We Stopped, and so Did the World

The feminist strike of 8 March was a triumph. It reached a level of social debate unimaginable even months before.

May, 2017. In Madrid, feminists meet to evaluate the work of this past 8th of March. They are pleased. This year, the work of the 8th of March Commission – which coordinated different feminist organisations of the city in preparation for the traditional demonstration of the International Women’s Day – has gone way beyond the expected. This year, participation went above and beyond what anyone could have anticipated. Madrid’s joining the International Women’s Strike, promoted by Argentina and other countries, was a success. The event echoed in the media as many women participated in the programmed morning gatherings and demonstrations, especially in Madrid, were much larger than initially expected.

“People want feminism”, commented some of the participants in the (evaluation) meeting. “The demonstration should have been taken many more streets”, others noted. The atmosphere is filled with the happiness that comes from an accomplished and well-done job. One can sense the desire to go on, to move forward from the traditional 8th of March. “And what about next year?” asked the youngest. “Next year, we will all take part in the feminist strike”, is the consensus between feminists.

March, 2018. The 8th of March’s feminist strike is a triumph. During the preceding months no one could have predicted the level of social debate, the strikers outnumbered the originally calculated – with many labour groups, such as journalists, education and health professionals joining the strike – and mobilisations were massive, not just in bigger cities but reaching every single town. At the international level, the media has given much attention to this day of demonstrations, which overtook the streets. Thousands of people, mainly women, were mobilised. “The 8th of March is already a success”, was already being commented in the eve of the strike.

Nobody could have imagined, back in May of 2017, that the mobilising capacity, the strength of the organisation and the enthusiasm of the feminist strike could reach that far. With the feminist strike and this historic 8th of March, Spain also remembered the 15th of May (15M) democratic movement, but this years’ purple March configures a much more ideological movement. . And it must be stressed the fact of strike itself being recovered and redefined as a struggle tool: strike not only limited to the realm of labour, but also applicable to all areas of (our) life – indeed, the call was for workers caretakers, students and buyers to go on strike.

Weeks have passed since the mobilisation and it remains difficult to assess its outcomes at the national level, to tell whether will shift the paradigm. In Spain, many eyes have been focused on Iceland where, back in 1975, the first women’s strike at the international level took place. In the Iceland case, four years after the women’s strike, a woman won the national presidential election.

Besides the long term impact, one may already foresee some of the difficulties in the near future, starting with the answer to the main question feminists are already asking: Now what?

The first and most urgent task is to assure that this mobilising force does not fade away. As with any large mobilisations, the ability to create a lasting network and social fabric should be the obvious next goal. And feminism is quite familiar with this task. The feminist movement, horizontal in its own DNA, has not only broken the monotony of big cities, but has also reached every small town in this country. This network of organised women, animated by their commitment in showing that they went on strike, will continue.

The second task may be counteracting the danger of a possible neo-macho reaction regarding the awakening of this powerful movement. The debate has reached most families all over the country; it has entered inside homes and became a conversation topic over meals. Faced with a possible rise of neo-machism, in a Trump-like style, it is of utmost importance the continuity of feminist pedagogy. Yet, this is not a battle against men, since the outcomes of this struggle will improve the live conditions not just for women.

Finally, and perhaps the most complex challenge: the dispute of the meaning of the mobilisation. At least one thing was highlighted by this strike: the economic dimension of gender oppression. Women who went on strike did so because their multiple lives and works (both visible and invisible) leaves them with no time for themselves, because they are not able not make it to the end of the month, because pensions are insufficient for them and their children, because cuts on public education left classrooms filled with students, or because they want to be able to share caretaking. These women came out on strike, among other reasons, to denounce their lives are filled with precarity and poverty to say – albeit not clearly stating – that this economic system drives them crazy and that they won’t take it anymore.

Nancy Fraser explains in ‘Capitalism and the caretakers’ that the current capitalist system is incompatible with life since it needs the women’s reproductive labour but, at the same time, it destroys it. That’s the reason why this contradiction between necessity and rejection originates crisis such as the caretakers’ crises (which forces women to take care of others’ children while having no one to look after their own, or in which their own sickness or of a closely related one) becomes a major problem in women’s lives. According to Fraser, the explanation for feminism power lies on the fact that this caretakers’ crisis represents one of the most striking, impactful contradictions of the current capitalist system. It is in the area of the reproductive work, which orders and sustains life, that capitalism hits harder.

In this sense, the lesson to be drawn from this feminist strike is that, the same way the economic system is in constant mutation, so are its tensions and its consequences. It is no longer simply about the tasks of caretakers being passed from white women, incorporated into the workforce, to migrant women. About the feminist strike it has also been said that: “we are all so precarious and getting poorer everyday – in increasingly more expensive living conditions – that we cannot even consider paying anyone to look after our daughters.”

Therefore, among other things, the crisis of the caretakers is not just about those who undertake domestic tasks, or about demanding shared division of each task, or not even about what value should be assigned to such tasks. It is rather about the fact that, for the vast majority, dignifying living conditions are moving further away. That is why the feminist demands merge with pensioners’ claims: in most cases, it is the aging population who devote their pensions and their time to looking after the whole family.

What the feminists know now, and already knew back in May 2017, is that in order to face all of these challenges, feminism is still the (best) answer. What the strike has brought us in terms of citizens’ debate should be put forward at the micro and the macro levels, in our daily life, in social and cultural changes, and in public policies, resources, and legislation. The demand became clear and must become a reality: society is asking for a change and it must be built together.