Brooklyn meeting builds March 8 women’s strike

Feb. 2018 Women Mar. 8 forumBy CHRISTINE MARIE

On Jan. 30, around 100 people gathered at Verso Books in Brooklyn, N.Y., to participate in the launch of a campaign of action in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike (IWS) that will be held around the globe on March 8—a date celebrated as International Women’s Day by the working-class movement.

This will be the second year of some kind of international coordination of women’s mobilizations around the globe. It will build on the wave of massive demonstrations and work stoppages that began even earlier in 2016 in Poland, Argentina, and many other locations. This year, U.S. organizers are building a coalition to prepare a one-hour strike of low-wage, immigrant, and working-class women that will be followed by a march and rally in New York’s Washington Square.

An impressive panel of organizers laid out the theoretical and practical thinking behind this year’s action in New York.  Ximena Bustamante, a leader of the IWS NYC collective explained clearly the thinking behind this year’s call. Our goal, she said, is distinct from that of liberal feminism. Our project is not electoral but instead “a refusal to confine the horizons of social change to the terms defined by the Democratic Party.”

The IWS project, Bustamante said, is to attack the “structural origins of multiple fronts of oppression, exploitation, and dispossession that we experience.” This means “articulating already existing struggles as both working class and feminist” and taking part in “the radical transformation of current social relationships.”

In order to develop such a women’s and working-class movement and March 8 action, the IWS NYC is developing a coalition of groups already in agreement with many related goals. The coalition in formation is made up of radical caucuses in some unions, workers’ centers, cooperatives, socialist groups, immigrant rights groups, grassroots feminist groups, and community-based groups around social justice.

The NYC collective has been working toward the consolidation of such a formation all year, in part, by carrying out interviews with women organizers from such organizations. These include the Street Vendors Project, Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), Retail Action Project (RAP), Brandworkers, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Laundry Workers Center, Workers Justice Project, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), Worker Center Federation, Eco-Cleaning Coop, Beyond Care Coop, Golden Steps Coop, Is Si Se Puede Cleaning Coop, and Pa’lante Coop.  These interviews are available at http://www.publicseminar.org/author/iwsnyc/.

This work documented the lived experience of organizing women in New York City, demonstrating the weakness of the arguments of those who opposed last year’s women’s strike on the basis that it was too dangerous for women to take such steps. Natalie Matos of the NYC collective addressed this question directly. “Many say that a ‘women’s strike’ is impossible due to non-strike clauses, precarious labor conditions, and the vulnerability that the majority of women face in their workplace.” We believe that in spite of all this, “a strike of women is both possible and fundamental in this political conjuncture.”

IWS NYC is confident that a one-hour strike in New York City “will make women’s absence unavoidably felt in our homes, neighborhoods, and communal spaces, in our paid workplaces and on the streets.” Organizers are clear about the limitations imposed on the event by the complacency of most union leaderships but optimistic about the political impact of the walkouts and protests that will occur.

One of the fundamental arguments for the one-hour strike is that such an activity is hardly a stretch for thousands and thousands of working women in the city who already are active in daily struggles for union organization, against deportation, wage theft, police brutality, and loss of social services.

The first panelist to speak, Jeanette Vizguerra, was the embodiment of the organizing determination of immigrant women. Born in Mexico City, Vizguerra came to the U.S.  without papers and within seven months was organizing janitors with the SEIU. Now she is a leader against deportation and for sanctuary. All this organizing has taken place for the last eight years as she fights her own deportation.

A second speaker, Maria Ines Orjuela, a housekeeper at the  newly organized Hilton Hotel in Stamford, Conn., voiced the support of her union local, UNITE-HERE 217, for the March 8 strike.

Another theme addressed by the panelists was the movement’s growing understanding of the relationship between women’s problems on the job and at home and in the community. To illustrate the way that a women’s strike can link women’s oppression and exploitation by the boss, Sarah Jaffee recounted the story of the Brooklyn-based Mujeres Guerreras, or Warrior Women. These activists first came together to organize grocery store and food service workers with Fight for Fifteen but soon discovered that they also shared a need for collaboration against sexual violence in the workplace, in the community, and at home.

Workers’ problems based on class and gender do not end when they leave the worksite, and fighting oppressions in the community is the only way to free women to lead workplace struggles.

Chaumtoli Huq and Suzanne Adely each praised the IWS for its commitment to genuine internationalism. Huq observed the ways that solidarity between female garment workers in Bangladesh and South Asian women in Brooklyn strengthened each other’s struggles. Adely, who has long experience in Arab-American community organizing, pointed out that while at the Jan. 20-21 Women’s Marches it was often difficult to protest on behalf of the female Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi—who was jailed in December for resisting Israeli troops on her family’s land—the IWS recognized that a global movement for women must be anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist. Learn more at https://www.womenstrikeus.org/.

Photo by Socialist Action