Women’s strike and labour

To­ward a rev­o­lu­tion for all women

The McGill Daily - - News - Anne- Cé­cile Fa­vory The Mcgill Daily Anne- Cé­cile Fa­vory is a U4 stu­dent ma­jor­ing in World Is­lamic & Mid­dle East Stud­ies. She is an edi­tor at The Mcgill Daily but the opin­ions ex­pressed in this piece are her own. To con­tact her, email anne-cé­cile. fa­vory

On March 8th, the or­ga­niz­ers of the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton called for a gen­eral strike, which was in turn crit­i­cized for not be­ing ac­ces­si­ble to the women most af­fected by pre­car­i­ous work and in­ter­sect­ing op­pres­sions. Due to our cur­rent eco­nomic sys­tem – to which the strike was op­posed – many women could not par­tic­i­pate in the ac­tion, which ev­i­dently war­rants crit­i­cism and a re-eval­u­a­tion of or­ga­niz­ing tac­tics. Even so, to even con­sider a gen­eral strike is in­dica­tive of a de­par­ture from the main­stream fem­i­nist and labour pol­i­tics of the last cou­ple decades. “A Day With­out Women,” as it was called, co­in­cided with In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, an an­nual “cel­e­bra­tion” of women that has been in­creas­ingly de­politi­cized de­spite hav­ing its roots in the labour move­ment of the early 1900s. The de­politi­ciza­tion of In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day in the last few decades is es­pe­cially due to the en­croach­ing cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion of so­cial move­ments, which is a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort by the ex­ist­ing sys­tem to main­tain the sta­tus quo. Thus, a de­politi­cized In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day only serves to turn women’s sub­or­di­na­tion into a spec­ta­cle and a false nar­ra­tive of lin­ear progress, where all women now pos­sess equal rights.

De­politi­ciza­tion also props up main­stream fem­i­nist rhetoric that re­volves around “lean­ing-in” and break­ing glass ceil­ings within the con­fines of ne­olib­er­al­ism. Ac­cord­ing to this brand of fem­i­nism, our so­ci­ety has changed but our eco­nomic sys­tem stag­nated. Many pre­fer to dis­re­gard the fi­nal signs of late-stage cap­i­tal­ism, which first ap­peared in the 1950s, such as the in­creas­ing aus­ter­ity mea­sures ex­ploit­ing the poor as well as the work­ing class, the fail­ure of the wel­fare sys­tem to pro­vide for them, and a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem de­void of ac­tual con­tent but rather reg­u­lated by the global mar­ket. Eco­nomic jus­tice and labour rights seem to be an af­ter­thought for some fem­i­nists, in­stead choos­ing to ques­tion if women can truly “have it all.” We praise the women CEOS but fail to be crit­i­cal of their ac­tions as CEOS. While the Sh­eryl Sand­bergs and Marissa May­ers of this world con­tinue to tell us to “lean in,” we must re­mem­ber that gen­dered and racial­ized in­equal­ity within the class sys­tem is a fem­i­nist is­sue that will not be re­solved by ad­her­ing to the prin­ci­ples of cap­i­tal­ism.

Crit­i­cism of main­stream fem­i­nism, and the priv­i­leged few who lead it, is not new. In con­trast to the ideals of sec­ond wave fem­i­nists, women of colour have al­ways worked to cre­ate a move­ment for the masses and not the few. Fem­i­nist struggles en­com­pass so­cial wel­fare, state vi­o­lence, ed­u­ca­tion re­form, work­ers’ rights, and other so­ci­etal ills that are in­her­ently tied to the sub­ju­ga­tion of women. In to­day’s move­ment, many of those at the fore­front of grass­roots fem­i­nist or­ga­niz­ing cen­ter these intersections in their work, in­clud­ing the or­ga­niz­ers of the March 8 strike. While com­mend­able and cru­cial, there are lim­i­ta­tions to or­ga­niz­ing around in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity in a sys­tem that re­wards in­di­vid­u­al­ism and en­cour­ages hi­er­ar­chi­cal spe­cial­ized labour. Ev­i­dently, to re­duce ra­cial and gen­der op­pres­sion to by-prod­ucts of the class sys­tem is false, hurt­ful to the cause, and ahis­tor­i­cal. How­ever, as “A Day with­out Women” proves, class power un­der­lies the priv­i­leges – white­ness, ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, wealth – af­forded to those striking. For this rea­son, de­trac­tors of the strike called it use­less, im­pos­si­ble, and ir­rel­e­vant in a so­ci­ety that no longer or­ga­nizes through unions and is hos­tile to the wel­fare state. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and chang­ing world or­der, shouldn’t the im­pos­si­ble be worth try­ing?

Striking as a tool for change is one that has been used since the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. The March 8 strike was meant to de­nounce the priv­i­leged fem­i­nism of Hil­lary and Ivanka, the kind that uses fem­i­nist lan­guage to fur­ther cap­i­tal­ism, a vi­o­lent sys­tem which ac­tively dis­en­fran­chises bil­lions of women. At dif­fer­ent stages of cap­i­tal­ism, women world­wide, and not only the priv­i­leged few, have with­held pro­duc­tion as a form of dis­sent. Even in re­cent times, most so­cial move­ments have been led by women risk­ing jobs, ca­reers, and fam­ily for the cause. For in­stance, queer black women are at the fore­front of the Black Lives Mat­ter Move­ment, Indige­nous women are of­ten front­line de­fend­ers in the fight against cli­mate change, and teach­ers’ strikes across North Amer­ica have been spear­headed by women, es­pe­cially women of colour. With that be­ing said, should the bur­den of fight­ing against op­pres­sion fall on the op­pressed? No. The idea that we have un­bri­dled own­er­ship of our liveli­hoods and liv­ing con­di­tions is a mer­i­to­cratic prin­ci­ple used by cap­i­tal­ists to jus­tify op­pres­sion, ex­ploita­tion and eva­sion of dis­sent. It is against this very prin­ci­ple that strikes are of­ten or­ga­nized. Striking should ren­der vis­i­ble some of the bar­ri­ers work­ing against a marginal­ized por­tion of so­ci­ety.

Strikes in a glob­al­ized and in­creas­ingly di­vided world may seem ir­rel­e­vant or even il­lus­tra­tive of the very priv­i­leges they seek to ad­dress, which gives us even more rea­sons to give them a chance. In terms of vis­i­ble col­lec­tive ac­tion, striking, if done prop­erly, can put an ac­tual strain on the sys­tem. How­ever, there is no deny­ing that much has to change for striking to be ef­fec­tive in 2017 while still be­ing done in solidarity with all women. First and fore­most, a col­lec­tive ef­fort must be made to put his­tor­i­cally marginal­ized groups at the fore­front of labour or­ga­niz­ing, which means that those with the priv­i­lege and ca­pac­ity to do so will have to fa­cil­i­tate and cre­ate an ac­ces­si­ble space. This ef­fort can take the form of le­gal re­forms and in­creas­ing union­iza­tion which al­lows more women to strike with­out fear of reper­cus­sions, rad­i­cal and dis­rup­tive di­rect ac­tions that in­creases vis­i­bil­ity of the labour move­ment and raises so­cial con­scious­ness, and an un­der­stand­ing that ra­cial and gen­dered in­equal­i­ties within classes were cre­ated de­lib­er­ately and thus, must be dis­man­tled pur­pose­fully.

View­ing class struggles through an in­ter­sec­tional lens can help re­vive a fem­i­nist move- ment that has strayed from its roots. The fail­ings of the March 8 strike gen­er­ally stemmed from rush or­ga­niz­ing – due to a sense of ur­gency – that didn’t al­low for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of work­place safe­guards which would have al­lowed for more women to par­take. We may no longer be able to or­ga­nize un­der unions and a strong labour move­ment, but those spear­head­ing grass­roots move­ments are learn­ing from these ac­tions and ad­just­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures of our pre­de­ces­sors so as to ben­e­fit all women. In the mean­time, we should con­tinue to put on ac­tions de­spite their sup­posed im­pos­si­bil­ity. Ne­olib­er­al­ism con­vinces us that col­lec­tiv­ity is unattain­able and that the only way to de­mand rights and free­doms is through a sys­tem put in place to dis­en­fran­chise us and main­tain power for the few. We have a long way to go and much to learn about solidarity. A move­ment ad­vo­cat­ing for the 99 per cent has no other op­tion but to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the intersections of women’s op­pres­sions. Af­ter all, the cur­rent state of the world calls for us to be am­bi­tious as well as rad­i­cal, dis­rup­tive, and self- crit­i­cal.

A de­politi­cized In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day only serves to turn women’s sub­or­di­na­tion into a spec­ta­cle and a false nar­ra­tive of lin­ear progress, where all women now pos­sess equal rights.

So­nia Ionescu | The Mcgill Daily

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