Thousands of women across the United States and abroad are expected to go on strike tomorrow, building off a storied tradition of women getting shit done.
Organized by the International Women’s Strike, the strike will include women withholding paid and unpaid labor, abstaining from gendered housework such as childcare, or, for some, simply wearing red in solidarity. IWS’ strike is happening in tandem with A Day Without a Woman, a sister event organized by the women behind January’s mammoth Women’s March. That event has also called for participants to avoid spending money at businesses, with exceptions for small, women and minority-owned businesses. At least one school district in Virginia has preemptively canceled classes for Wednesday after over 300 teachers indicated that they would not be coming to work.
“Women’s outrage has been catalyzed by Trump, but the factors that have been making women’s lives hard predate him,” said Sarah Leonard, a senior editor at The Nation and member of the IWS national planning committee. “We’ve seen falling wages at the same time the safety net is shredded. Women have to do more work outside the home and more care work inside the home. Women are at a breaking point [and] are not willing to be shock absorbers of bad policy.”
The effort was inspired by a series of women’s strikes in places like Poland, where thousands went on strike in Warsaw last October to protest an abortion ban (days later, legislators rejected the plan) and in Argentina, where hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets in protest of “femicide,” the murder of a woman because of her sex. Here at home, three black women started the Black Lives Matter movement, a force of organized dissent that protests, among other things, the deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of American police officers.
IWS’ platform emphasizes intersectionality (a focus some critics said the Women’s March lacked) and demands an end to state and personal gender violence and the protection of reproductive rights for all women, including transgender women (under threat by Republicans’ Affordable Care Act replacement bill, announced yesterday, which would defund Planned Parenthood). They are also calling for a restructuring of the American social safety net — specifically universal healthcare and continued social security benefits. While tomorrow’s strike was organized independently of the Women’s March, Leonard said that the lessons of diversity were important for any collective action interested in resisting Trump.
“What we’re trying to build is a coalition that looks like the women of this country and is led by people most affected by current, terrifying policy,” she said.
Still, the strike has already been criticized for supposedly excluding all but the most financially privileged women who can afford to miss work, or those who can hand off their domestic duties to someone else. But Leonard cites a history of marginalized working women banding together to demand higher wages and basic labor rights as their model, and pointed to a broad definition of a strike as a workaround for those who cannot or don’t want to walk off the job.
“Working women of color, immigrant women, are calling on you to strike in whatever way you can. Saying no to that call is a privilege,” said Leonard. “You don’t just strike because something affects you personally, you strike because other people are asking you to join them and that’s what is happening here.”
She added: “I would like to know if someone who said that has offered to watch anybody’s kids…talk to National Domestic Workers United and ask if striking is a privilege. Ask if restaurant workers are privileged.”
Calls for strikes in the U.S. have increased since the election of Donald Trump. Grassroots organizers attempted a general strike — rare in America — on February 17.
In New York City, over a dozen strike actions have been organized for tomorrow by various groups, including legal workshops, lectures on economics, women in film and organizing, sign-making parties—even self-defense classes. There will be rallies at 12:30p.m., at the CUNY Graduate Center, at 3:00p.m. at Columbia’s Low Library, and the main event will begin at 6:00p.m. in Washington Square Park.
The strike has also garnered support from a host of immigrant, activist, legal, religious, and cultural organizations, as well as traditional labor unions including the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a caucus within the United Federation of Teachers, the New York State Nurses Association, and the SEIU Lavender Caucus.
Leonard says participating in traditional modes of activism, including calling state and national representatives is important. But she is quick to add that “the Democrats are not going to save us from Trump or increasing inequality.”
“Women taking leadership to [fight] bad leaders here and abroad is important because things that affect women then become important to the whole movement itself. History bears that out.”