It was at the turn of the 20th century that International Women’s Day (IWD) had its early beginnings in North America. At the time, it was part of a mobilizing effort by union and community activists who were demanding changes to the appalling working conditions in New York’s garment industry, an industry where women were the vast majority of the workforce and faced exploitive and unsafe conditions. Over the intervening decades, IWD has moved on in scope and capacity. Today it is both a celebration of what women have achieved and a call to action because there is still much more to do to bring real equality into the lives of women. 

Increasingly, the emphasis has shifted over time. Today IWD events talk as much about the plight that women outside of North America and Europe face, as they talk about the continuing struggle of women in developed economies when it comes to social and economic equality.

A critical part of the current debate about equality is the issue of good jobs: jobs that are safe, jobs that pay a family supporting wage, jobs where the workplace is respectful, jobs where learning and skill development are supported. As union activists, we know that good jobs don’t exist on their own. They take root in an environment where the right to unionize is protected, where high quality social programs are well-established, where public services and infrastructure are properly funded, and where income equality aims to close the gap between rich and poor.

These are many of the same demands that led organizers in New York’s garment district to press for better conditions for women. A century later, there is still more work to do to make these demands a reality and give women an equal voice. The labour movement has played a critical role in advancing that struggle for greater equality and will continue to make it a priority in 2015. This year, let’s remember the important contribution that unions can make to advancing real equality for women across our country and beyond. 

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 4 private sector institutions.