By CHRISTINE MARIE
“We are the feminist, trans feminist, anti-racist, antifascist tide that will take over Verona, opening up liberating spaces which were born from the global power of the International Women Strike!” So concludes the call for action that put 30,000 feminists and their allies on the streets on March 31 to protest a meeting of the World Congress of Families (WCF), a virulently anti-LGBTQI and anti-abortion organization.
The WCF promotes the “traditionalist identity” named as the ideal by illiberal European regimes such as Poland, Hungary, and Russia, as well as admiring right-wing political parties across Europe and large evangelical groups in the U.S.
Verona was chosen as the site of this year’s WCF conference due to the national electoral victory, in combination with the 5 Star Movement, of Matteo Salvini’s far-right Northern League (now called simply the League Party) in 2018 and an ordinance won by Verona’s hard-right mayor, Federico Sboarina, that made the city a “pro-life” town and required women seeking an abortion to consult with anti-abortion advisors offering financial assistance for pregnancy.
World Conference of Families
Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister, was the featured speaker of the WCF conference. He was joined on the platform by Minister for Family and Disability Lorenzo Fontana and Minister of Education Marco Bussetti. Until a few days before the event, when outrage forced a retreat, it was built with the endorsement of the regional government. A hard-right program of opposing immigration, and pushing higher European birth rates, while opposing reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, and gender fluidity marked the day. The Italian fascist group Forza Nuova set up a full calendar of regional marches and rallies in support of the conference, reminding Italians that Verona had been a fascist stronghold during the time of Mussolini.
The head of Arcigay, Italy’s oldest mainstream gay rights organization, noted that this was the first time that the WCF conference has been held outside of the socially conservative former Soviet states and in the heart of Western Europe. Arrayed against the assembly and parades of both the electoral and fascist right, Trans-Feminist Verona and the Italian affiliate of the International Women’s Strike known as Non una di meno (Not One Less, not one more woman killed) drew from the strength of the national March 8 International Women’s Day strike to take a stand against the normalization of hard-right “traditionalist” thought and against the plan to abolish or weaken abortion, divorce and family law, and the social institutions to which victims of sexual, gender, homophobic, and transphobic violence have turned.
In particular, they mobilized against the League’s Pillon law, which would roll back Italian codes on divorce to the Dark Ages, changing the rules on child custody, domestic violence, and child economic support in the event of divorce.
International Women’s Strike
On March 8, 2019, Non una di meno put hundreds of thousands of women in motion amidst collaborative national 24-hour shutdowns of bus, metro, tram, and train networks, airport ground operations, and municipal offices and schools in Rome.
In Milan, the transport unions issued demands that included a stop to male violence against women, gender discrimination and precarious employment; privatization in the welfare sector, the right to free and accessible public services, universal and unconditional earnings at home and at work, with equal pay, and a policy of shared support for maternity and paternity leave.
They began organizing three years ago after witnessing the 2016 strike of Polish women in defense of abortion rights and watching the Ni una menos movement in Argentina use the organizing tool of national and local assemblies to call a “women’s strike” in October 2016, in response to the murder of 16-year-old Lucía Pérez, who was raped and impaled in the coastal city of Mar del Plata. Ni una menos spread quickly to other cities in Argentina and soon to Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, El Salvador, Mexico, Turkey, and Spain.
In 2017, the International Women’s Strike, or Paro Internacional de Mujeres network, began to link these struggles in a more formal way and set March 8, International Women’s Day as a global day of action for women fighting not only against sexual violence, for reproductive justice, and an end to discrimination, but against all the anti-working-class attacks on the social wage and the neoliberal restructuring of employment that hit women and gender non-conforming people the hardest.
The development of the IWS, from the global South to the south of Europe, before its expansion to more than 50 countries, is no accident. It reflects resistance in the places facing the most brutal of the impacts of the global capitalist crisis—the austerity demands placed on indebted nations, and the cutbacks and extreme pro-business measures implemented by local elites responding to the bidding of the IMF and other lenders.
In 2019, the outpouring globally on this date exceeded that of previous years. In the Spanish state, alone, at least 6 million respected the national call for a general strike, and demonstrations numbered 350,000 in Madrid, 250,000 in Barcelona, and 200,000 in Zaragoza. Julia Cámara, who toured the U.S. in February, described the organizing as involving linked networks of immigrant women; North African, Middle Eastern, and Central American refugees; caucuses of women in the unions; unorganized women fighting the stresses of precarious work; and young women struggling around sexual violence.
All were together to restore not only desperately needed social provisioning such as housing, health care, education, and dignity for women, cis and trans, under attack due to the economic crisis and lack of a sufficient response from more traditional workingclass organizations and parties.
Some insight into the process by which feminist activists and young working women are radicalizing, developing a systemic critique of the political order, and discovering themselves as agents of change for the whole working class can be gleaned from the many calls and documents put out by various assemblies for the International Women’s Day marches.
In Argentina, the movement, while founded in response to a sexual murder, rejects carceral feminism (calling on the police), arguing that sexual violence is inextricably bound to the economic violence of the state, and refuses to ally with a criminal justice system that defends profits through racialized policing and jailing. In opposition to all the attacks on Argentine labor law and payment of the debt to those banks by President Mauricio Macri, they proclaim: “In this strike we collect the history of all the historic strikes of the feminist movement and make it our own, because we are in the front row against the reactionary right, the neoliberal plans, and the interference of the imperialist governments.”
In Buenos Aires, the March 8 action began with a militant but disciplined face-off between the police and the organized women workers of Coca Cola, Hospital Posadas, the occupied MadyGraf print shop, and other work sites. The assembly also had to debate the place of bourgeois electoralism in the struggle, with supporters of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner trying to assert leadership and finally withdrawing financial support for the strike sound system and stage. A vigorous intervention by trans-critical feminists hoping to exclude trans women was defeated, and the document supported a fully inclusive movement.
Toward a feminist international
On the eve of March 8, an international group of signatories from the IWS movements in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Spain, Italy, and the U.S. published “Beyond March 8: Toward a New Feminist International” on the site of Verso Books. “The new feminist wave,” they wrote, “is the first line of defense to the rise of the far-right. Today, women are leading the resistance to reactionary governments in a number of countries.”
The term “Feminist International,” coined by the Argentinian movement, they say, is meant to evoke the new sense of urgency attached to international solidarity and transnational meetings to coordinate, share practical experiences, and deepen analysis. On April 6, Swiss activists are sponsoring a meeting of international feminist speakers from the U.S., South Africa, India, Tunisia, and Belgium to build for a June 14 women’s strike in Geneva and to discuss the way forward for true international coordination.
The response to the calls of the women of the world for a new feminist movement that can go beyond fighting for equality under the law to the struggle for a real systemic transformation of society is much more of a leap in the U.S. than in Europe. This is due to the weakness of the labor movement, the dominance of many social movements by the Democratic Party, and the generally lower level of the class struggle. The perspective of the International Women’s Strike movement, however, is the perspective of revolutionary socialists, who can bring the experience of the global movement to radicalizing working women and students in many ways, rooting the expansion of their political imaginations in internationalism, and laying the base for a future of class struggle feminism.
Socialist Action encourages its supporters to support tours of IWS internationals, plan forums, hold educationals, and to begin to help form coalitions or assemblies to plan activity on March 8, 2020. Many Socialist Action branches, in collaboration with the International Women’s Strike, will also be organizing reading groups on the new IWS text, “Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto,” by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser. Please join us.