Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
Sectors of the U.S. labor movement are throwing their weight behind an International Women’s Day call for mass actions to protest the gendered violence wrought by neoliberalism, from workplace harassment to environmental destruction to the gutting of welfare systems.
Timed for Wednesday, March 8, the global day of action was “organized by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards working women, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer, and trans women,” according to the International Women’s Strike, which describes itself as a grassroots movement.
The mobilizations also have the backing of the organizers of the January 21 Women’s March, the largest inaugural protest in U.S. history. While Women’s March organizers have termed March 8 “a day without women,” actions will include rallies, protests, direct actions, and teach-ins, in addition to a more traditional work stoppage. Similar actions are slated to sweep nearly 30 countries, from Mexico to Bolivia to Russia.
Tithi Bhattacharya, who is active with the U.S. arm of the International Women’s Strike, is a longtime activist for Palestinian justice, a professor of South Asian History and the director of Global Studies at Purdue University. She told AlterNet, “We knew very well when we used the word ‘strike’ that women (and men) in the vast majority of workplaces will not be able to go on strike. How could they? Union density is currently at its lowest in this country. Moreover, even where unions exist, they usually carry no-strike clauses in their contracts. A vast number of people work in states where striking has been criminalized for years.”
“But despite these challenges,” Bhattacharya continued, “the involvement of labor unions and labor groups has been amazing.”
Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools just announced it will close down March 8 because it expects large numbers of employees to go on strike.
Under the banner, Women Workers Rising, major unions and workers’ organizations are calling for a demonstration at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., to “end workplace violence and harassment and promote pay equity, one fair living wage, paid leave, and labor rights at work.” The action is being organized by One Billion Rising in coalition with at least eight union or worker organizations, including National Nurses United, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, OUR Walmart, the American Federation of Teachers, Jobs with Justice, the Domestic Workers’ Alliance, and other labor and social justice groups.
“Every day, we see the Trump administration’s attack on women’s bodies and lives, especially immigrants and women of color,” Andrea Cristina Mercado, the campaign director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told AlterNet. “Our work, contributions, and humanity continue to be undervalued. That is why we endorsed A Day Without Women—as a way of showing opposition to the terrorizing and criminalizing of our communities.”
“While some domestic workers are participating, we did not call on members to strike, because it’s hard for many who are caring for elders or children to take a day off,” Mercado continued. “But there are so many ways to show resistance, and on March 8, we will stand together, and embody radical sisterhood.”
The day of action has earned the endorsements of union locals and workers’ organizations, including Labor for Palestine, Rutgers AAUP-AFT and UAW Local 2325 — Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. Among the endorsers is the SEIU Lavender Caucus, which describes itself as “the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender (L/G/B/T) Caucus of the Service Employees International Union, whose purpose is to facilitate open and respectful communication between the L/G/B/T community and the labor movement.”
Megan Moskop is a New York City teacher and an organizer with the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers. Moskop said MORE officially endorsed the March 8 day of actions “because 70 percent or more of the teaching profession in New York City is women. Sexism in our profession is rampant. We only have the most basic family medical leave. Part of the reason it is such a hard job is because it’s a job women have traditionally done.”
“When women are standing up in the international community and saying sexism is real, we want to stand alongside them,” Moskop said.
The U.S. platform for the International Women’s Strike includes calls for labor rights, a halt to gender violence, environmental justice, and an “anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism,” stating: “This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement.”
In addition, the platform calls for “full social provisioning” and issues the demand “that the welfare system work to support our lives rather than shame us when we access such rights.”
Organizers say they draw inspiration from mass protests far beyond U.S. borders. “Following the example of Icelandic women in 1975, Polish women went on a day-long strike to halt plans for criminalizing abortion and miscarriage on Oct. 3, 2016,” the International Women’s Strike writes. “That planned legislation was immediately withdrawn by the government. Similar issues brought Korean women to protest several times that same month against introduction of higher penalties for doctors performing abortions. On Oct. 19, 2016, Argentine women responded with massive hour-long strikes and rallies to an inhuman femicide and brutal repression [by police] of the Women’s National Meeting.”
Union members told AlterNet that these kinds of mass protests are sorely needed in the United States, and that labor’s participation is often driven by the rank and file. “It’s important to see labor use its power to move protests further and go from demonstrations to strikes,” Peter Lamphere, a member of MORE-UFT and a teacher in New York City, told AlterNet. “We’ve seen that already in the immigrant community and with New York City taxi workers.”
On February 16, thousands of people across the United States walked off the job, shut down their stores and restaurants and stayed home from school to participate in an immigrant strike against the deportation policies of the Trump administration. The strike was accompanied by mass protests in cities and towns across the country, including Chicago, Raleigh, Austin, and San Francisco.
Those mass protests followed a one-hour strike on January 28 by the New York Taxi Workers, in solidarity with large-scale protests against Trump’s travel ban targeting Muslims. “Drivers stand in solidarity with thousands protesting [the] inhumane and unconstitutional Muslim ban,” the 19,000-member strong union declared over social media.
“We see the Trump administration as posing an existential threat to the labor movement, so right after the election we immediately got involved in pushing UFT to take whatever action it could to challenge what Trump was doing,” Lamphere emphasized. “So we pushed for the union to endorse the Women’s March and sent buses. The women’s strike is the next step coming out of that.”
Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.
IMAGE: People gather for the Women’s March in Washington. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton