Socialist Worker

‘We have millions of reasons to protest’ on International Women’s Day

On International Women's Day, 8 March, mass protests and strikes are planned in some countries. Sadie Robinson spoke to some of the activists involved.

Issue No. 2644

The womens strike in Pamplona, 2018

The women's strike in Pamplona, 2018 (Pic: Ekinklik/Wikipedia)


There are lots of ways you could celebrate International Women’s Day this week. You could pay to attend one of several events that will allegedly teach you how to up your chances of becoming a CEO.

You could take tennis player Serena Williams’ advice and “dream crazier” as she urges in her latest advert for multinational corporation Nike.

Or you could strike, protest and join struggles aimed at bringing about a world without sexism and oppression.

That’s what millions of women will do in the Spanish state, where last year over five million struck on International Women’s Day.

Marina Morante from Marx21 in Barcelona said, “The two main union federations, CCOO and UGT, have called work stoppages for two hours, although the feminist organisations called for a 24-hour strike.

“Other smaller unions have called a general strike and have holding meetings in companies and taking part actively in neighbourhood committees.

Abortion

“As a day of working women, it focuses on denouncing sexist violence, the defence of abortion rights, the denunciation of the sexist legal system and the discrimination that we suffer as working women.

“In addition the joint manifesto for the day opposes racism, borders and immigration controls, which violate immigrant women.”

Antea is a member of the feminist assembly and Anticapitalist Collective of Burgos in northern Spain. She told Socialist Worker, “We have millions of reasons to protest. In the Spanish state the figures are chilling. One rape is reported every five hours and 98 women were murdered last year.

“There is street harassment. There is inequality in the labour market, as women occupy the most precarious jobs. Women carry the physical and mental burden of supporting the family.

In Greece there will also be strikes on the day. Public sector workers have called walkouts in Athens, Thessaloniki and Chania in Crete.

Maria Stylou is a leading member of SEK, Socialist Workers Party’s sister party in Greece. “This is the first time there’s been a strike on women’s issues,” she told Socialist Worker.

“In Athens the public workers’ union has a four-hour strike and a demo in the centre of Athens. Lots of hospital, teaching and local authority unions are involved—it adds up to almost 30 unions.

“We hope it’s going to be really big.”

In Greece, Maria said workers are angry that “nothing’s being done” to address unequal pay. And years of austerity have hit women hard. So strikers’ demands will take this up.

“The public sector has suffered all the cuts,” said Maria. “In the family, women particularly have to pay for that. The nurseries and public schools are there but they’re not there.

“The cuts have destroyed all these things. We are saying, give money to the public sector, not to the banks.”

In Spain, threats to abortion rights are also pushing more women to fight back. In February 2014 tens of thousands of women protested against an attempt to push back abortion rights.

Marchers chanted, “We give birth, we decide,” and, “Decriminalise abortion.”

That attack was beaten back, but the right is on the offensive again.

“The visibility of far right parties in the media puts into question all the basic rights we have won,” said Antea.

“These include the law against gender violence and the right to decide whether or not we want to be mothers.

“We cannot take steps back. I believe that many working women see the situation and are arming themselves to face it.”

Maria explained that the strike in Greece came about because of an initiative taken by revolutionaries.

“Our group published a book about women’s oppression and held some meetings in workplaces,” she said.

“We started around the beginning of November. And we got a great reaction and an impression that we should do something. We thought we shouldn’t just use International Women’s Day to say things are bad and complain.

“We should put some demands.”

Workers

Maria said it was “rank and file pressure” that led to the strikes. “We put a proposal in the meetings for a strike on 8 March,” she said. “Workers discussed it and accepted it, and then we went to the unions.”

In Spain Antea said the feminist movement that called for the strike has “grown exponentially in recent years”.

“Many young women have appeared and have taken a step ­forward, but unions have also picked up the call,” she added.

“All social movements have positioned themselves with the 8 March strike. I am sure that, like last year, forces will be united and the struggles on the day will converge.”

In Greece, socialists have held ­meetings in universities, getting a “positive reaction” and in local areas. In Athens activists hope that women from refugee camps will join the protest.

“We opened this up everywhere,” said Maria. “We have involved immigrant women workers and refugees. It’s not easy, but not impossible.”

The involvement of different groups is also sparking political debates about why oppression exists in the first place and how best to organise against it.

“Some feminists here say, ‘Yes we accept the strike’,” said Maria. “But they translate it in a different way.

“So they say, ‘Strike from the ­workplace, and strike from the house’. They say the problem is ­capitalism and men.

She said there have been lots of debates about “the role of capitalism in oppression and how we can get rid of this whole system”.

Antea said that during the strike in Spain that as well as refusing to work, women will also be encouraged to not buy anything on the day, not go to classes and not do any housework.

In Greece workplace meetings are continuing, and discussing how to build the strike. “People are talking about how it’s not going to be the end on 8 March,” said Maria.

She said there are lots of opportunities to take the struggle forward.

“In Greece this year there will be an election period,” she said. “Prime minister Alexis Tsipras said again that he is going to put some sort of legal arrangement about equal pay through the parliament. But we don’t trust him and we don’t trust what sort of arrangement it will be.”

Maria said keeping the pressure on unions and in the workers’ movement to take women’s demands seriously is important.

“The unions can’t just forget the whole issue,” she said. “They need to raise concrete demands. We don’t want them to just say, ‘We are angry, we will go into the streets for just one or two days and then we finish.’”

“Sexism and oppression is a global problem,” said Antea. “The only way to overthrow the system is the self-organisation and struggle of the working class.”

The Socialist Workers Party is holding meetings in many parts of Britain on Women, Resistance and Revolution to celebrate International Women's Day. The London meeting is on Wednesday 6 March, 7pm, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8EP. Details here For meetings in your area go here

Don’t let the elite claim International Women’s Day for themselves

International Women’s Day (IWD) was set up after a call from revolutionary socialists. German Social Democratic Party member Clara Zetkin first proposed IWD in 1910. The aim was to celebrate struggles by working class women.

She chose 8 March because, on that day in 1908, some 15,000 women workers in the needle trades had marched in New York.

In response the Socialist Party of America declared the first “National Woman’s Day” on 28 February 1909.

In November that year, women textile workers struck in New York clothes factories after some were sacked for setting up a union. Jewish women led the 20,000-strong strike.

After five weeks, workers won a shorter working week and holiday pay. Bosses also agreed to pay for all the workers’ tools.

The idea of IWD is to celebrate this kind of resistance. But people who want to block such struggles have attempted to co-opt it.

Celebrate

So Tory prime minister Theresa May, responsible for attacks on working class women through austerity, claims to celebrate it.

In 2015 International Monetary Fund boss Christine Lagarde used IWD to celebrate pushing an “equality through austerity” agenda.

These people are not on our side in the fight against oppression—or anything else.

Ruling class women have an interest in keeping alive a system that rests on women’s oppression.

It’s in their interest for ordinary people to blame each other for the problems caused by class societies. So it suits those at the top if working class women feel oppression comes from men’s human nature, not their system.

The history of IWD though isn’t some fluffy “sisterhood” of all women uniting to celebrate “our” achievements. It’s of working class women joining working class men to fight back against those at the top.

This year’s official theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is #BalanceforBetter—calling for better gender balance. After years of women being told they “have it all”, it’s good that more people are recognising that sexism and oppression exist, and demanding change.

But too often these demands are limited to getting more women into top jobs as bosses, judges or politicians.

The dominance of men in such positions reflects the sexist society we live in.

But these demands assume that the system is fundamentally sound and call for more women to play leading roles in it.

We should reclaim IWD as a day of struggle against a sexist system.

 

Strikes across Spain

Struggles against sexual harassment and for abortion rights have given new life to International Women’s Day (IWD) protests.

Big protests took place in Ireland, the US and Spain in 2017 to mark IWD.

In Dublin at least 3,000 people brought the city centre to a standstill. Other protests took place in Galway, Limerick and Waterford to demand abortion rights.

Dozens of protests took place across the US in opposition to sexist president Donald Trump. One of Trump’s first acts as president was to reintroduce the “global gag” rule that denies aid to organisations that provide abortion advice to women.

In Philadelphia, teachers staged hour-long walkouts. Big protests hit cities including New York and Chicago.

More than five million people took part in strikes across

Spain last year. Unions said the two-hour walkouts were “unprecedented in our trade union movement”.

Discrimination

It was the country’s first national strike to mark International Women’s Day.

Women aimed to highlight sexual discrimination, domestic violence and the pay gap.

There were hundreds of protests across Spain, including in Barcelona, Seville, Madrid and Pamplona. Hundreds of thousands joined them.

In Catalonia protesters blocked traffic.

Students picketed universities and school students walked out.

The ruling right wing Popular Party (PP) denounced the action as being “for feminist elites and not real women with everyday problems”.

Eighty three year old Maria Vargas del Rio was in Madrid on the day. “I have worked all my life both inside and outside the home. We cook, we iron, we clean, we look after everyone, and that has never been appreciated.

“What is happening now is exciting. Women are tired of being trampled.”


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