FRSO leader Tracy Molm speaks on International Women’s Day
Fight Back News Service is circulation the following speech given by Tracy Molm at Freedom Road Socialist Organization’s online International Women’s Day event.
Greetings friends and comrades and happy International Women’s Day! I am honored to join you tonight.
This last year has been a wild ride. For many, like myself, around this time is when lockdowns and the COVID-19 pandemic hit our lives directly. The  Women’s Day event in the Twin Cities was the last public event I attended indoors. This year has also included some of the fiercest fights I’ve seen in my 20 years of organizing, with a police precinct going up in flames in Minneapolis, protests in the streets of Portland [Oregon] for over 100 days with progressive activists clashing with both right-wing forces and government agents and cops, and massive militant protests across the country.
We all endured through a maddening election as a crowded field of Democratic candidates dwindled down to one rich, old white guy against another rich, old white guy (I don’t know about you but it feels like a very long time ago). We watched debates with plastic cages for the candidates and a terrible dis-information campaign giving way to outright lies about a stolen election. Biden is better for the people of the United States – just on a basic level, he believes science, that climate change is real and he has taken some action; he has opened up immigration and stopped the building of Trump’s border wall. But that’s not enough, Biden is not our candidate – he is still a rich white guy who works to continue U.S. imperialism – seen so clearly last week when he dropped bombs on Syria. And none of us have seen our $2000 checks promised during his campaign.
This last year women, transgender and gender non-conforming folks, especially those who are oppressed nationality, have been at the forefront of fighting back against attacks, and building movements – leading those massive, militant protests I mentioned before. On the other hand, oppressed nationality communities have also been disproportionately affected by the current economic crisis and pandemic.
But what does all this mean for us on Women’s Day in 2021? To quote the FRSO Unity Statement:
“The oppression of women predates the rise of capitalism. Capitalism, together with male supremacy, intensified the subordination and degradation of women. Capitalism also manipulated family life and sexuality to ensure its control over the working class.”
Capitalism, the current political and economic system we live under, boils everything down to profit – the wages we get are just a fraction of the wealth that we as the working class create. For women, the wages we get are less than that of our male counterparts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the first quarter of 2020 white women earned 79.7% as much as our male counterparts. And the numbers are worse for Black women, who earned 75.1% of the median income for white men, and 69.6% for Latina women.
And now we’re in the worst economy since at least 2008, and jobs numbers are worse than they have been since the 1920s, with women facing the brunt of the job losses. Many of the jobs lost are in the travel and leisure industry, where women make up 53.1% of the workforce yet in December we were 56.6% of the job losses; in government jobs women make up 57.5% of the workforce yet we represented 91.1% of the job losses in December; and again these numbers get worse when looking at oppressed nationality women. In December, 9.1% of Latinas and 8.4% of Black women were unemployed, compared to 5.7% of white women and 5.8% of white men. Women aren’t just losing their jobs, they are being forced to leave jobs because of impossible choices between safety and kids at home or paying rent and buying groceries.
And you can see how capitalism works to distort women’s roles in the way women are concentrated in fields like health care and teaching. Both fields directly impacted by COVID-19. Women in health care are on the front lines battling this pandemic all the while being denied protective equipment, dealing with vaccines in short supply, and fighting a health care system that focuses on profit rather than the societal nature of public health. Health care CEOs put banners up “celebrating front line workers” or call health care workers “heroes,” but this isn’t hazard pay, it’s not protective equipment to keep them safe or assistance to ensure their families are safe from the pandemic they’ve struggled with for the last year.
COVID-19 has pushed the U.S. healthcare system past its limits but this system was broken long before this pandemic. The pandemic has magnified deep-seated distrust and dramatically different health outcomes for white Americans than our Black, Latina and indigenous sisters and brothers. Forced sterilizations in the not so distant past and the lack of community health care in poorer communities the U.S. have meant that this healthcare system was never going to be successful in dealing with this pandemic because capitalism will always focus on profit over people.
For teachers, this pandemic has pitted the public necessity of schools to help get parents to work against teachers as workers. While Trump and now Biden talk about prioritizing opening schools, they continue to ignore the grave concerns that teachers have for the children they teach, the children’s families, their own families and their own health.
But Women’s Day wasn’t born out of just acknowledging the way that capitalism and male supremacy keep women oppressed in our society – it was born out of struggle. Women in the garment and textile factories staged strikes in protest of low wages, long working hours, inadequate pay, inhumane working conditions and the lack of the right to vote. They faced police beatings and jail when they protested. Yet women workers continued to struggle for better working conditions and better pay and working conditions for many years. Many people have heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, when 146 young women either burned to death or died desperately trying to escape the heat and flames by leaping from the ninth floor windows of the factory to the pavement below.
Socialists were some of the leading fighters in these struggles in the U.S., just as they were in other countries. Inspired by the New York women garment workers’ struggles and the strong role of women socialists, German communist Clara Zetkin proposed designating International Women’s Day at an International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen in 1910. Women delegates from 17 countries unanimously concurred.
We have a long way to go, but we have moved mountains over this past year – protests of thousands, during a pandemic, that demanded justice for George Floyd and so many others who have been murdered by police, and strikes like at the University of Illinois of health care workers demanding pay and protective equipment are just a couple of examples from the last year. This is exactly what we need to continue to do. Get out into the streets because that is how we will make gains and win. On March 8, Derek Chauvin, the cop who murdered George Floyd, begins his trial and I call you to join FRSO comrades at protests happening around the country.
In Freedom Road Socialist Organization we fight for socialism; we believe that the only way to true liberation is to cast off this rotten capitalist system. We can’t settle for anything less than the full liberation of ALL women, including our trans and non-binary siblings. To quote Assata Shakur, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” We must continue to fight and build for a better world as it will never be handed to us. And you should join us.