Women’s strikes: Forward to May 1!

April 2017 Women MelbourneBy ANN MONTAGUE

Cinzia Arruzza, an organizer of the International Women’s Strike, US and a Marxist feminist writer and activist, has stated in interviews that “feminists are currently leading the way.” In the United States in the last three months, women clearly have led in organizing the largest mobilizations—such as the Women’s Marches on Jan. 21, which brought millions into the street in Washington and some 600 other cities.

The leadership role of women was shown again on March 8, International Women’s Day, when coordinated women’s strikes took place in over 50 countries. Women-led actions will continue on May 1, in conjunction with strikes and protests by trade unionists and immigrant groups.

The size of the March 8 strikes varied, often based on how many years women have been organizing and striking. The largest turnouts were in Argentina, Poland, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Turkey. The first reports came from Rome, which was essentially shut down as 20,000 women participated in street protests that started at the Colosseum, blocking traffic and shutting down public transportation.

In Argentina there were three days of strikes. 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.

In Iceland, which has had several women’s strikes in its history, the government announced plans to introduce 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.

France saw 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. The major demand in Ireland is to set a date for the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which is the basis for the country’s 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

In the United States, a new organization was formed called “International Women’s Strike, US” to plan March 8 actions in solidarity with the women around the globe who were planning strikes. They developed a platform of “Feminism for the 99%.”

This is clearly the development of a new and more defined feminist movement. They reject economic inequality, racial and sexual violence and imperialist wars abroad. They are for labor rights, environmental justice, and reproductive justice for all. They clearly state they are in solidarity with working women, women of color, Native women, immigrant women, Muslim women, and lesbian, queer and trans women.

The activists had three weeks to organize strikes, rallies, and marches around the country, and they worked in solidarity with the organizers of the Jan. 21 Women’s March, who chose March 8 as their “Day Without Women.” In the end, over 50 towns and cities in the United States planned March 8 events, including walking out of work.

Lamis Dek, a Palestinian who is on the Women’s Strike, US planning committee, told Harper’s 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.

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 to 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. Later, 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.

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 makes 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.

In Chicago, some 200 rallied, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) filled their hall with close to 1000 union women, Planned Parenthood, and immigrant rights and anti-racism organizations.

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.

Forward to May 1!

Women have also been leading actions that are protesting anti-immigration policies, including the Day Without Immigrant strikes. As low-wage workers, women are leaders of the struggles for the Fight For 15 and Walmart campaigns.

On the heels of the March 8 Women’s Strike, activists will now be organizing for strikes on May Day. A statement by the National Committee of the International Women’s Strike, US states, “As antiracist feminists of the 99%, many of whom are ourselves immigrants, we stand against the vicious ICE raids that have in recent times tried to terrorize our communities and and split up families. As cis and trans women we have been in the forefront of organizing against such raids, of defending our families…

“The violence of ICE against immigrants is part of the systemic police violence against Black people, Latinx and Native Americans, and the mass incarceration of people of color. This violence and systemic sexism and racism oppress and humiliate women of color, including Native women and immigrant women, every day of our lives. To those who want to narrow down feminism, we say feminism cannot be narrowed down only to demands over reproductive rights and formal gender equality.

“Feminism is a struggle against poverty, racism and immigration raids. The women who are part of or aspire to be the 1%, rely on the rest of us, especially immigrant women and women of color, to do the caregiving and service work for low pay or no pay. This is why we will strike on May Day.”

SEIU United Service Workers West President David Huerta issued a press release announcing that tens of thousands of his members will be striking on May Day despite the fact that “this is an act that encompasses some risk”. At a large press conference in Los Angeles to promote the strike, Huerta said, “Workers are under attack. If we are not resisting, we are collaborating.”

The rest of the speakers were mostly women activists in unions supporting May Day activities. A Guatemalan immigrant member of UFCW 770 called for shutting down her store, and a woman from Unite/HERE Local 11 spoke about her organizing efforts for May Day.

A woman from United Teachers in Los Angeles reported that the teachers are telling the school district to shut down the schools on May Day. This echoed what happened on International Women’s Day in three school districts where teachers walked off the job. These women are leading the way towards collective action and building solidarity in their communities at the same time as the new feminism for the 99% is building a working-class-based feminist movement.

Photo: March 8 strikers in Melbourne, Australia.