Connie Huynh
AF3IRM National Chairperson, [email protected]

This Labor Day, AF3IRM honors and recognizes the labor of women across the globe who have carried the world to this point in a global crisis.

From the Filipino health care workers who left their families and homelands to work overseas, providing care to people in other nations, while their communities continue to survive attempts by the country’s brutal regime to exterminate and cannibalize its own people. Healing remains a duty and a commitment for millions of medical workers from the Philippines and of Philippine ancestry flung to just about every continent of the world under the labor export policy of the Philippine government, often to work in unsafe and discriminatory conditions, as well as being grossly underpaid.

In the U.S., most essential labor is carried out by women. Women who have all along provided essential work to our society, but continue to be most devalued. Seventy-five percent of those categorized as essential workers are women. They provide healthcare and education, are the conduits to our food system, the front lines of trauma-informed response to crises, and the vast majority of people in both professional and unpaid caregiving roles that support our community’s wellness and ensure our future.

On the frontlines of our healthcare system, women make up 90% of nursing staff. Women who by and large have been working for months in the pandemic without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) who continue to be put at risk, along with their patients, by hospital management. The same nurses who continue to organize and demand proper equipment to provide potentially life-saving treatment to patients, and adequate Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) standards to keep patients and communities from unnecessary risk of infection. 

Our teachers are the educators of future generations, and hold the power that allows much of the parenting workforce to participate in work. Teaching, historically regarded as “feminine” work, was once one of the few other options for girls who sought to be something other than a “homemaker”. Coinciding with the rise of neoliberalism, the rate of women teachers has steadily increased, growing from 67% in 1980 to 76% in 2016, while the overall teacher workforce has ballooned by over 60%. It is consistent with labor movement history that the predominantly-women profession has led and launched the recent wave of historic strikes across the nation. 

Caregivers provide the fundamental yet critical function that literally sustains the lives of many and is the bridge between current society and our future. Whether professional or unpaid, they are disproportionately women of color and immigrant women. Over 75% of professional caregivers are women, who spend as much as 50% more time caregiving on the job than their counterparts who are men. In the lives of unpaid caregivers, households of color tend to be multigenerational, and are more likely to have both elder care responsibilities in addition to child care roles.

While the rate of women in the workforce has increased in the past century, over 80% in the United States, mothers spend more time with their children today than mothers did in the 1960s.

On the whole, much of feminized labor is non-economic. According to capitalists, if it cannot be commodified, it is therefore not valuable. On the contrary women’s work is invaluable.

In 2020, it has become even more evident that women hold up more than half the sky. It is time to imagine a society beyond valuing women’s work. For without the benefits of feminized labor, where would we be?

Those of us who have survived owe a debt of gratitude to women’s labor. It has not only gotten us through the pandemic. It has gotten us through history. Beyond women’s participation in the workforce, the advancements towards fundamental standards and protections for all workers, freedom from state-sanctioned political violence and the vanguard models for change arise from women’s organizing and the organized labor power of women.

From the global Black Lives Matter movement that has reshaped the way we imagine community safety and support, founded by three women and continuing to grow under the leadership of Black women across the country.

To Lucy E. Parsons, radical socialist, labor organizer, and woman of Native, Mexican and African ancestry whom we thank for her labor as an organizer which earned her the reputation of being “more dangerous than a thousand riotiers,” according to the Chicago Police Department. She organized and fought the State on behalf of political prisoners, unjustly convicted and executed as a result of the Haymarket Affair, a massacre that led to the eight-hour work day.

We think of the 123 women and girls who died of fire, smoke inhalation, or falling to their death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Prior to their deaths, they worked under sweatshop conditions which unsurprisingly led to the historic fire. Yet the women of the factory-inspired movements of workers to strike for decades to come.

We salute Helen Todd, who gave us the rallying cry “Bread and Roses” which inspired the Lawrence Textile Strike in 1912, workers who striked for two months until they won wage increases and overtime pay without worker retaliation and reshaped the future of the labor movement.

Women’s labor history has always been grounded in organizing praxis, revolutionary spirit, and expansive vision and it is what has always propelled us forward. 

Fighting for “women’s work” has always led to better work for all. 

Fighting for women’s liberation will lead us to genuine liberation for all.