Women Across the Globe Are Planning to Strike on March 8. Here’s Why.

Sarah Jaffe February 9, 2018

University students of the movement 'Not one less' demonstrate against male violence against women on the occasion of the International Women's Strike at University La Sapienza on March 8, 2017 in Rome, Italy. (Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. We’re now into the sec­ond year of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, and the last year has been filled with ups and downs, impor­tant vic­to­ries, suc­cess­ful hold­ing cam­paigns, and painful defeats. We’ve learned a lot, but there is always more to learn, more to be done. In this now-week­ly series, we talk with orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors, and edu­ca­tors, not only about how to resist, but how to build a bet­ter world. 

Cinzia Arruz­za: I am Cinzia Arruz­za. I am one of the nation­al orga­niz­ers of the Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Strike.

Tithi Bhat­tacharya: This is Tithi Bhat­tacharya. I teach at Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty. I was one of the nation­al orga­niz­ers for the Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Strike last year and I am doing the same this year.

Sarah Jaffe: Let’s start off talk­ing a lit­tle bit about this year’s strike. What is being planned and why did you decide to do it again this year?

TB: I think every­body knows the con­text of last year’s strike, which start­ed with an extra­or­di­nary lev­el of inter­na­tion­al coor­di­na­tion between fem­i­nists glob­al­ly. This year, those con­texts remain and, in the case of the Unit­ed States, have been enhanced in a way with Trump’s elec­tion. It was a nat­ur­al con­clu­sion that it would be repeat­ed this year both inter­na­tion­al­ly, as well as in the Unit­ed States.

CA: On Novem­ber 25th, there was also an inter­na­tion­al day against gen­der vio­lence. Not in the Unit­ed States, unfor­tu­nate­ly, but around the world we had some very mas­sive demon­stra­tions. The suc­cess of this day of mobi­liza­tion also gave the impulse to think that it was pos­si­ble to orga­nize anoth­er strike this year.

SJ: Let’s talk about the his­to­ry of women’s strikes, because this is some­thing that has been around for sev­er­al decades in the women’s move­ment, but is com­ing back right now

CA: Women’s strikes are not entire­ly a nov­el­ty. The prece­dent of the women’s strike was in the 1970s, the Women’s Strike in Ice­land for equal wages. Two years ago, the Pol­ish fem­i­nist move­ment decid­ed to retrieve this form of strug­gle and to orga­nize a women’s strike in Poland against the country’s abor­tion ban. The same hap­pened in 2016 in Argenti­na with waves of the women’s strikes and mobi­liza­tions against gen­der violence.

Start­ing from there, and espe­cial­ly giv­en the enor­mous suc­cess of these mobi­liza­tions and strikes in Argenti­na and Poland, there was the idea of try­ing to orga­nize an Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Strike on March 8th. Women’s strikes are a very pow­er­ful way of mobi­liz­ing for the fem­i­nist move­ment because they make appar­ent not just the vic­tim­iza­tion of women, but also the pow­er that women have in so far as they are work­ers who work both in the for­mal labor mar­ket, but also in the social repro­duc­tive sphere, at home, and so on. This labor is very often not rec­og­nized or val­ued as it should be.

TB: Even last year when this was declared, there was some push­back over the word strike” because the under­stand­ing of the word strike” as it has come to be accept­ed is work stop­page at the point of pro­duc­tion. That is a very impor­tant and pow­er­ful def­i­n­i­tion of strike.” How­ev­er, the word strike” has sev­er­al oth­er his­tor­i­cal appli­ca­tions, some of which Cinzia just went through.

I think one of the things that we found it very easy to talk about in the con­text of last year, as well as this year, is the dif­fer­ence between a work­place strike and a polit­i­cal strike. I think the Women’s Strike was a very impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the lega­cy of a polit­i­cal strike because in the con­text of the neolib­er­al decline of union den­si­ty glob­al­ly, because of the active attack on unions since the 1970s by the glob­al rul­ing elite, I think work­ing-class peo­ple have sig­nif­i­cant­ly lost the most pow­er­ful weapon to strike with­in the work­place, which is unions.

I think, in that con­text, a polit­i­cal strike is very impor­tant because what hap­pened on March 8th last year, just in the Unit­ed States, was called a strike. We were very ded­i­cat­ed to main­tain­ing that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of that word, but what hap­pened as a result was that there was intense polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion about the rela­tion­ship between work­place and non-work­place kinds of mobilization.

We strong­ly believe that in a peri­od where there is a loss of pow­er to take action in the work­place, the polit­i­cal strike is a use­ful way to restart that con­ver­sa­tion and per­haps flow back that pow­er into work­place mobilization.

SJ: We have seen the revival of inter­est in the idea of the polit­i­cal strike, espe­cial­ly in the Unit­ed States since Trump was elect­ed. It is inter­est­ing in this moment that we are see­ing a revival of the idea of the polit­i­cal strike even as unions, par­tic­u­lar­ly in this coun­try, but glob­al­ly, as well, are struggling.

CA: In a sense, this marks the fact that work­ers are deprived of one of the most cru­cial means of strug­gle and protest that is usu­al­ly rec­og­nized in oth­er lib­er­al democ­ra­cies. I am not even speak­ing about insur­rec­tionary forms or strug­gle. Polit­i­cal strikes do take place in a num­ber of coun­tries. They are legal, they are rec­og­nized, and they are a very pow­er­ful tool when­ev­er the gov­ern­ment seems to be impos­si­ble to chal­lenge or to influ­ence in anoth­er way.

I do hope that the appeal polit­i­cal strikes are hav­ing in this moment can actu­al­ly re-open polit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion and a polit­i­cal cam­paign to reform labor laws and to real­ly rethink in a very deep way what labor rights should look like in the Unit­ed States. Because the Unit­ed States has the most anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic labor laws among lib­er­al democ­ra­cies. It is real­ly a very excep­tion­al situation.

TB: In terms of the polit­i­cal strike there are two things that are real­ly impor­tant. One of the impor­tant things to remem­ber, when ques­tions of women’s labor is para­mount, is the rea­son peo­ple strike is because of the poor con­di­tions of their life. It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly that they strike because of their job. It is because their job is a means to live their life and when con­di­tions of life are dete­ri­o­rat­ing, that is when peo­ple con­sid­er doing some­thing about it in their workplace.

This rela­tion­ship between life and work is often for­got­ten by union bureau­cra­cies. Union bureau­cra­cies like to treat the union as anoth­er kind of a salaried lit­tle space where job strug­gles are nego­ti­at­ed as sim­ply con­tract nego­ti­a­tions. But, for work­ing class peo­ple, it is not about the con­tract nego­ti­a­tion — it is about their lives and lived conditions.

A polit­i­cal strike gives a wider, deep­er con­text to the mean­ing of strug­gle and the gains to be had from strug­gle and sol­i­dar­i­ty. I think, par­tic­u­lar­ly in this con­text, polit­i­cal strikes play that vital role of remind­ing peo­ple between lived con­di­tions of work­ers and work con­di­tions and how they are both con­nect­ed and actu­al­ly nec­es­sary to be connected.

SJ: This strike is com­ing in the midst of the #MeToo move­ment. Talk about this con­text where there is this renewed con­ver­sa­tion about sex­u­al harass­ment and sex­u­al vio­lence and how that is play­ing into this year’s strike and organizing.

CA: I think that we should also see a con­nec­tion between the wave of fem­i­nist mobi­liza­tions around the world in the past year and a half and then the explo­sion of the #MeToo campaign.

The #MeToo moment has been a very impor­tant moment in the Unit­ed States and also inter­na­tion­al­ly because it has made appar­ent what a lot of women already knew, which is that sex­u­al harass­ment and vio­lence are part of the every­day life of the major­i­ty of women, either in the work­place or at home or in the streets. Clear­ly, gen­der vio­lence does require a col­lec­tive response. So, from this view­point, the Women’s Strike is not so much an alter­na­tive to #MeToo. It is rather one con­tri­bu­tion or one attempt to try to give a col­lec­tive response to the iso­la­tion that vic­tim­iza­tion produces.

The idea is that the step for­ward after #MeToo, after denounc­ing indi­vid­u­al­ly all the harass­ment and vio­lence that we have suf­fered through­out our life, there must be, also, the moment of col­lec­tive orga­niz­ing and col­lec­tive response. Oth­er­wise, the struc­tur­al con­di­tions that enable this gen­der vio­lence to con­tin­ue are not chal­lenged. One of the risks of the cur­rent atten­tion on the issues of gen­der vio­lence is that we will get rid of a few obnox­ious harassers, some famous and some less famous, and this is all good, of course. I wel­come this moment of cathar­sis, in a sense. But this is not going to solve any problem.

The real prob­lem is not indi­vid­ual nasty men. The real prob­lems are the struc­tur­al con­di­tions that cre­ate the con­di­tions and the impuni­ty for gen­der vio­lence and sex­u­al vio­lence. We have learned in the past months to what extent women are harassed and abused as women in the work­place, but this clear­ly has to do with the hier­ar­chi­cal nature of labor rela­tions with­in the work­place, with the lack of pow­er that the work­ers have.

Also, from this view­point, the lack of union­iza­tion, the lack of labor rights in the Unit­ed States clear­ly cre­ate fur­ther con­di­tions for gen­der vio­lence because women are going to be con­stant­ly afraid to speak up against their views of a col­league or of an employ­er, pre­cise­ly because they don’t feel they have any kind of pro­tec­tion. They don’t feel that they have any kind of orga­niz­ing, col­lec­tive infra­struc­ture that can actu­al­ly pro­tect their interests.

TB: I am just going to add actu­al­ly three very spe­cif­ic things to the #MeToo moment that I think March 8th is con­cerned with. This is the begin­ning of why we addressed #MeToo in our orga­niz­ing. The first is: When last do you remem­ber see­ing dis­cus­sions of work con­di­tions in The New York Times repeat­ed­ly? That is what #MeToo has done. We have nev­er seen so many arti­cles in major media out­lets about work­ing con­di­tions of women. Yes, it has been most­ly about sex­u­al vio­lence, but it has actu­al­ly exposed how dic­ta­to­r­i­al and bru­tal the work­place is for most women, but also for most peo­ple. This is a tremen­dous dis­cus­sion. I have not seen dis­cus­sions of work­ing con­di­tions to this extent. This is a very wel­come devel­op­ment that for the first time in many years we are see­ing ques­tions being raised about what it means to be a work­er in this country.

The sec­ond is a real­iza­tion that was lim­it­ed first to social­ists and rad­i­cals in this coun­try, but has now begun to become com­mon sense. That is that we all know that since the ear­ly part of the 20th cen­tu­ry, there has been an undoubt­ed­ly marked increase in women’s rights and women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pub­lic sphere and the sphere of work. We have, in a way, through strug­gles, improved our lives as women.

But, on a par­al­lel track, I think what has hap­pened is the rights of work­ers have declined pre­cip­i­tous­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly since the 1970s and 1980s with the rise of neolib­er­al­ism. Now we have a con­tra­dic­to­ry sit­u­a­tion where our rights as women have improved over the years, in a cer­tain sense, but the rights of work­ers as a whole have declined. Which means, that in work­place sit­u­a­tions women, par­tic­u­lar­ly, are vulnerable.

The solu­tion that cap­i­tal­ism has offered us is Because you can improve as a woman, then it is every woman for her­self.” The solu­tion offered to bad con­di­tions of life and work for women has been, of course, Lean In. That you can improve and you can become a CEO. That is the sec­ond kind of development.

The third, which I think is very sig­nif­i­cant for our pur­pos­es, is the fact: How do we then fight back? We all know domes­tic vio­lence exists to a hor­rif­ic extent both in the Unit­ed States and glob­al­ly, but the advan­tage of a work­place dis­cus­sion in this sit­u­a­tion is that there are wit­ness­es and there are peo­ple who have expe­ri­enced the same thing because they are your co-work­ers under the same dis­gust­ing rapist boss. There is a col­lec­tive con­fi­dence because you have been through this col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence and this is why, I think, the voice of the #MeToo cam­paign is ampli­fied because it comes from a col­lec­tive place of resistance.

SJ: Tell us about the orga­niz­ing for this year’s strike. What is planned where so far and about the inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty work going on, as well?

TB: Inter­na­tion­al­ly, I have been on a few phone calls with the inter­na­tion­al orga­niz­ing and it is actu­al­ly going real­ly well in var­i­ous parts of the world, notably Italy, Spain, Poland, Argenti­na, and var­i­ous oth­er places in Latin Amer­i­ca. In the UK, where I was last month, the core orga­niz­ing cen­ter is called The Women’s Strike Assem­bly and they are doing fab­u­lous work in link­ing up March 8th with the ongo­ing dis­cus­sions and orga­niz­ing for uni­ver­si­ty-wide strike of fac­ul­ty that is com­ing up. They are mak­ing con­tacts with fac­ul­ty mem­bers across the UK to coor­di­nate strike action and the orga­niz­ers in the UK are tire­less in going to var­i­ous strike meet­ings, etc.

In the Unit­ed States the plan is that across the coun­try, on March 8th we will stop work for one hour as women in order to show the boss­es and their back­ers in the White House that because we pro­duce the wealth in soci­ety, we can also stop pro­duc­ing that wealth and stop soci­ety from run­ning. It is a sym­bol­ic reminder of our pow­er as women and work­ers. We are work­ing with var­i­ous unions to make that happen.

CA: We have reac­ti­vat­ed a form of nation­al plan­ning com­mit­tee that is basi­cal­ly a net­work of var­i­ous activists across the coun­try who are vol­un­teer­ing their time and their work for this strike. We had, in New York, a pub­lic launch of the Women’s Strike with a won­der­ful pan­el that was fea­tur­ing some real­ly incred­i­ble speakers.

In this sense, this event, for exam­ple, gave a sense of the kind of ener­gy, but also the kind of women that the women’s strike is try­ing to orga­nize, espe­cial­ly work­ing-class women, minor­i­ty women who are not just par­tic­i­pat­ing in the strike, but also wag­ing a lot of strug­gles and fights in the work­place, against ICE, and so on and some­times actu­al­ly win­ning some­thing and show­ing in this way that col­lec­tive action actu­al­ly does get the goods sometimes.

We think we will have demon­stra­tions and march­es and walk­outs in most of the biggest cities in the States. Orga­niz­ers are already work­ing on the strike in LA, in the Bay Area, in Port­land, in Philly. We are also receiv­ing a lot of con­tacts, emails, mes­sages from peo­ple who are inter­est­ed, who read, for exam­ple, the arti­cle we pub­lished in The Guardian call­ing for a strike in the Unit­ed States this year and who are inter­est­ed in get­ting on board.

This is an entire­ly vol­un­tary effort that is real­ly based on grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions. It is self-fund­ed. Peo­ple are vol­un­teer­ing their time and their work, but in a sense, this is also the beau­ty of it, in the sense that around the orga­ni­za­tion of the strike, we are some­how con­sol­i­dat­ing an area of ant­i­cap­i­tal­ist fem­i­nism that is offer­ing an alter­na­tive to the kind of cor­po­rate and Lean In fem­i­nism that has been dom­i­nat­ing in past years. I think there is the polit­i­cal space and desire for this, at least judg­ing from the response that a lot of fem­i­nist activists around the coun­try are giv­ing to the idea of orga­niz­ing on the strike and the enthu­si­asm that they are putting into this project.

Of course, those who want to get on board can con­tact us through the web­site or the Face­book page and orga­nize a strike in their city.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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