate before work, changed the opening time to 5 a.m., with a breakfast break at 7 in the morning (for half an hour).
In 1834, 14 years later and after several pay cuts, Lowell's women left as a form of protest but had to return several days later and on less pay than they had. They were brave women but the company had power; any misbehavior led to disciplinary action where they were blacklisted.
Two years later, in 1836 they went out again singing with great courage through the city the following message:
"Oh, isn't a shame a woman as pretty as me,
have to go to a factory to disappear and die?"
Without any positive results, they had to return to work within a few days.
In 1844, this organization led to the Lowell Women's Labor Reform Association. Their main demand was a ten-hour day. And thanks to this, the leadership and activity of this union is credited with the beginning of some of the first reforms in the conditions of the textile industries.
On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and protested, demanding better working conditions, a ten-hour day and equal rights for women. Their ranks were divided by the police.
In the period of intense work activity that followed the Civil War from 1861until 1865, when widowhood and difficult times forced thousands of women to enter the workforce, causing panic and hostility from men, women were excluded from most national unions. They then formed their own union, including the Daughters of San Crispin, a union of shoemakers. During this time, unions were formed by women cigar makers, sewers, and printers, as well as tailors and laundresses.
Fifty one years after the garment workers' march in 1857, on March 8, 1908, her sisters in the needle trade in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote and the end of the exploitation in factories and child labor. The police were also present on this occasion.
Garment workers formed some of the most famous unions in US history. In particular the International Union of Ladies' Clothing Workers, founded around 1900.
Garment factories in big cities like New York were deplorable. Fire hazards abounded, light was scarce, the sound of machinery was deafening, and the environment was polluted.
Women were fined for practically anything: talking, laughing, singing, oil stains on the fabric, stitches too big or too small. The overtime was constant and required, but paying for it was not.
With the support of the National League of Women's Trade Unions, founded in 1903, (3 years after the founding of the International Ladies' Clothing Union), shirt makers launched a series of strikes against Leiserson and Company and the Triangle Waist company, two of the most famous stores in New York.
These actions culminated in the first long term general strike by women, ending tired arguments that they could not organize and carry on a lasting struggle. For 13 weeks in the bitterness of winter, women between the ages of 16 and 25 barricaded and were beaten daily by the police and taken in "Black Maria" police vans.
This strike was called the "Rising of the 20,000, this took place in 1909.
The courts were tilted in favor of the owners of the workshops; a magistrate accused a striker: "You are on strike against God and Nature", whose main law is that man will earn his bread with the sweat of his brow. This sparked a cablegram from George Bernard Shaw, who along with other Europeans were following the course of America's job history. He wrote: "Enchanting, Medieval America always in intimate personal trust with the Almighty."
The strike was finally broken, as the protests took place store by store, but the talent and resistance of the women made it possible for people to change their way of thinking and to agree with them, stating that the labor organization protected only men.
On March 8, 1908, Cotton Company workers in New York went on strike to protest unacceptable working conditions. The factory owner rejected their demands, so the women exercised their legitimate collective right by locking themselves in the factory. They all died in a subsequent fire, the origin of which was never discovered.
In 1910 at the World Congress of the Socialist Party in Germany called the Second International, the German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed that International Women's Day be proclaimed on March 8 to commemorate the United States' demonstrations and honor women workers in all the world.
Since then, mauve (purple), the color of the cloth produced by these women, has become the symbol of the feminist struggle. There is also a theory that at the time the factory was burning, the smoke that came out was mauve (purple) because it was the color of the textile that the women worked on.
Zetkin, who was a renowned revolutionary who argued with Lenin about women's rights, was considered a serious threat to the European governments of her time; the Kaiser called her "the empire's most dangerous sorceress."
A year after the "Rising of the 20,000" strike broke, the infamous Triangle Blouse Factory fire occurred on March 25, 1911. By trapping the women on the upper floors, the fire doors had been locked from the outside to prevent women workers from retiring, the fire claimed the lives of 123 women and girls and 23 men, most women between the ages of 13 and 25 and most of them recent migrants to the US.
Employers went to trial; one was fined $20. An agreement was reached with the families of the deceased women for $75 per death.
Rose Schneiderman, organizer of the Garment Workers, rebuked the community for supporting the law and the institutions that made such tragedies possible. "I know from my own experience that it is up to working people to save themselves," She proclaimed. "The only way they can be saved is through a strong movement of the working class."
This has been only a fraction of the history of American working women; part of this fraction was enough to inspire an international movement.
Moreover, it is not often recognized that one of the main reasons that sparked the Russian Revolution was a massive strike in 1917 by textile workers.
Chinese women began celebrating in 1924, in parallel with a strong women's movement in the Chinese Communist Party. When the women's liberation movement began in the United States and Great Britain, Women's Day was rediscovered and revived as a feminist holiday.
In 1970, the Uruguayan revolutionary Tupamaros celebrated on March 8th by releasing 13 female prisoners from Uruguayan jails.
The history of American working women is often recognized symbolically when referring to the great heroines of the movement but it should not be forgotten that there were individual women, and that most of the organization struggles, as well as success and failure, It was made by ordinary women we will never know about.
These were women who realized the tactical need to work together so that they could not be destroyed individually, putting to shame the ridiculous theories of "woman's place".
At Lawrence's famous textile strike they carried signs saying "We Want Bread and Roses", symbolizing their demands not only for a living wage but also for a decent and humane life, and thus inspired James Oppenheim's song "Bread and Roses "
During the 20th century, textile workers across the United States of all categories, and textile workers in particular, were subjected to abysmal working conditions, marked by crowded, unhealthy facilities, long work days, and miserable wages. They often worked in small sweatshops. The 65 hour workweek was normal, and in the high season could be as long as 75 hours.
In NYC, garment production in the first decade of the century was divided among 600 stores and factories, employing 30,000 workers, with revenues of approximately $50 million in merchandise annually.
Despite their low wages, workers were often required to supply their own basic materials, including needles, threads, and sewing machines. Workers could be fined for being late for work or for damaging a garment they were working on.
In some workplaces, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, steel doors were used to lock up workers and prevent them from taking breaks, and as a result women had to ask supervisors for permission to use the bathroom.
The industry was dominated by immigrant workers, including Jews who spoke Yiddish, about half of the total, and Italians, who made up another third.
About 70% of the workforce was female, about half of whom were under the age of 20.
In the production of shirts (blouses) in particular, the workforce was almost only Jewish women. Some of them had belonged to unions in Europe before their immigration. Many of the Jewish women in particular had been members of the Bund. Thus, they were no stranger to organized labor or its tactics. In fact, Jewish women working in the garment industry were among the most vocal and active supporters of women's suffrage in New York.
On November 22, 1909, Clara Lemlich had been listening to men talk about the downsides and warnings about industry workers going on a general strike. After listening to these men speak for four or more hours at a local union meeting, he got up and stated in Yiddish that he wanted to say a few words.
After taking the podium, she declared that the workers would go on a general strike. Her statement received a great ovation and the audience went wild. Clara then vowed that if she became a traitor to the cause she now voted for, then the hand she now held aloft would wilt on her arm.
On November 24, less than a day after the strike was declared, 15,000 shirt workers left the factories, and more people joined the strike the following day. The strike lasted until February 1910 and ended in a "Peace Protocol" that allowed the strikers to return to work and meet the demands of the workers, which included better wages, fewer hours, and equal treatment for workers who were in the labor union.
In 1910, at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen, the demand for universal suffrage for all women was reiterated and, on the proposal of Clara Zetkin, it was proclaimed March 8 as International Women's Day.
International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time on March 19, 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland.
Just 6 days later, on March 25, 1911, 123 young workers and 23 workers, mostly immigrants, died in the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York, they could not leave the building because they had been locked without possibility to escape.
This event had a major impact on labor law in the United States, and subsequent celebrations of International Women's Day referred to the working conditions that led to the disaster.
Russian women celebrated their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February in 1913.
In 1914, in Germany, Sweden and Russia, International Women's Day was officially commemorated for the first time on March 8. In other European countries, women held rallies around March 8 to protest the war and to show solidarity with other women.
Since its official approval by the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the day began to be celebrated in many other countries.
As of May 8, 1965, by decree of the Soviet Union, International Women's Day was declared a non-working day.
In China it has been celebrated since 1922.
In Spain it was held for the first time in 1936.
In Mexico, since 1960, the Civic Day of Mexican Women has been celebrated every February 15.
About 70% of garment workers worldwide are women.
Women garment factory workers who export to the US are from Bangladesh and Cambodia and have the lowest wages, Bangladesh $68 USD, and Cambodia $128 USD per month. Thailand wages are $9 per day / $234 per month.
Female spinning workers in India earn between $22 and $58 per month.
At the end of the 20th century there was a period of significant changes in the concentration of the clothing market: since then, the main producing and exporting countries have changed almost completely.
For example: in 1970, among the main exporters to the USA, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and France were found.
In 2011, the US received the majority of imports from countries such as China, Cambodia, Pakistan, Mexico and Bangladesh. In these countries, the problem of child exploitation and subhuman working conditions continue.
Production has generally shifted to the least developed or developing countries. Most of the production is concentrated in Asia, although the production market in some non-Asian developing countries is growing: Panama, Chile and Egypt for example.
Countries like Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia have become key players when it comes to exports to the European Union.
Indigenous Women in the Labor Market.
The labor insertion of indigenous women in the different sectors of the economy differs significantly from that of men, with more marked differences than those attributable to their ethnicity. While men have a relatively balanced participation in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy, women, both indigenous and non-indigenous, are mainly engaged in the tertiary sector, which mainly includes trade and services activities.
With the exception of those in Ecuador and Peru, most indigenous women in the labor market are employed, most likely in precarious jobs. These results have a negative impact on the cultural identity of indigenous people and women, and do not necessarily improve their well-being, since these jobs are not exempt from long working hours, poor remuneration and practically the absence of coverage in terms of social security.
In Latin America and the Caribbean there is a population of more than 23 million indigenous women who belong to more than 670 villages, a group that continues to be in an unequal situation with the rest of the population and the interior of their communities, according to the latest report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) or United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Mexico and Peru would be the countries with the largest indigenous population, with 8.7 and 3.3 million indigenous women, respectively. Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador follow, with a population of indigenous women of between 700,000 and 400,000; Nicaragua and Panama have around 200,000 and Uruguay and Costa Rica less than 100,000.
Among the problems that afflict this population is the low participation in the labor market.
We are going to present now a group of Latin American women who are working with indigenous communities giving a fairer value to their work and their lives.
DULY ROMERO, Honduras
Owner of her own brand and atelier, Duly has been able to meet figures such as Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Mesón Mesa, Giannina Azar, among other designers, on catwalks and is currently working on some designs for Jenny Blanco (presenter, Miami) and Sandra Echeverria (Mexican singer, actress).
Recently, an event called “Latin American Catwalk” was held in Spain, a project set up by the Honduran Alejandro Medrano in which the aim is to publicize the talent that exists in Latin America and that resides in that European country.
"I realized the project and of course I wanted to participate, so I presented some design sketches of what my collection would be and they loved the proposal, so I managed to join," said the young designer.
On the catwalk she presented her collection “Whispers of Hope”, whose main material was Lenca fabrics.
"As a Honduran, I feel the responsibility to demonstrate this wonderful work that these women do and highlight the Lenca culture and thus demonstrate that we can merge these fabrics with haute couture made by Lenca women, and through my garments in this collection I have designed stories, moments and emotions”, she explained about this line.
“The main intention of this collection is to emphasize the luxury of working with artisan fabrics, since the industrialization of fashion has left behind these beautiful fabrics. Wishing it to be a “Whisper” to society of how beautiful it would be to maintain these cultures, which are currently disappearing due to modernization”.
2. DIANA RAMIREZ, Paraguay
Designs seduced by naturally evoking the deepest nature. Fusion of subtle lines in harmony with the natural properties of high quality fabrics. Creating versatile, comfortable and extremely soft garments. A pleasure for the senses, which together with the principles of ethical and ecological responsibility, and the incorporation of Paraguayan artisan fabrics of little production, turn them into unique garments of unmatched value, only working with natural textiles that come from recycling the polyester.
3. ANNIE CHAJIN, Panama
Annie has managed to establish her brand, her designs are not difficult to recognize precisely because of the strong colors, textures and the fun elephants that stand out in each of her collections.
Annie's touch in each of her designs involves lovers of craft design and sustainable fashion.
The Panamanian woman has shown her essence and creativity on important catwalks such as Fashion Week Panama and in editions of Nicaragua Diseña.
4. MARIANNE CLÉ, Mexico
Marianne works with artisans from the Cancuc region, in the State of Chiapas, Mexico, of the Sii Xchilul Pak 'Group of Paisana Women. The huipiles or ponchos are handmade, 100% Cotton.
The designs are repeated but the colors of the brocades always change transforming them into unique pieces, they are made on waist looms.
The huipiles take, for their elaboration, around a week of work between 5 and 7 hours a day each one. Each huipil has the name on its label of the artisan who made it and when this huipil is sold, the artisan receives an extra bonus for her work.
Marianne's dream is to bring enough financial means back to this community so that their women have better access to education and resources
Here is this week's show. The themes are: The relationship between the textile industry and International Women's Day, the color purple, things have not changed, indigenous women.
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Carolina Chavez clothing: Katharine Hamnett's jacket and white t-shirt from Good Will.