Women on strike around the world

march-2017-womens-marchBy ANN MONTAGUE

International Women’s Day, March 8, is set as the date for women’s strikes around the world. This event comes on the heels of a series of strikes and mass demonstrations last year when women poured into the streets of Poland, Ireland, Turkey, Italy, Argentina, and Iceland.

This time, the call by the International Women’s Strike Network has been answered by more than 30 countries around the world and on every continent. Women in each country are creating their own platforms and demands.

The majority of demands deal with issues ranging from violence against women and reproductive rights to social demands like the minimum wage, labor rights, equal pay, public services, and health care. Demands also oppose racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia. The forms that actions will take also vary by country and include strikes, direct action, mass marches, pickets, and boycotts. In Italy, women are organizing with radical trade unions for women-led workplace strikes.

The call for the International Women’s Strike was issued last October. The women organizers were clear about the issues that are central to their demands and the power of women to win: “We, the women of the world, are fed up with violence addressed at us, physical, economic, verbal and moral. We will no longer tolerate it passively.

“We demand that our governments stop using misogynist insults and start taking real measures to solve numerous problems related to our safety, free access to medical care, including abortion, the establishment of severe penalties to be applied to our oppressors in cases of rape, domestic violence and every gender-based crime.…

As aware citizens, we the women of the world, know the world is going through a crisis phase, but we do not accept being victims of it.”

The original statement was signed by women in 17 countries. That number has now greatly increased, as over 30 countries are planning women’s strikes on March 8.

The impetus for the global strike looked back to the historic example of women who went on strike in Iceland in 1975. This inspired women in Poland, who organized a day-long strike on Oct. 3, 2016, to stop a law criminalizing abortion and miscarriage. The legislation was immediately withdrawn by the government.

In the same month, Korean women came out to protest several times against greater penalties for doctors who performed abortions. This was followed by women in Argentina, who went on strike and held massive rallies after the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl. As protests continued around the world, the International Women’s Strike chose March 8 to launch the largest global women’s strike in history.

Striking in the United States

International Women’s Strike, U.S. has been launched in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike. On Feb. 6, eight prominent U.S. feminists wrote an article for The Guardian calling for strikes and demonstrations on March 8. They spoke of the need for a “feminism for the 99%” and waging a militant feminist struggle.

“In our view,” the women wrote, “it is not enough to oppose Trump and his aggressively misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and racist policies. We also need to target the neoliberal attack on social provision and labor rights. Women’s conditions of life, especially those of women of color and of working, unemployed and migrant women, have steadily deteriorated over the last 30 years, thanks to financialization and corporate globalization.”

They referenced the recent women’s strikes in Poland, South Korea, and Ireland against abortion bans and in defense of reproductive rights, and marches in Latin America against male violence against women.

They stated that the first step in building a new feminist movement would be to help build an international strike against male violence and in defense of reproductive rights on March 8. The expansive platform they collaboratively developed covered: An End To Gendered Violence, Reproductive Justice For All, Labor Rights, Full Social Provisioning, and For An Anti-racist and Anti-imperialist Feminism. For the full platform, see womenstrikeus.org.

Currently, 24 cities across the United States are planning strikes and international solidarity events, and there are even more U.S. cities where women have begun meeting to plan events for March 8.

The strikes are inclusive of all women and all forms of work that women do: Women working in the formal labor market with or without labor rights, unions and the legal right to strike, and legal status; unemployed women; sex workers; women performing unpaid housework and care work; and students.

Actions might mean a strike for the day, a partial day strike, marches, rallies, or forums. It might also be a boycott or picket of a local misogynist business or individual. If women are not able to leave care and housework for the day to participate in actions, they can wear red and talk to others about what is happening globally and why they are in solidarity with women around the globe.

After the launching of the International Women’s Strike, U.S., the main organizers of the Jan. 21 Women’s March announced March 8 as “A Day Without Women,” which would be rooted in calls for boycotts on that day. The two groups are in solidarity with each other and may organize some events together in some parts of the country.

International Women’s Day: A proud history

International Women’s Day is recognized in 25 countries as an official holiday, but the United States is not one of them. The history of the holiday goes back to 1908 when 15,000 women garment workers marched through New York City to demand shorter work hours, higher pay, and voting rights. The following year saw a 13-week strike of immigrant women garment workers against Triangle Shirtwaist and other sweatshops. The strike continued through the brutal winter and was known as the “Uprising of the 20,000.”

Inspired by the struggles of the women garment workers in the United States, German socialist Clara Zetkin (seen in photo above) agitated for a day to mark working women’s International solidarity.

In 1910, women from 17 countries attended the Second International Conference of Working Women, which designated International Working Women’s Day in response to the mass strikes and demonstrations by women workers in the United States.

The following year, one million women throughout Europe marched in the streets to demand their rights on International Working Women’s Day, and in following years they protested the imperialist World War.

In 1917, Russian women textile workers went on strike on International Women’s Day, demanding, “Peace, Land, and Bread.” This sparked the struggle to overthrow the Tsar and the beginning of the Russian Revolution.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, whether you walk off the job for the whole day, leave work early to protest wage inequality, attend a rally, march, picket or boycott, you are part of the actions happening around the globe.

This is an important continuation of the solidarity shown in 1910 when Clara Zetkin in Germany insisted on creating a day inspired by women workers struggling in the United States.

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Women protest in Eastern Europe, China

In Poland last October, tens of thousands of women went on strike and participated in mass demonstrations throughout the country in protest of legislation that would have imposed a blanket ban on abortion, including in instances of rape and incest. As a result, the conservative government completely withdrew the legislation.

Marta Lempart, one of the organizers of that strike, was asked for a few words of advice for women in other countries: “Always protest where you live. Stay in your community, focus there, and you will always find people who will support you. There will also be people who hate you, but they will always hate you anyway. You do not have to care about that… do your own gathering and collect more people.

“Then you feel the power, even if you have five, or 10 or 50 people—you collected those people. I would also tell them to join in the International Women’s Strike on March 8.”

A major issue the women in Russia are facing is that new laws were passed that diminish domestic violence laws. Domestic violence will no longer be a crime. Beating up a relative once a year will be a misdemeanor, subject to administrative law. As Yelena Mizulina, a Russian Parliament member, put it, “We don’t want to put people in jail for two years and call them “criminals” for the rest of their lives for just slapping a woman in the face.” A lot of women in Russia are still unaware of these changes; this will be a major issue for feminists in Russia this year.

Feminists in China are not actively organizing strikes on March 8. Even the mention of the International Strikes got a swift reaction from government censors.

The Feminist Voices organization shared an article about the women’s strike in the U.S. from New York Magazine. The article was entitled, “On March 8, Women Will Go On Strike.” The article was shared on Weibo, a China-based microblogging platform similar to Twitter. According to The New York Times the notice from Sina.com, the platform’s host, read, “Hello, because content you recently posted violates national laws and regulations, your account will be banned for 30 days.” Feminist Voices circulated this notice on another social media account.

They believe it was the March 8 strike article that prompted the censor since it was the only one of the group’s Weibo posts to be censored recently. An unnamed Sina.com staffer told the group that the suspension was ordered by the Cyberspace Administration of the State Information Office. — ANN MONTAGUE