March 8 will see women worldwide rally to celebrate International Women’s Day. We hope that millions will respond to the call for a global women’s strike, as they did last year in Spain, in Latin America, in 50 countries in all. In Spain, they were joined by rank and file trade unionists who initiated actual strike action.
A central purpose of the Women’s Global Strike organisers is to make visible not only women’s work in the factories, on the land, in hospitals, schools, shops and offices but also the unpaid labour women perform every day in the home.
Over the last few years, Latin America has seen mass movements against femicide, like “Ni una menos (“Not one woman less”) in Argentina or “Ele Não (Not him)” against Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. In the United States, millions mobilised for the women’s marches against Trump and his sexist agenda.
In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, millions demonstrated against sweated labour in factories, the special economic zones and on the plantations. India has seen campaigns against rape and murder or against reactionary religious bans on women. Female workers played an important role in the great Indian general strike 150 million strong in January.
In Europe, huge movements in defence of abortion rights took to the streets in Poland, Ireland and Spain, clashing with the forces of reactionary populism and the church.
Worldwide, women still earn less than men, often less than half the wages of male workers in the same branch of the economy. They are more frequently forced into low waged work, on short-term and extremely precarious contracts, making the double burden of super-exploitation at the workplace and childcare and housework at home.
In addition, neo-liberalism has undermined or even destroyed many of the social gains achieved by the women’s and workers’ movements. Attacks on welfare, the privatisation and commercialisation of social services, from health, child care, education, care for the elderly to public transport, all affect women, reinforcing and increasing the double burden of unpaid housework and low paid work in the factories, fields and sweat-shops.
Migrant women and refugees are denied even the basis democratic rights of the citizens of the countries where they seek work and refuge. Fleeing wars, invasions, violence and super-exploitation in the countries they come from, they face racism, abuse and super-exploitation in the countries where they seek refuge.
The rise of reactionary forces, for example, after the bloody counterrevolutions that defeated the Arab Spring, and the rise of a global far right, of right wing populisms, of religious fundamentalism of all sorts and even of fascism, goes hand in hand with a global onslaught on women’s rights.
Figures like Bolsonaro aim to drive women back into a subservient role, strengthen a gender based reactionary social division of labour and stigmatise lesbian and transgender women through media attacks on “genderism” and feminism.
This global onslaught needs a global response. The struggle against women’s oppression and the linked oppression of LGBT-people constitutes a key part of the global struggle against neo-liberal attacks, capitalist exploitation, the rise of racism, environmental destruction and the threat of war and occupations.
For the media and upper class women, March 8 is treated as a “celebration” of “how far we have come” – a smug self-satisfaction with their individual “achievements”. In fact it still needs to be an angry and militant demonstration of how far we still have to go to attain equality. It needs to be a warning to the reactionaries around the world. In the words of women in the South African struggle against Apartheid, “when you strike the woman, you strike a rock!”
To deliver this crushing response we need to set about rebuilding a global women’s movement, oriented above all to working women, in the field, the factory and the home. It needs to unite all those who suffer oppression not only as women but as women of colour, as lesbian, trans and intersex women, too.
We need to transcend the quarrels and divisions arising from narrow identity politics and inflamed by the academic fads of post-modernism, post Marxism, post feminism. It is the unity of the working classes, taking up the causes of all the oppressed, that can overthrow capitalism and uproot exploitation, racism, patriarchy, environmental destruction, imperialist plunder and war. It is the foundation of women’s liberation.