March 18, 2017
By Mollie March-Steinman
On March 8th, 2017, people around the world participated in the “Day Without a Woman” general strike, which called for women to show their solidarity by refraining from paid or unpaid labor, avoiding spending money, or simply wearing red. Since March 8th was International Women’s Day, women around the world participated in various actions to show solidarity. The event was largely created by the same activists who organized the massive Women’s March that followed the inauguration. Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers who was arrested during , noted, “We see this as an opportunity to introduce women to different tactics of activism. Our goal is not to have the same numbers as the march.”
Despite the organizers’ efforts to soften public expectations, the event received some criticism. Several public schools shut down due to so many teachers calling off, and families were left without adequate daycare. Many articles emerged declaring that only privileged women would be able to participate in the strike. Others, like this one from The Washington Post, asked whether the strike was elitist. In response, publications like Jacobin Magazine wrote about the often violent labor history in the United States, which was often led by women and working people who were decidedly not privileged. Jacobin Magazine also described the radical history of International Women’s Day, which sparked the Russian Revolution of 1917.
All of these articles are valid and important analyses of the Women’s Strike, and of the effectiveness of labor strikes in general. However, none of them present fully comprehensive, constructive evaluations. Labor strikes have always been incredibly effective ways to achieve economic justice. In my view, a women’s strike is not inherently privileged at all. The problem lies with the way this particular strike was organized. The leadership was racially diverse, which is an important requirement for any successful feminist action. However, it was largely composed of women who have academic and activist occupations. This is where the distinction between the women’s strikes of 1917 and 2017 lies.
In order for a labor strike to be effective, it must actively center working-class people in the decision making process. We often talk about the importance of accountability when it comes to anti-racist organizing–it is inappropriate for a group of White people to take leadership roles regarding issues that affect People of Color. We stress that People of Color should always have leadership roles when it comes to organizing against racial injustice, whether it involves ICE raids or the school to prison pipeline. Now more than ever, we must introduce this same organizing structure when it comes to fighting economic injustice. The leadership should be diverse in terms of class as well as race. The Women’s Strike was organized by individuals who are active in many ways, speaking out about everything from Palestine to Islamophobia to misogyny. However, they were not qualified to organize a women’s labor strike, as they are not working class women. They are not housekeepers, fast food workers, cashiers, bus drivers, domestic caretakers, or retail sales associates.
If working class women had a true voice in the decision making process for this strike, they would have been able to say what would have been best for them. A strike is harmful to workers when only one person in an office or store participates. Instead, a successful general strike requires extensive planning to ensure that everyone in the workplace will participate, which will increase the protection of each individual because mass firings are less likely than individual firings.
In addition, there should be strike funds in every city and town to supplement the wages of workers who strike or lose their jobs. Bernie Sanders showed America that it is possible to raise huge sums of money from small, individual donations during the 2016 primaries, raising over $200 million for his campaign in total. It is possible to create numerous strike funds across the country that are powered by small donations, and that protect non-union as well as union workers. If there are hundreds of local strike funds managed by democratically elected individuals, corruption will be less likely, since the donations will not be concentrated in one national account. If this national crowdfunding movement were successful–if there were millions of dollars raised for a single general strike–it would create a framework for highly organized, socialized programs similar to those of the Black Panthers. Organizers could feel more confident about the possibility of raising adequate funds for free clinics, community land trusts, and other successful local programs intended to protect the most vulnerable from poverty and violence.
When workers feel that they are not alone in their participation, they will be more likely to strike. The working class should be able to speak for themselves and achieve liberation on their own terms. A future women’s strike should not only center working class women–it should mobilize men. Qualified male allies should be organized to provide alternative childcare and step in to make life easier for striking women. Economically privileged women should show solidarity by contributing to strike funds and using their resources to provide greater space and security for their working class sisters. Intersectional feminism can only be achieved when we bring an awareness of class to our conversations and actions.
Mollie March-Steinman is currently self-designing an Economic Justice major at Chatham University. She is passionate about promoting peace and justice for all. Mollie is an intern with the NewPeople Editorial Collective.