This year, at a crucial moment for the women’s movement, women around the world are going on strike for International Women’s Day. We will refuse both paid and unpaid labour, in our shops, offices, restaurants, factories and homes. This is a strike against inequality, violence and oppression, but it is also a strike against the pressure to don a ‘pussy hat’, ‘lean in’ and fight for your right to be a CEO.
A feminist movement which doesn’t recognise that liberation is not possible under capitalism only increases the gap in income, safety and freedom between the most and least privileged women. It erodes solidarity between women, and reduces our collective power. The Women’s Strike rejects this politics of divide and rule by highlighting the exploitative nature of all work and demonstrating the power we wield when we refuse it.
The idea of women on strike is not new. Amongst other historical examples is the Shirtwaist Strike of New York in 1909, which won the workers better wages, hours and conditions. The tragic fire at the factory a year later, which killed 146 predominantly migrant workers, showed how much was still to do. On 24th November 1975, 90% of women in Iceland went on strike, forcing businesses to close and fathers to take their children into work with them. Many view the strike as the reason Iceland has a lower level of gender inequality than many other western countries. More recently, in 2016, women in Poland went strike and forced their government to abandon planned legislation which would effectively ban abortion.
But when it comes to recognition of, and resistance to, the unpaid ‘second shift’ of caring labour undertaken by women, we find ourselves trapped. We’re compelled to undertake this labour, but denied a wage for it. The labour movement has traditionally only seen the revolutionary potential in organising around and against the wage, with little or nothing to say about the unpaid labour which literally reproduces the workforce. Of course, if a woman ‘leans in’ far enough to become a boss, they can pay somebody else to do this labour for them. But who are they paying? Predominantly working class migrant women who are paid a low wage, and who go back to their own homes and families to do the same labour all over again for nothing. We should reject this exploitation of other women in the name of liberation for the privileged few.
The Women’s Strike is an attempt to build real working class solidarity. It is part of a feminist movement which struggles alongside trans women, fights racism and supports the right of all women to work in safety, free from the threat of police brutality or deportation. We refuse to see these struggles as separate from the feminist movement or the labour movement. We refuse to seek individual freedom at the expense of the liberation of our sisters and our class. This is a strike against all bosses – in our workplaces and in our homes.
Wobbly events in solidarity with the strike-
IWW members have also been involved in organising events in regional Women’s Strike assemblies: