International Women’s Strike: ‘If we stop, the world stops’

March 2019 IWS headshot 2

Lucía Cavallero of Ni Una Menos, a feminist collective in Argentina.

By KYLE HARRINGTON and RYAN BALBONI

On Feb. 7 and 8, two leading feminists toured Connecticut. Audiences heard Lucía Cavallero, a member of Ni Una Menos, an Argentine feminist collective that has repeatedly put hundreds of thousands of women on the streets in protests against femicide, and Julia Cámara, a member of the coordinating body of the Spanish feminist movement M8, which initiated a feminist strike in Spain that included 5 million people. Together, they provided a gendered socialist perspective on organizing mass mobilizations of working women across the globe.

The two feminist leaders spoke to hotel workers in Stamford, students at Trinity College in Hartford, and student and community activists at the University of Connecticut. The tour was initiated by International Women’s Strike CT and co-sponsored by the Women and Gender Resource Action Center at Trinity, the University of Connecticut Women’s Center, and the Stamford Hospitality Workers of UNITE-HERE Local 217.

Overall, nearly 200 students and workers heard the stories behind the recent international mobilizations in defense of women’s rights and against austerity and the vicious attacks on the social wage.

At the University of Connecticut, Cavallero began her speech by talking about the origin of her IWS organizing in Argentina in 2015. Cavallero radicalized when working in a call center and soon began organizing with other women forced into precarious work. The primary strategy, she said, was the development and strengthening of the relationship between feminists, workers, and the labor unions.

Cavallaro asked audiences to consider three major points that organizers had asked themselves. First, what criteria is used to determine whether a task is a “job?” Answering this question, she said, puts all reproductive and care work, typically unpaid labor, under the same umbrella as waged jobs that have historically mobilized through striking. Second, who is authorized to call for a strike? Uniting the labor struggle with the feminist struggle provided an avenue for horizontally organizing the paid and unpaid labor that women carry out in their communities and homes. Finally, what are the reasons to call for a feminist strike?

Cavallero argued that when one understands women’s reproductive work and care work as unpaid labor—and often unrecognized labor—the reasons to call for a strike to solve women’s problems become obvious. The organizers in Argentina decided that struggle against unfair wages and working conditions must include women whose primary labor is in reproductive work and care work.

In addition, organizers argue that there is a precise link between labor exploitation and gendered violence. This concept became central to their conception of organizing a feminism for the 99%. When people understood the relationship between the economy and the huge numbers of femicides in Argentina, Cavallero said, it was a short step to motivating a strike against femicide. The movement realized, she said, that “the life of one women is enough to call a strike!”

Finally, Cavallero encouraged the audience to consider how this illustrates the importance of international feminism and all that it can teach about how to build the International Women’s Strike movement in their own communities.

Cámara drew from a similar perspective and understanding when explaining the mass mobilization she helped to organize in Spain. The background to the idea of the strike, she said, was the Indignados Movement that emerged in Spain in May of 2011.

That movement, she explained, was organized through unifying social networks such as Real Democracy Now and Youth without a Future around their common concerns regarding high rates of unemployment, cuts in social support programs, and frustration with the two-party system, the banks, and corruption.

The organizing nodes first developed during the Indignados Movement joined with the fight for abortion rights in 2014 and 2015. This struggle actually deposed the minister who had proposed criminal punishment for abortion.

Then came the 2017 Women’s Strike in Argentina, which had a profound impact on the thinking of Spanish feminists and ultimately led to the strike mobilization of five million women in 2018. Cámara explained that the feminist strike in 2018 was the expression of the anger that was first articulated at the start of the Indignados Movement back in 2011.

She asked audiences to keep in mind that when she speaks of a “strike,” she is referring to the entire movement, and not solely the individual day that the strike occurred. This idea of a strike as a movement is a useful reconceptualization to keep in mind when considering the network of International Women’s Strikes as being something larger than what is building to take place annually on International Women’s Day on March 8.

How was the mobilization of five million organized? Cámara explained that when assemblies of women in various states across Spain met to discuss the strike to occur on March 8 2018, they had only two months to mobilize. The organizers began by asking what defines a “feminist strike” in theory and practice, and decided to build a movement based on four sectors of labor: a workers strike, a strike for domestic or care workers, a student strike, and a consumer strike. On this basis, they began connecting networks of immigrants, refugees, precarious workers, traditional unions, with the new anti-corporate feminist nodes stimulated by Argentina.

Connecting these often-separated areas of work began to politicize women, and the relationships built served as the foundation for an entirely new level of mobilization. Cámara explained that the support of a significant labor union was necessary in order for an officially recognized general strike to be called, and that the ability of the feminists to win such a call from two major national labor unions in Spain was a huge advance for the feminist movement as a whole.

Between the organizing against femicide in Argentina, and the organizing of unpaid and paid laboring women in Spain, an international dialogue and network has been created, and this communication is a cornerstone of the IWS movement.

As Cámara asserted, “the material conditions that sustain life rest on the backs of women,” thus highlighting the significant potential that International Women’s Strike organizing holds.

Through expanding understandings of the working-class movement to incorporate the unwaged reproductive and care work of women, the IWS slogan, “If we stop, the world stops”, can become central in the continuous fight for our rights as people of the working class.

International Women’s Strike Connecticut will follow up the tour with a March 9 forum, “In Solidarity with the Global Women’s Strike,” at the Elmwood Community Center in West Hartford.