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Issue #1814      March 14, 2018

International Women’s Day

The rate for the job

The Guardian has kept the spirit of International Women’s Day (IWD) alive in articles, photographs, greeting cards and meetings to advance the causes of women’s struggle for equality and status.

Phyllis Johnson.

At the first Australian celebration of IWD in the Sydney’s Domain in 1928, a member of the Central Committee of the CPA, Edna Nelson dealt with equal pay. Justice Higgins had decided that women would only receive 54 percent of the male wage.

I was then 10 years old.

I grew up in a community well aware of the ills and breakdown of capitalist society – the 1930 Depression, dole queues, hungry and unemployed men waited for a bowl of soup, food handouts, without clothing or warm blankets.

Children wanting one penny or one halfpenny would be told, in a singsong voice, “Wait until daddy comes home, daddy’s got money and mummy’s got none”.

My father was on the dole.

He had no money either and in my grandmother’s life it was even worse.

She had no power at all. She could not own property, have money in her own name, she was not recognised as the guardian of her own children, their father was, she couldn’t vote, sue or be sued, she could be beaten by him with a switch or rod no thicker than his index finger and could not divorce.

A wife was a slave, the husband’s property.

There always have been, however, groups of dedicated women to fight these undignified inequalities.

In 1908, a Conference of socialist women met in Copenhagen, Denmark, and dedicated March 8 every year as International Women’s Day for legal, social and economic equality.

It took just about 80 years for equal pay to be accepted (but only in principle), let alone full rights and status.

In 1984 the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission accepted the principle of equal pay.

However, principle or not, many women still work for peanuts.

In the last two decades women have fought and won their place in the three tiers of government, play a greater part in Australian culture, science, literary and art bodies and have established women’s refuges as a means of escape from domestic violence.

Abortion, rape and health centres and units to screen breast cancer are quite well known and widely used.

IWD calls upon all women, the peace movement, trade unions and those active in the labour cause to join hands to fight for the rights of Aboriginal women and migrant citizens who have come to live with us from the four corners of the earth.

IWD is an occasion to call on all progressive people to join hands to build homes, schools, hospitals and libraries.

The people can stop for all time the horror and misery of war in Iraq or anywhere else.

Let us fight for the rights of all people, men, women and children in the name of bread, liberty and peace.

* Phyllis Johnson was a truly dedicated Communist who never let up in the struggle for women’s and other rights during her life-long commitment for a better world.

This remembrance was written in March, 2004, exactly one year after the US and its allies, the “coalition of the willing”, invaded and occupied Iraq.

Next article – Prisoners deprived of dignity

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