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An inspiring International Women’s Day with the flavour of the streets!

Carolyn Egan

March 16, 2021
Toronto was still in lockdown when International Women’s Day weekend came this year. The multiracial committee called by Women Working with Immigrant Women to organize the rally and march understood that would be the case. There was a strong consensus that the organizing must go on and an event with the “flavour of the streets” had to continue the tradition that had started in 1978.
In that year the media was saying that the fight for women’s liberation was over and feminism was dead. A coalition was formed with the intent of bringing back the militancy of the movements of the sixties, and the history of working glass struggle exemplified by immigrant women garment workers who fought for decent wages and working conditions in New York City in the early twentieth century. Those struggles inspired Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg and other socialist women to call for a yearly celebration of International Women’s Day. A few years later in 1912 thousands of women speaking twenty two different languages struck against the mill owners in Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts and sparked the song “Bread and Roses” which has become the anthem of the women’s movement.
The Toronto march has been the largest in North America taking place every year and highlighting the key issues that women are struggling for. It is diverse and militant and the organizers intended to keep that spirit in 2021. The theme was “Rising Above the Pandemic, Fighting for a Just Future for All” and the goal was to give voice to those who were most affected by the pandemic.
A huge effort took place to capture the struggles of diverse, working class women fighting back against the conditions they were facing, and hopefully inspire others to follow their lead. A videographer was able to film long term care workers pushing back against their bosses while for profit facilities made big money as residents died. A young non-binary childcare worker described how they had been laid off for many months and the economic hardship they had to go through. When finally back to work in January they organized fellow workers demanding better conditions and won. Their ten year old niece spoke of how excited she had been on past marches with her mother and aunties demonstrating with thousands of others for a better life without racism and inequality!
A migrant worker from the Philippines described the conditions that she and her fellow workers endured working in an unorganized meat packing plant with low pay and terrible conditions. A white working class woman from the north Etobicoke chapter of ACORN protested with her neighbours outside their apartments railing against the greedy landlords who were evicting them to jack up the rent. They had no affordable alternatives and were being forced out of the city.
There were powerful videos of Indigenous women, demonstrating in support of the struggles of the Mi’kmaq, 1492 Land Back Lane, the Wet’suwet’en and other First Nations battles for self determination and control of their traditional lands and waters. An activist from the Black Action Defense Committee spoke outside a police division taking on anti Black racism and calling for the defunding of police. An organizer spoke about the need for paid sick days and pressed for change from the Tory government. Kurdish women spoke about the femicide of the Turkish regime that they are fighting.
All of these were interspersed with clips of past IWD marches, rallies for Black Lives Matter, strikes and protests with music and song, and powerful messages of resistance and solidarity. It was not the same as being together in the streets but the spirit of a fighting women’s movement was there for all to see and take part it. It was an inspiring event and we are ready for the fights to come!  
Click here to watch the video from IWD 2021
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