To what extent is the present call for a Women’s Strike on March 8 actually a less coherent project than its 1970s counterpart, or any previous women’s strikes? Our present situation is in some ways closer to the situation in 1908, when the first women’s strikes were led by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Unions were virtually nonexistent then, to say nothing of the brutal working conditions that resulted from their absence (146 people, mostly women, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911). Union membership today is at a historic low (10.7 percent and decreasing in 2016). Was it a privilege for garment workers to strike then? Would it be a privilege for us to strike now?
To the extent that Doyle calls for a redefinition of women’s work for a contemporary feminist movement, we agree that she raises an important question. Fortunately, the answers to some of those questions are already being formulated by exciting new forms of women’s and labor organizing. As part of the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, the National Women’s Liberation called for a strike of paid and unpaid work, from gender roles, and form the myriad expectations placed on feminized people in daily life.[…]
Given that so many women with so much to lose from striking are already doing so, perhaps instead of asking what it “means” for women to strike, we should ask, “How can we make it possible for more women to strike or keep striking?”
The International Women’s Strike call to action lists a wide range of ways to participate in the global strike, from refusing to smile at work and on the street, to wearing buttons, to walking out of work. Strikers themselves tell us how to move from a small action to a more dramatic one: host a meeting of coworkers to discuss work and the strike; and new suggestions might arise.
Female organizers (cis and trans, of course) have shown that we don’t have to strike alone. Women involved in immigrant strikes, for example, have spent years building worker centers that not only provide support for those combating rights violations at work, but provide legal support and education, and host community events. The idea behind this strategy is that social isolation enables the exploitation of their labor. Community building in these centers embolden women workers to demand a more fair share of the value they produce, better conditions, and a life worth living. All of these activities provide the foundations for the kinds of confidence and solidarity that enable women’s mobilization.