I thought this is a good statement on International Women’s Day, March 8. It was released by Committee for Asian Women based in Bangkok:
On 8 March 1857, women working in clothing and textile factories (called ‘garment workers’) in New York City, in the United States, staged a protest. They were fighting against inhumane working conditions and low wages. The police attacked the protestors and dispersed them. Two years later, again in March, these women formed their first labour union to try and protect themselves and gain some basic rights in the workplace.
On 8 March 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to child labour. They adopted the slogan “Bread and Roses”, with bread symbolizing economic security and roses a better quality of life.
— United Nations
A century later International Women’s Day is being commemorated with the following realities:
- 20 million unskilled, low educated Chinese workers have lost their jobs;
40,000 Indonesian workers in the electronic and manufacturing sectors were fired in only two months in 2008;
Millions of Indian workers in textiles, leather, gems and jewellery faced job losses;
5,000 dismissed overseas Filipino workers are returning to the Philippines everyday;
633 enterprises laid off more than 106,000 workers in January and February 2009 in Thailand, with 1.13 million more expected to be fired by the end of the year.
Up to 90% of retrenched workers will be women. They are concentrated in highly export-oriented manufacturing industries which are now closing down in Asia. Women have always dominated labour-intensive and low skilled jobs and thus have been the most vulnerable to exploitation at work, job insecurity, and arbitrary retrenchment as in the case of today’s global financial crisis.
The prosperity promised by profit-driven, free trade capitalist system, fuelled by the exploitation of cheap labour and consumerist over-production have resulted in debt-ridden lives, environmental destruction, energy and food crises that entwine in vicious cycles of each other. Yet again workers are sacrificed to save transnational corporations (TNCs) and superpower governments that support them.
Neo-liberal specialists insist on intensified Free Trade to solve the problem as if indulging more in what’s killing the people will save them.
A hundred years from Bread and Roses, it is time to reclaim emancipation for women through feminist economics and social justice: cooperation of all society towards fulfilment of human needs instead of human greed; agricultural security; social protection; equitable distribution of wealth and resources; sustainable, self-sufficient gender-fair industrialisation, and not export-led growth fantasies.
An immediate and unconditional halt to all free trade agreements, together with the allocation of insurance funds for displaced workers, nationalising of privatised public utilities and services, development of employment opportunities at home for returning migrant workers, and debt cancellation are needed to bail out suffering workers– the real victims of this global financial tsunami.