Striking is a powerful way to send a message en masse, and while they're typically used by unions as a bargaining tool, sometimes strikes are called for a group of people who are not necessarily members of a union. Following the historic Women’s March on Washington the day after President Donald Trump took office in January, international organizers have called an international women’s strike to resist Trump’s regime and “demand social provision and labor rights” for women.
The strike was announced on February 26 by way of an article in the Guardian. The international organizers who penned the article—Linda Martín Alcoff, Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser, Barbara Ransby, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, and Angela Davis—wrote that the strike shouldn’t just be about the threats Trump poses, but confront the history of working class oppression. The date chosen for the strike couldn’t be more significant: March 8, International Women’s Day.
Organizers wrote, “While Trump’s blatant misogyny was the immediate trigger for the huge response on 21 January, the attack on women (and all working people) long predates his administration. Women’s conditions of life, especially those of women of color and of working, unemployed and migrant women, have steadily deteriorated over the last 30 years, thanks to financialization and corporate globalization.”
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Women’s International Strike USA organizer and author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, tells Complex that the strike’s organizers “see the actions of March 8 as contributing to a process of rebuilding a political opposition in this country based on radical politics including anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-imperialism and anti-sexism.” Taylor and her co-organizers saw the huge mobilization behind the women’s marches of January 21, but “the political bar was quite low for the J21 protests,” Taylor says. “We wanted to raise the bar to make sure the realities of trans women of color, undocumented mothers, Palestinian women, and other oppressed and politically marginalized women were at the center of a call for a ‘feminism of the 99 percent.’"
Of course, this will not the first time women have joined together to strike.
The first national women’s strike in the United States was in 1970 when the National Organization for Women (NOW), following the charge of Betty Friedan, organized the Women’s Strike for Equality. According to a Village Voice article from 1970, the demands of the strike were threefold: “free abortion on demand, 24-hour daycare for all mothers, and employment, pay, and promotion opportunities for women equal to those for men.” According to TIME, 50,000 women in New York alone showed up in the streets to demand equality under the slogan “Don’t iron while the strike is hot.” A TIME story from a few days after the strike called the crowds “easily the largest women's rights rally since the suffrage protests.”
The primary goals of this year's International Strike are more focused on the rights and needs of working class women, and while Friedan’s vision for the 1970 strike was focused on work, it was directed at domestic labor. TIME later reported that Friedan hoped for a strike on domestic labor (cooking, cleaning, childcare, and other household work) to demonstrate the unfair and unequal demands on women. Women's March organizers in the U.S. standing in solidarity with the International Strike are calling for women to "take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor."
The International Women’s Strike is sure to make its mark in the history of strikes, and it’s just around the corner. Here's everything you need to know to participate in tomorrow's International Women's Strike:
Who can participate in the strike?
The strike is being held on International Women’s day and has been named for women, so of course women are invited to participate and organize. The original call to action from the International Women’s Strike organizers states, “The idea is to mobilize women, including trans women, and all who support them in an international day of struggle.” Take this to mean that allies of women are also welcome to join, just remember that the day of action is meant to center women and their struggles and you should be good to go.
How can we participate?
This is not only a strike, but a day of action as well. The international organizers had great ideas at hand when they called the strike last month, listing “striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions” as ways to participate. There’s a solid breadth of ideas to choose from, some of which are more feasible for those hoping to participate than others.
The Women’s March also has some general ideas for the strike it's endorsing. From their website: “Women take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses), wear red in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman.”
“We see this as the beginning of a process,” Taylor tells Complex. “We think the actions will look different from one area to the next but if we can help to initiate conversations about the meaning of ‘feminism for the 99 percent,’ the role of women's oppression in the perpetuation of social and economic inequality, in the ongoing efforts to revive the spirit of socialist and Black feminism of the 1970’s by locating our oppression in the institutional and structural features of free market capitalism, the strike will have made an important contribution for the day.”
The core idea is to not only send a message, but to use the collective power of women to take action to shed light on the issues facing working class women all over the world. As the call published in the Guardian states, “These actions are aimed at making visible the needs and aspirations of those whom lean-in feminism ignored: women in the formal labor market, women working in the sphere of social reproduction and care, and unemployed and precarious working women.”
When and where can I take part?
The strike is being held internationally on Wednesday, March 8. Check out Facebook and the International Women’s Strike USA website to find out what’s happening in your area (a press release from the Women’s International Strike USA also states that women at several universities will be striking as well). If there’s nothing already going down where you live, talk to some friends about making something happen, or reach out to local women’s organizations to see if they have any events or opportunities to volunteer.
Of course, not everyone who wants to participate will be able to leave work for the day. Not everyone can risk their financial livelihood, and that's totally understandable. Fortunately, there are ways to participate beyond taking the day off from work. Participants are encouraged to patronize women-owned businesses, boycott brands that harm or exploit women, and call their local representatives to advocate for women's rights. Some other ideas could be making a donation to women’s organizations that you believe in, using social media to signal boost issues that are important to working class women, and reading up on labor history (it’s a long and interesting one! This timeline of women’s labor is a great place to start).