Women strike worldwide on International Women’s Day

April 2017 Phila. wom teachersBy ANN MONTAGUE

Women in over 50 countries took part in the Women’s Strike on March 8. The first reports came from Rome, which was essentially shut down as 20,000 women participated in protests that started at the Colosseum and continued through the streets, blocking traffic and shutting down public transportation.

In Argentina there were three days of strikes. On Feb. 3, at an open assembly, activists  in the women’s movement agreed to ask labor unions to support the women’s strikes—and they responded favorably. A teacher’s strike took place on the first day, followed by a strike called by the industrial unions against the government’s economic measures, and then followed by strikes in solidarity with International Women’s Day. This involved transportation workers, airport workers, teachers, and students. Tens of thousands of women marched in Buenos Aires.

Femicide is a major issue for Argentina’s feminist movement, where one woman is killed every 30 hours because of gender. One striker who was quoted in The New York Times said, “We cannot get used to that as if it were normal.”

In Mexico the theme is also violence against women. Seven women are murdered every day. More women disappear as human traffickers’ networks collaborate with the state. Women earn 25% less than men and in addition perform unpaid labor in the home.

In Iceland, which has had several women’s strikes in its history, the government announced plans to introduced legislation to end gender pay disparities by 2022. It will be mandatory for both public and private employers.

Four Russian feminists unfurled a giant poster outside the Kremlin denouncing patriarchy. They were promptly arrested and then released. Fourteen women were arrested at a larger protest in St Petersburg. “We were harshly detained for singing songs and chanting on Malaya Sadovaya Street. We are on our way to the 78th police precinct. Happy Women’s Day,” activist Varya Mikhailova wrote on Twitter.

In France there were demonstrations in cities across the country. Unions, feminist organizations, and student associations called for strikes starting at 3:40 p.m. as a symbol of when working women stop being paid, compared to men’s wages. The average pay gap is 26 percent. There were 20 demands, including salary increases, less temporary work, and more enforcement of penalties for employers who discriminate against women, including when they are pregnant.

More than 700 feminists rallied in a conference hall in Seoul, South Korea, calling for an end to gender discrimination and abortion restrictions. Their signs and chants included “3 o’clock, stop!” in reference to the pay gap. They are essentially working for free after 3 p.m.

Women also organized in the Philippines; women demonstrated outside of a Roman Catholic church in Manila and wore masks smudged with blood to call for an end to violence against women.

Marches in Dublin and Warsaw made reference to the ongoing struggles for reproductive rights in those countries. The major demand in Ireland is to set a date for the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which is the basis for the anti-abortion law. Tens of thousands of women took over the streets of Dublin and blocked the O’Connell Bridge. In Australia over 1000 child-care workers went out on strike around the country as part of their ongoing campaign for higher wages for workers caring for young children.

U.S. schools and businesses close

Over 50 towns and cities in the United States planned March 8 events, including walking out of work.

Lamis Deek, a Palestinian who is on the Women’s Strike, U.S. planning committee, told Harpers Magazine why she was striking: “We are not interested in a feminism of the elites. We are interested in a feminism of the masses … it must be anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism. So it is important for me to be a part of organizing this movement, to mobilize Arab and Muslim communities, to say we are agents of our own change.”

A few days before March 8, it became clear that the strike would be big when Jim Causby, superintendent of the 16 Chapel Hill-Carrboro City public schools in North Carolina announced that schools would be closed on March 8 due to the lack of staff on that day. Three quarters of the 2000 workers said they would be striking: “I asked our school principals and central office department heads to survey staff to see how many absences will occur, the results came back, and the number was significant. In fact it is my determination that we will not have enough staff to safely run our school district.”

Soon afterwards, Alexandria, Va., schools superintendent Alvin Crawley decided not to hold classes, as hundreds of staff members would not be working. In addition, the New School in New York and a preschool, Maple Street School in Brooklyn, closed their doors in solidarity with women workers.

Thirty-three teachers at Bayard Taylor elementary school in Philadelphia took the day off and joined a march around City Hall to help draw attention to the fact that Philadelphia teachers, mainly women, have worked for almost four years without a contract and five years without a raise. The school remained open, but regular classes were canceled. Later in the day, about 400 protesters rallied and marched through central Philadelphia.

At the University of California, Berkeley, at least 30 professors and instructors planned to either take their students to a demonstration in support of the strike or not hold classes at all. After it was clear that 1700 teachers in Prince Georgia’s County, Md., public schools and 30% of the transportation staff would not be working on Wednesday, the district decided to close all schools for the day.

Many women left work as individuals and it was hard to assess the impact in mixed-gender workplaces or places where women were not concentrated in one location. But it does make sense that there was a big impact on schools. Schools are like traditional factory floors, where everyone is in one place, making organizing easier. They work in the same buildings and take lunch and breaks together.

The Municipal Court in Providence, R.I., announced it would be closed due to the women’s strike. They said 75 cases would be rescheduled.

In Chicago, some 200 rallied, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) later filled their hall with close to 1000 union women, Fight For 15, local teachers, health-care workers, transit union members, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, and immigrant rights and anti-racism organizations. A trans woman spoke about the fact that she was terrified and angry by measures taken and threatened by the Trump administration, but she ended by saying, “Everything he does just makes me want to fight harder.”

In Washington, D.C., there were two marches. One was at the White House to protest the global gag rule, which threatens access to safe abortion and health care for millions around the world. The Executive Order cuts off U.S. aid for international NGOs that offer abortion services or abortion referrals. There was also a massive rally at the U.S. Department of Labor, where women workers and their allies demanded an end to sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace, a living wage, and union rights.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, 60 women committed to striking on International Women’s Day. In Lafayette, Ind., and Gainesville, Fla., they were organized to strike. There was a picket line in Carbondale, Ill., where the protesters called for “Feminism for the 99 percent.” Duluth, Minn., organized a 78-minute strike. Their walkout addressed the ongoing pay gap between white men and women as well as addressing the pay gap between white men and women of color.

Photo: Philadelphia teachers march around City Hall on March 8. Clem Murray / Philadelphia Inquirer