In October there were mass protests linked with strike activity by women in three countries. The feminist strike demands were unique to each country and an indication of increased militancy around demands that address issues women have been fighting for year after year.
Oct. 3, seven million women throughout Poland turned out to defend
their basic reproductive rights. They were protesting a proposed law
that will force women to give birth and includes a prison sentence of
up to five years for any woman who terminates a pregnancy. There
could be a formal investigation of any woman who has a miscarriage.
introduction of this legislation in March sparked a massive women’s
rights movement that is the largest movement focused on women’s
rights in Polish history. Besides opposition to this oppressive law,
there has been a strong wave of support for the liberalization of the
present abortion law, which was passed in 1993.
of thousands of women went on strike and students boycotted classes
throughout Poland. Some 30,000 women dressed in black gathered in the
rain at Warsaw’s Castle Square, chanting, “we want doctors not
missionaries!” and carrying signs, “My Uterus, My Opinion” and
“Women Just Want FUN-damental Rights.”
Agnieszka Graff was ecstatic. She told the Guardian,
“The protest was bigger than anyone expected. People were
astonished. Warsaw was swarming with black. It was amazing to
feel the energy and the anger, the emotional intensity was
incredible.” Since the rally was too large for the square,
organizers led the march towards parliament, paralyzing traffic in
the center of the city for two hours.
a result of the strikes and mass marches, the ruling Law and Justice
Party (PiS) urged their MPs to vote down the controversial bill.
Former Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz told reporters that the PiS had
“backtracked because it was scared by all the women who hit the
streets in protest.” Recent polls show that public opinion has
shifted since the protests with nearly overwhelming opposition to the
proposed ban and increasing support for the liberalization of
Kacpura, an organizer of the actions, reflected, “This victory on
abortion has empowered Polish women—we’ll never be the same.
After our Warsaw protest, something has snapped in us. Our
struggle with politicians and the church is not over, but we’ll
keep fighting for our right to choose. There is so much solidarity
among Polish women right now. I have never been so proud of all
the empowered women. We will never be the same again.”
Oct. 19, tens of thousands of women walked off the job to protest
gender violence and economic inequality. This was the first women’s
strike in Argentina, although Argentine feminists organize massive
marches every year in connection with the annual National Women’s
Conferences. In fact, a little over a week before this massive
action, the 31st National Women’s Conference brought thousands of
women together to discuss how to move forward in the struggle for
were massive marches against gender violence in 2015 and 2016 under
the slogan “Ni Una Menos” (Not One Less). This year the marches
and strikes came after a particularly brutal gang rape and murder of
a teenaged girl. Women carried signs of missing and murdered
women and chanted, “We won’t forgive, we won’t forget.”
organizers called for women to strike in the streets between 1 p.m.
and 2 p.m. and to wear black as a symbol of collective mourning
over the killing of 16-year-old Lucia Perez and other victims of
femicide. The women who walked off their jobs wanted to show the
crucial role of women in Argentina’s economy as well as a reminder
that they are the first victims of the massive layoffs in the public
and private sectors being carried out by the administration of
President Mauricio Macri. Feminist activist Maria Florencia Alcaraz
made the connection in speaking with the Buenos
“Behind femicides there is an economic frame that makes women more
vulnerable to violence.”
workers pressured their unions to support the one hour general
strike. It was endorsed by all of Argentina’s major unions. However
the CGT (General Labor Federation) refused to call it a “general
strike” and just called it a “day of struggle and reflection.”
Activist Luciana Perker ridiculed this reaction. “While the CGT is
drinking tea with Macri, we take to the streets. We are
striking because we earn less, we face more unemployment, we are hit
harder by precarious life and poverty”.
march comes as Macri’s government promotes a bill that will
eliminate the special prosecutor focused on violence against women
and femicide. According to data from human rights organizations,
every 30 hours a woman in Argentina dies from domestic violence.
Iceland, women went on strike to protest the pay gap between women
and men. Women make between 14-18 percent less than men, and unions
and women’s organizations say that means women basically work for
free, starting at 2:38 p.m.
Oct. 24 thousands of women walked out. Current estimates say
that if the pay gap continues to shrink at its current rate, it will
be 52 years before men’s and women’s pay is equal. Women are
saying that is not acceptable.
the capital, Reykjavik, thousands of women gathered in the central
square when they had walked out of offices, shops, factories, and
schools. There were similar but smaller actions all around the
in Iceland have a long history of resorting to strikes as their
favored tactic of protest. While in other countries women may
demonstrate, organize rallies, or just decide to lobby for law
reform, in Iceland they usually decide to withdraw their labor power
from the economy. The tactic has gotten some results and empowers
women for their next struggle.
the same date, Oct. 24, in 1975, 90% of the women in rural and urban
Iceland went on strike, which they called a “day off.” They left
their jobs, refused to cook or do housework, or take care of the
children. Many industries had to shut down, newspapers were not
printed, there was no telephone service, and most schools were
closed. They wanted to illustrate the importance of women, and
protest their lack of political power and equal pay. At the
time, women made 40% less than men.
2005, women left work at 2:08 p.m. the time at which they said
they would have started working for free. In 2008, they went on
strike at 2:25 p.m.
year, a 20-year-old striker talked about how disheartening it is to
see the continuing pay gap: “We know that no country in the world
has reached gender equality, but today reminds me that not even the
country that is supposed to have the most equal rights pays women the
same as men.”
feminists in the United States have been marveling at the amazing
pictures of the strikes and marches in these three countries. But how
is it possible to look at what has happened there and not look at
what happens here? What are the basic differences?
three countries had an element of militancy rarely seen in the U.S.
In every country the organizers spoke about the actions empowering
women. That is what strikes and mass actions achieve. In Argentina
every year women organize marches with 50,000 or 60,000 women in the
streets, and there are conferences with thousands of women who
strategize how to move forward the struggle for women’s rights.
you look at the United States the women’s movement looks tranquil.
What is the difference? One thing is that the movements in Poland,
Argentina, and Iceland are independent of political parties. In the
United States the Democrats undermine, control, and manipulate
grassroots movements. They promise incremental change, which becomes
meaningless. No wonder those pictures of strikes and mass actions
captivated feminists here! Notice that in Poland after the women’s
strike the ruling party did not say that they would “make changes”
to the hated legislation. They said their members should vote against
compare the tactic of the strike to the main tactic of most U.S.
women’s organizations—lobbying. Lobbying politicians for small
reforms is the most disempowering activity for any movement. Strikes
are the most empowering.
in the United States who want a movement that empowers women should
take the first step; they must cut the chain and start building a
movement independent of Democrats and Republicans. We need to learn
from the militancy of other countries and not just admire their
pictures. It’s time to build the independent power necessary to
move forward our struggle for women’s rights.
>> The article above was written by Ann Montague, and is reprinted from Socialist Action.