Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Today we celebrate all the fierce immigrant women---warriors, fighters, leaders of yesterday and today--- who fight/fought for justice and dignity for all! International Women’s Day has its roots in a commemoration organized by Theresa Malkiel, an immigrant woman who dedicated her life to fighting for immigrant and working women. Malkiel and her family fled anti-Semitism in Russia in 1891 when she was 17 years old. To support herself, she began working in the garment industry in New York, where the majority of workers were immigrant women. This was one of the most dangerous and exploitative industries, and factory owners would often lock workers in so that they could not take breaks. Malkiel became a garment worker organizer and wrote about the horrible working conditions that they faced, and about the strikes that they organized. She joined the Socialist Party of America, and established Woman’s Day, which was held in New York in February 1909.
At the end of that year, the garment workers organized a 3 month strike. That strike culminated in the formation of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Although women from several factories joined the union, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was fiercely anti-union. In March 1911, the factory caught on fire and 146 women, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants, died because they could not escape--- the owner had locked them in. More than 100,000 workers took to the streets in protest.
In the years following the tragedy, the commemoration of working women evolved into International Women’s Day. On March 8, 1917, Russian women garment workers held a protest in their country’s capital. This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Today, International Women’s Day is celebrated in more than 100 countries.
Immigrant women have always been at the forefront of the struggle, and we keep struggling--- for ourselves, for our families, for our communities. Happy International Women’s Day!