Tightly gripping a “Firefighters for Women’s Rights and Equality” banner at the Women’s March on Washington, a group of women who had once made history as New York City’s first female firefighters roared up Independence Avenue. There, they joined a new generation of labor activists: teachers, nurses, government workers, restaurant servers, home health-care aides, communications workers, and thousands of other working-class women and men who turned out to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration in what was perhaps the largest global political mobilization in history. Women have continued to march, huddle, strike, and organize against Trump since January, among them legions of young women workers. Is it possible that women—including working-class women—can generate a powerful-enough grassroots movement to overcome Trump?
It’s not immediately obvious that a new women’s movement will spell the Donald’s downfall. The corporatized feminism featured in the popular media seems a particularly poor basis for opposition. If Dove soap, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, and Ivanka Trump are our modern-day feminist icons, there is little hope that the women’s movement can be a cross-class organizing tool. Even many progressives doubt the power of women’s issues to transform the political moment; some branded the call for women to strike on March 8 as elitist, for example.
Today, women once again lead a wave of labor and class-based organizations, and together these groups make up a new iteration of working-class feminism. Women are at the forefront of “alt-labor” groups like the Restaurant Opportunity Centers, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the National Taxi Workers’ Alliance, and all brought troops to the Women’s March on Washington. Women are key activists in traditional unions, too. Three of nation’s largest unions—the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the Service Employees International Union—have female presidents, and women will make up a majority of U.S. union members by the year 2023. Women are far more likely than men to hold the sorts of part-time and contingent McJobs that are becoming the economy’s norm, and they are fighting back from the helm of the Fight for 15 campaign. The Black Lives Matter movement’s analysis includes a savvy mix of class and race; its three founders are all women. In fact, Black Lives Matter activists will demonstrate alongside workers leading Fight for 15 on April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Young women also power much of the immigrant workers’ rights movement, yet no one thought to label the recent Day Without Immigrants strike as elitist.
A big difference between the working-class feminism of the 1970s and that of the 2010s has to do with the economy. When those firefighters and pink-collar secretaries fought for inclusion 40 years ago, they demanded access to an economy marked by broad prosperity. Working people’s share of the pie had been steadily growing for decades, and they saw no reason why that wouldn’t continue. Since that time, working people’s prospects have dimmed and their wages have stagnated; the United States has largely traded manufacturing jobs for low-paid, contingent service jobs.
Women constitute four out of ten breadwinners in American families, yet they still make far less than men and hold the worst jobs in the emerging precarious economy.
Today’s working-class feminists must fight not only for economic inclusion, then, but also for economic transformation, demanding an economy that works for all. Women constitute four out of ten breadwinners in American families, yet they still make far less than men and hold the worst jobs in the emerging precarious economy. Working women’s top concerns include good family leave, a decent wage, fair scheduling, and paid sick leave, and all these are potential wedge issues that could break apart Trump’s blue-collar coalition.
Source/ rest: prospect.org