The Social Movement of the Feminist Strike in Italy

Doris Salcedo, La Casa Viuda III (1994).

On October 7, 2018, the national assembly of Non Una Di Meno (NUDM) declared a “state of permanent agitation” leading up to March 8. This phrase has been used in order to describe the steps leading to the third global feminist strike (a chain of demonstrations against the misogynist and racist policies of the Italian right-wing government), but it was also a way of naming the strike as a process. Today NUDM is the social movement of the feminist strike. We have arrived at this point because the time that lapsed between two “March 8ths” has never been empty, but has been filled by the political initiative of those who take part in NUDM local assemblies, and by the manifold global feminist uprisings that fueled this initiative: the strikes and mass mobilizations in Poland, Ireland, and Spain, the huge Argentinian struggle for free, legal, and safe abortion, the teachers’ strikes in the United States, and the lesser known, but no less important, local women’s struggles and strikes.

The name Non Una Di Meno, which recalls the Argentinian cry against male violence, Ni Una Menos [Not One More], suggests that the Italian experience began as a part of a transnational movement. The call for a women’s strike launched from Argentina, itself inspired by the Polish strike against the abortion ban, has turned the massive mobilization against femicides into a global movement able to trigger different processes of politicization. The encounter between feminism and the strike actually changed both activities. Being addressed against patriarchal violence, the strike acquired a fully social dimension: assuming and going beyond its traditional practice as an interruption of production, the feminist movement pushed the strike outside the workplaces and turned it into a struggle against the reproduction of a specific oppression that shapes the whole society. Rapes and femicides began to be regarded as the peak of a social process that has many forms: from the traditional sexual division of labor ‒ which is intensified by the neoliberal policies of cuts to and privatization of welfare systems ‒ to its marketization, mainly based on the exploitation of women’s migrant labor; from the attack to the freedom of abortion to the increasing institutional racism that affects first of all migrant women and legitimizes the existence of social hierarchies; and from the reactionary defense of the patriarchal family to precarization policies. At the same time, the strike brought feminism into the workplaces, highlighting the link between patriarchal violence and exploitation and showing how sexual harassments, the sexual division of labor, and the reproduction of gendered hierarchies are necessary in order to discipline women’s work and divide all workers. In this way, feminism has been transformed by the strike: patriarchal violence is contested as a fundamental pillar of the neoliberal order. Neoliberalism needs patriarchy and racism because they provide the political conditions for the reproduction of capital as a social relationship, which can hardly subsist without this surplus of violence. Therefore, through the strike, the feminist initiative claims to be the starting-point for an overall contestation of the global capitalist society. The fight against male violence becomes the occasion for everyone to take a stand and cry out that there is no liberation possible at the price of someone else’s oppression and exploitation.

The necessity of rethinking and practicing the strike as a feminist initiative and to share common discourses and claims has been and continue to be the guiding orientation for NUDM organization. Since 2016, local assemblies have been established throughout Italy and several of them have recently appeared even in small towns. These assemblies are coördinated on a national level through mailing lists, Skype calls, and general national meetings. The latter are the space where future steps are discussed, and political priorities are pointed out. Local assemblies are composed of “Centri antiviolenza” (feminist centers for supporting women who are escaping violent relationships or are fighting against the consequences of rape and male violence), feminist and queer collectives, associations and grassroots unions, as well as people – mostly women, but also men – who have never been activists before. In the field of organization, the effort has been to move beyond the simple coalition of already existing organized groups, by turning assemblies into places for producing a discourse shared by all, and planning actions and political initiatives capable of being expansive, starting from the feminist strike as a process.

Given the heterogeneous composition of assemblies, it took time to define the common field of struggle and a shared political vocabulary. The articulation of a shared analysis of the multiple forms of patriarchal violence enabled NUDM to find common political demands: a safe, legal and free abortion against the ongoing attacks to the law that regulates its accessibility, aimed to limit women’s freedom and reimpose the patriarchal family as a structure necessary for the reproduction of social order; a European minimum wage, to fight against both the economic inequality that affects women as workers, and the way in which transnational wage differentials are managed in order to intensify the exploitation of migrant labor in households and workplaces; a basic income for “self-determination” as a tool contributing to women’s struggle against violence, against the new forms of workfare enacted by the national government for intensifying the control over labor, whose effects hit particularly hard on women; a European unconditional residence permit for migrants, against all forms of institutional racism that are increasingly legitimizing rape as an instrument of border-management and worsening the exploitation of migrant labor. In the last two years, these claims have been part of all NUDM local and national initiatives. They are not simply the base for a negotiation with the government in charge, nor a program to be misused by any political party on the campaign trail. Rather, they are the expression of NUDM’s autonomy from all existing political organizations and defines a platform for expanding and strengthening processes of organization under the banner of the feminist strike.

These processes are ongoing and are re-signifying the strike from a feminist perspective. Since the strike aims to interrupt women’s waged and unwaged reproductive labor, NUDM has been engaged in the attempt to provide visibility to what is commonly hidden within the domestic walls, in spite of being fundamental for the reproduction of society as such. Beside the use of strike symbols ‒ like NUDM flags that can be hung on houses’ windows, or pañuelos to be worn in order to signal the participation in the strike ‒ in all Italian cities the strike lasted 24 hours, with the aim of interrupting a global working day of social reproduction, and it was made visible by marches. In the last years, in Italy but also everywhere else, marches have been part of the strike as a moment of coming together, standing up and refusing the gendered roles and hierarchies imposed through patriarchal social violence. Marches, then, are the moment in which those who cannot participate in the interruption of productive labor – because of their isolation, precarity and exposition to the bosses’ retaliations ‒ are able to break that isolation and communicate with many others in their condition. In the bigger cities, the demonstrations have been huge and involved up to tens of thousand people. Even in the smaller ones, they have been able to open unprecedented processes of politicization, organization and protagonism.

NUDM does not limit itself to the organization of the March 8 strike, but aims to establish a political connection with those struggles wherein the connection of patriarchal and racist oppression and exploitation emerges. Last year, for example, local NUDM assemblies like the one in Bologna strongly supported the struggles of the self-organized migrant movement against the new security law enacted by the far-right Ministry of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, which radically worsens migrants’ conditions. More recently, the assemblies around the city of Modena took a stand together with the migrant women workers on strike against Italpizza, a company that profits from women’s condition as migrants to avoid stipulating appropriate labor-contracts, aiming to downgrade their wages. In Catania, NUDM supported the struggle of a group of women workers at a local day care who did not receive their wages for months; in Milan, some migrant women and domestic workers approached the NUDM assembly in order to denounce sexual harassments and abuses by their bosses. In all these instances, NUDM’s support was not simply an act of solidarity, but an attempt to make the political and transnational character of these women’s struggles and strikes visible, and to create a space in which women such as migrant domestic workers can make their voices heard.

To make the strike feminist has meant and continues to mean bringing the struggle against patriarchal violence into the workplaces. This project may be regarded as a contentious field, due to the unions’ opposition. As a matter of fact, the social movement of the feminist strike strongly affects unions thus provoking reactions and hostilities but, above all, forcing them to take a stand. Therefore, it has produced a strike front involving both workers and rank and file activists of the main unions, who are in public disagreement with their union leadership, and grassroots unions. In this way, the social movement of the feminist strike is redefining the strike as a political weapon that challenges all traditional forms of organization, and a process of connection between different figures of labor that decades of precarization policies have divided and weakened. The feminist strike is a political strike, since it aims to confront patriarchy as a fundamental relation of social oppression that supports capitalist exploitation. Because of its political nature, the feminist strike is already a transnational movement, and as such it is expressing a powerful opposition to the nationalist and reactionary policies enacted by contemporary sovereignists and neoliberal populists, such as Bolsonaro, Orban and Salvini. It is true that each country has its proper national legislation on abortion, family relations, migration, labor, and welfare systems. Consequently, in each country the feminist movement is formulating platforms that aim to fight the reactionary policies enforced by States, which seek to oppose the claim for freedom advanced by women, migrants, and precarious workers of all genders. However, just as these national policies are marked by the simultaneous transnational operations of patriarchy, racism, and neoliberalism, so the movement of their contestation is transnational as well. The transnational practice of the feminist strike has not been translated to the level of organization yet. However, over the last months in Italy NUDM has started to discuss the urgency and importance of a transnational meeting. Some Italian activists, together with women from France, Germany, Turkey, Argentina, Nicaragua and Chile, took part in the meeting of the “Comisión internacional 8M” in Valencia during the Spanish national assembly called to organize the feminist strike of last March 8. On March 29-31, activists from different countries participated in the mobilization and assembly that NUDM organized against “the World Congress of Family”, which took place in Verona in those same days. This reactionary meeting is the evidence of the fact that the different local attacks to women’s freedom and to the so-called “ideology of gender” are part of an extended and joint global attempt to force women to “stay in their place” and to reinforce the role of the family in structuring a hierarchical social order, especially in this moment of neoliberal intensification of exploitation. The feminist strike, and the impressive demonstration launched by NUDM against WCF on March 30, when about 150.000 people took to the streets, clearly show that this combination of oppression and exploitation cannot be counteracted via action on a national level alone. A transnational feminist meeting ‒ that in Verona started to be discussed as a shared process by feminist activists coming at least from ten different countries ‒ would encourage deeper transnational communication. It would be a step forward for realizing something more than a simple alliance of national groups, practices, and claims that are already given, and rethinking them all from a transnational perspective. The specific local conditions of exploitation and oppression could be read within the processes that produce and exploit them within the global chain of value and care, but also in the light of the movement that claims to break those chains. A transnational feminist meeting could be the chance of reinforcing a strike movement that aims to subvert oppression on a global level and thus allows to fight against its local and national manifestations.

Authors of the article

is an activist in the Milan NUDM assembly.

is an activist in the Bologna NUDM assembly.

is an activist in the Catania NUDM assembly.