shorter hours

One Hundred and Eight Years of Marching

This photo shows a woman with a sign that mentions the Shirtwaist Factory, a reference to the deadly New York City fire that took the lives of 145 women seamstresses in 1911. But as early as 1908, working women were organizing and marching for better working conditions and pay, and still we’re waving signs in the streets, believing a better world with women’s say-so is not only possible, but essential.

This photo shows a woman with a sign that mentions the Shirtwaist Factory, a reference to the deadly New York City fire that took the lives of 145 women seamstresses in 1911. But as early as 1908, working women were organizing and marching for better working conditions and pay, and still we’re waving signs in the streets, believing a better world with women’s say-so is not only possible, but essential.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, March 8, celebrated around the world. Do something special! Wear a big hat, go out with your girlfriends, negotiate for a raise, march for your rights! The date it commemorates marks its beginning in 1908, when 15,000 women marched in the streets of New York City, demanding shorter hours, better pay, and the right to vote.

 The following year, an enterprising Socialist Party of America organized a women’s conference and proposed there that March 8th become an annual commemoration of women. The next year, 1911, a working women’s conference in Copenhagen attended by 100 women from 17 countries proposed March 8th become an international day of recognition. This year marks the 108th International Women’s Day.

 So what do we American women have to show for it? Well, economist Heidi Hartmann, who founded the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington D.C., and who introduced us to the gender pay-gap and updates it every year, came out with a longer-term analysis with her colleague Stephen Rose in November 2018. They say that when looked at in 15-year increments, women make only 49 cents on a man’s dollar, not the more often cited 80 cents of Equal Pay Day that makes us feel as if we’re gaining a bit. 

It’s pretty simple why this is so: American women are still much more likely than men to cut back hours or take a break from the job market to have children or care for a sick family member. Without affordable child care or family leave time built into our American social contract, women workers and their families cannot help but come up short.

Meanwhile, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) just released an update on women’s educational debt. Going to college in greater numbers than men now, women also tend to borrow more money. They owe two-thirds of the nation’s $1.3 TRILLION in educational debt—and then the pay gap (see above) makes it harder for her to pay it back. The women most deeply in debt upon graduating are African American women—on average owing $33,000, compared to $22,000 for white women and $19,500 for white men. The educational benefit that exists for military veterans just doesn’t apply here—but it could, with adequate state and federal support.  

That apparently will take more women marching in the streets, and perhaps (gasp) more dread democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.