In a freezing and windy Stockholm, 1,500 people met up for this year’s demonstration on International Women’s Day, 8 March.
The demo was marked by youthful resistance against beauty ideals and the struggle against rapes. 3,000 marched in Gothenburg and 300 in Lund in the south of Sweden. In four other towns, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS, cwi Sweden) organised demonstrations.
Women’s struggle has been in the forefront of political debate in Sweden this year.
- There are concrete plans for the launch of a "Feminist List" for next year’s general election. The probable leader is Gudrun Schyman, the former leader of the Left Party (ex-‘Communist’ Party). In one opinion poll, 27% of women said they were considering voting for such a party. This has scared the established parties into profiling themselves as "feminists".
- There has been an outrage against violence against women. Reports show that there are 55 rapes a day in Sweden, most committed by partners or ex-partners. In several high-profile cases, even men involved in gang-rape have been set free after court trials.
- The wage gap between men and women is increasing and, at the same time, women are carrying the main burden of public sector cuts. Working class women are generally more to the left on political issues, such as public sector cuts, the European Union, the Iraq war etc.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) and Elevkampanjen (the Swedish wing of ISR) are conducting a campaign against violence against women. Some time ago, we set up Vägra Kallas Hora (VKH, "Refuse to be called a whore") with a base in the schools. Three out of four 15 year-old school students say that whore-labelling is regular in their school.
Our campaign is also demanding more support for women who have suffered violence:- more resources for housing and health care, compulsory treatment for violent men, increased wages for the low-paid and an end to class society which so oppresses women. In Stockholm alone, we have collected 5,000 signatures. In one suburb, Bagarmossen, we organised a local demo with 100 participants on 8 March.
"The attention in the media recently around violence against women has increased the general consciousness, which is positive. But what is also necessary is action. New laws are not enough. To stop sexual harassment in schools, Elevkampanjen demands more resources – and to achieve that collective struggle is needed," said one of the speakers from Elevkampanjen.
In the schools we demand more staffing for the health and care of school students. Teachers and other adults are needed to be around in breaks between lessons.
There was a strong VKH contingent on the demo in Stockholm, shouting slogans all the way. In both Stockholm and Gothenburg, RS members sold over 100 copies of Offensiv, our paper.
Overall, however, this year’s demonstrations were smaller than last year. One reason is the general low level of the class struggle in Sweden at the moment. Another is the attempt of established parties to take over or ‘kidnap’ 8 March for their own purposes. They do not want any mass demonstrations, just press conferences. In Stockholm, the ‘8 March Committee’ – dominated by the Left Party and closed for the RS and Elevkampanjen – should open itself up and get involved in organising at work-places and on housing estates. One of the slogans they had was: "Equal pay for equal work", but there was no trade union activist speaking and explaining how to achieve it.
In Luleå, in the north of Sweden, where the RS has two councillors, women from the council’s old people’s service attended our demonstration. Then they lobbied the council leader – Social Democrat, Karl Petersén – and demanded better sick pay. At present, they often get ill from infections at work. As expected, the council leader did not offer them anything. "We are seeing cuts all the time"; one of the workers told him.
All these issues combined definitely point towards the need for a new party. In the present climate, the new ‘Feminist Initiative’ will be attractive for a layer of both women and men. Polls have shown that the biggest supporters of such a party are low-paid women workers, single parents and people who have voted for the ’Left Party’ in the past.
The main news today, 9 March, is that the Prime Minister, Göran Persson, is afraid of such a party. It will take votes mainly from the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens and will create turmoil in the political establishment. At the same time, and partly because of this, several parties risk failing to get more than the 4% share of the vote back into Parliament.
New workers’ party
What is needed, however, is a party orientated towards struggle, which can give a real rather than an imaginary alternative to working class women. They should have no illusions in a party led by Gudrun Schyman whose Left Party has participated in carrying through big cuts in social spending and attacked local authority workers, predominantly women, when they were on strike.
A party is needed that would challenge and abolish the women-oppressing class society. The working class has the strength necessary, and that is why we need a socialist mass workers’ party with women’s demands to the fore. Our struggle continues every day of the year, as well as 8 March!
Edited from Offensiv, the weekly paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, cwi Sweden