This year’s International Women’s Day (or at least, the website international women’s day dot com) is sponsored by MetLife, Amazon, McDonald’s and other companies that have apparently decided that its official slogan is #BalanceforBetter. I’m not sure that’s even proper English — for better what? — but in any case, the buzzword “balance” always makes me reach for the snooze button. The socialist feminist doesn’t want “balance.” She wants to upset this whole rotten applecart of a capitalist system.
That’s always been the animating passion behind International Women’s Day. Capitalists can hashtag all they like, but International Women’s Day has radical roots. In 1909, the Socialist Party in the United States called for a National Women’s Day in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike, and the following year, German socialist feminist Clara Zetkin proposed the idea for International Working Women’s Day. In 1913 many left-wing parties recognized March 8 as International Working Women’s Day. But in early March 1917 it got serious: Russian women garment workers walked off their jobs and held mass protests against world war and their starvation-level conditions, demanding “Bread and Peace.” Amid these demonstrations and general mayhem, Tsar Nicholas resigned, all part of the chain of events now known as the Bolshevik Revolution, which brought the Communists into power.
What’s even more inspiring than these storied origins is that women throughout the world — especially in Latin America and Europe — are observing International Women’s Day by going on strike today.
In Argentina, Spain, and Italy, the major unions are holding general strikes, under pressure from rank-and-file women workers, showing that “it can be called from below,” says Cinzia Arruzza, a Marxist feminist philosophy professor at the New School and one of the organizers of International Women’s Strike USA.
Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina – Autonoma and Central de los Trabajadores have called for a strike; how it will be carried out will be decided in each workplace. There will also be a series of mass assemblies in Argentinian cities during the strike, each of which is expected to draw thousands of participants. In Argentina, as in Spain, the slogan is “Non Una di Meno.”
Spain’s Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the teachers’ union of the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CC OO) have called for a 24-hour general strike; Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) has called for a two-hour strike. Millions of women went on strike in Spain last year.
A number of radical Italian unions have called for a general strike, among them the Unione Sindacale de Base (USB). But rank and filers, shop stewards, workplace assemblies, and leaders of locals of the major confederations, especially the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), are now also demanding that their unions support the strike. Last year, the IWD strike affected air, rail, and road transport across Italy, as well as public transit.
In Belgium and Greece, women are participating in the international strike for the first time. Belgium’s Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique
(FGTB), Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens (CSC) and Centrale Nationale des Employés (CNE) strongly support the strike. In Greece, citing the impact of austerity on women, as well as unequal pay, public sector workers have called walkouts in Thessaloniki, and Chania (on Crete), as well as Athens, where some 30 unions are involved. (In Greece as Spain, Argentina and Italy, unions are embracing the action because of pressure from rank-and-file women workers.)
Major French unions like Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), National Student Union of France (student union), Union Nationale Lycéenne (UNL), and UNL-GL are supporting the strike, which will start at 3:40pm, the time when French women normally start working “for free” if we consider the gender wage gap. International Women’s Day strikes in Iceland and elsewhere have followed this logic in the past, and it’s a powerful way to dramatize the issue of unequal pay.
Women in Ireland are organizing walkouts to extend their recently-won abortion rights to their comrades in Northern Ireland.
In Iceland, where IWD strikes have long been significant and powerful tradition, hotel housekeepers are striking all day with the support of their union’s strike fund.
In Switzerland, the SGB and other unions are organizing a women’s strike of their own for June 14, 2019 to protest a persistent and dramatic (42.9 percent) wage gap in that wealthy country.
In Brazil, there will be no strikes, but there will likely be mass demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions. In Brazil, feminists have been the ones organizing the most visibly against far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro. In Mexico, similarly, there will be no strikes but feminists are organizing marches in more than ten cities. (Last year Zapatista women organized a mass assembly in Chiapas with 4000-5000 participants.)
While many US women enthusiastically joined the International Women’s Day strike in 2017, this year left and socialist feminists have been supporting ongoing workplace-specific strikes, like those of public school teachers, rather than calling for a IWD strike. (As in Brazil, Arruzza notes, our movement in the United States isn’t powerful enough to pull off a strike right now.) There will be rallies and public education events around the country.
But the strikes, walkouts and massive protests in so many countries reflect a global mobilization of women, says Cinzia Arruzza, who is the co-author, with Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser, of Feminism for the 99 Percent (just out this month from Verso). Neoliberalism hits women particularly hard. Arruzza cites a “crisis of social reproduction”: austerity results in cutbacks to public services (like childcare, schooling and much more) which create more work for women at home, but also hammer them as public sector workers. At the same time, by squeezing workers’ wages and weakening their safety nets, capital and its neoliberal regimes also create more violence against women, in part by making economically harder for women to leave abusive relationships and workplaces.
No wonder women are walking off the job and getting into the streets. The corporate hashtags are gross, but the movement has many better ones. #LaHuelgaFeminista2019!