The Feminist International: Appropriating and Overflowing the Strike

Louise Bourgeois, “Spider Woman”

On March 8, 2017, the International Women’s Strike was coördinated between more than fifty countries, drawing on the momentum that had been building since the Latin American women’s strike on October 19, 2016. The International Women’s Strike in 2018 has set another date, in assemblies in many neighborhoods and cities, in meetings in unions and schools, in encounters in factories and community spaces. The strike expresses, once again, an organizational horizon here and now, constructed from below: as an action that has revitalized the broad movement of women, including trans women, lesbians, and transvestites, that has not stopped growing, expanding, and diversifying. In this sense, it is important to think of the strike as a process and not as an event. The time between one “date” and another “date” is not empty or devoid of activity. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the strength of the strike is always a combination of mourning and struggle: in March we commemorate a new anniversary of the assassination of Berta Cáceres who lives on today in struggles against neoextractive projects, as well of the girls who died on March 8, 2017 in a children’s home in Guatemala.

By turning March 8 into a day of striking, we brought back its working class history, connecting with textile workers from all eras, with an insurgent memory that is woven together from everyday practices of resistances. But by promoting the strike from Latin America, we expanded its meaning to include a multiplicity of tasks and geographies that had generally remained in the periphery of the working class imagination. And, above all, we linked violence against the bodies of women and feminized bodies to concrete territorial conflicts: struggles for housing and against the expansion of extractivism through the dispossession of lands; struggles against the criminalization of popular and migrant economies; struggles against structural adjustment policies and the financialization of poverty; struggles against the criminalization (which is a class-based segmentation) of abortion.

Here I want to develop some points about how, through the strike, we revolutionize our practices as a feminist movement, at the same time as we revolutionize the tool of the strike itself, a tool traditionally only associated with the narrow world of masculine and waged labor. When the strike ceases to be the exclusive prerogative of unions, it stops being a decision made from above, and therefore, the strike stops being an order to simply comply with or adhere to. The strike appropriated by the women’s movement is literally overflowed: it must account for multiple labor realities that escape the borders of waged and unionized work, that question the limits between productive and reproductive labor, formal and informal labor, remunerated and free tasks, between migrant and national labor, between the employed and the unemployed. The strike taken up by the women’s movement directly targets a central element of the capitalist system: the sexual and colonial division of labor.

But at the same time, it opens up a concrete and situated research question: what does it mean to strike in each different situation, taking seriously the particularity and complexity of each different labor-vital experience? How is this redefinition and expansion of the working class interconnected with the differences that turn the map of work into something radically heterogeneous and segmented? How do we achieve a common plan of action faced with the multiplicity that challenges the very idea of the accumulation of forces? There is a first phase of responses to these questions that consists of explaining why a strike cannot be carried out in the home or as a street vendor or as a prisoner or agricultural worker or as a freelancer or as a migrant worker (identifying ourselves as those woman who “cannot” strike). Yet, the question immediately takes on another power: it forces these experiences to resignify and expand what is suspended, what is blocked, and what is defied when the strike must accommodate those realities, widening the social field in which the strike is inscribed and where it produces effects.

A question that was asked years ago by the Madrid-based collective Precarias à la Deriva resounds in us: what is your strike? But now it is conjugated on a mass scale and radicalized in the face of an offensive of machista violence that forces us to meet in assemblies and take emergency action. Because the strike allows us to politicize violence against women in a way that confronts that victimization and the permanent state of mourning to which they (the media, state institutions, and many NGOs) want to confine us. Manifested and intertwined in the violence against women and feminized bodies are new forms of labor exploitation, economic and financial violence, state violence, political violence, and multiple forms of dispossession.

In this sense, the strike puts the intersectionality of struggles and their transnational connection into practice and it does so by involving a class dimension: beyond identitarian multiculturalism, it links violence against women and feminized bodies to forms of exploitation and the extraction of value, police violence, and corporate offensives against common resources, remapping social conflict in practice.

Speaking about and enacting the strike situates us as political subjects and not victims to be repaired and/or redeemed (usually by the state). And it is due to this expansion of the strike tool that its meaning and efficacy has multiplied. Thus, the popular, indigenous, communitarian, peripheral, slum feminisms from Latin America, that deliberalize the politics of recognition, are not interested in quotas, and distrust identitarian traps, foreground the precarity of existence as a common condition, but one that becomes unique through concrete conflicts.

The organizational horizon of the strike repositions the class, anti-colonial, and mass dimension of feminism in a creative and defiant way. The strike is not a static, ready to use tool, but must be reinvented in the organizational process itself, and at the same time, it allows us to understand why women and feminized bodies are constituted as a key to capitalist exploitation, particularly in its moment of financial hegemony.

Toward that end, we are mapping the non-recognized and non-remunerated ways in which we produce value to elaborate a diverse collective image of what we call work. The women’s strike thus defies the borders of labor and in this way produces a ground of radicalization that interpellates other movements, other practices, and other experiences. That is why #WeStrike.

 

This essay originally appeared as part of a reader available from The Transnational Social Strike Platform.

Author of the article

is part of Colectivo Situaciones, teaches in the School of Social Sciences at Buenos Aires University, and is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). She is currently working on a project exploring popular economies in post-neoliberal contexts.