March 11, 2018
An international wave of demonstrations, protests and strikes swept the world on International Women’s Day, March 8th 2018. The slogans and descriptions of the actions bluntly place these developments on the terrain of the class struggles of the working-class:
In Pittsburgh, demonstrators chanted, “Women’s Rights! Workers’ Rights! Same Struggle, Same Fight!”
In Italy, the organization which coordinated the strikes and demonstrations — Non Una di Meno — framed the issues at stake: “We demand a radical transformation of society: We strike against economic violence, precariousness and discrimination.”
In Spain, where over 5 million women went on strike for 24 hours backed by the trade unions, the truly mass demonstrations called out, “If we stop, the world stops.”
The 2016 report by the United Nations on, “Women at Work Trends,” clarifies the position of working-class women in the global capitalist economy:
“Between 1995 and 2015, the global female labour force participation rate decreased from 52.4 to 49.6 percent. The corresponding figures for men are 79.9 and 76.1 per cent, respectively. Worldwide, the chances for women to participate in the labour market remain almost 27 percentage points lower than those for men (figure I). In regions where gender gaps in participation have been high, they have remained so. In Southern Asia and Eastern Asia, the gap has grown even wider. Women’s lower participation rates translate into fewer employment opportunities, with little variation over time, which negatively affects women’s earning capacity and economic security. . .”
“Women are more likely to be unemployed than men, with global unemployment rates of 5.5 per cent for men and 6.2 per cent for women. With the exception of Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe and Northern America, male unemployment rates are lower than female unemployment rates in all other regions of the world, with the highest gender unemployment gaps found in Northern Africa and the Arab States. In
Northern, Southern and Western Europe, and in Northern America, the gender unemployment gaps have narrowed as a result of the financial crisis, largely under the impact of the economic downturn on the male-dominated sectors and the rising employment rates for married women, who in some contexts are entering employment to compensate for losses in family income caused by male unemployment.”
“Globally, the services sector has overtaken agriculture as the sector that employs the highest number of women and men. By 2015, slightly more than half of the global working population was working in services (50.1 per cent). While 42.6 per cent of all men work in services, substantially more than half of the world’s women are employed in that sector: since 1995, women’s employment in services has increased from 41.1 per cent to 61.5 per cent. . .”
“Occupational segregation has increased further over the last two decades with skill-biased technological change, notably in developed and emerging countries. Between 1995 and 2015, employment increased fastest in emerging economies. The absolute change in employment levels was twice as high for men as for women (382 million for men and 191 million for women), regardless of the level of skills required”
The rising trajectory of class struggles on the terrain of the working-class is finding its expression on a variety of specific social issues, particularly among those sections of the class who experience a particular oppression layered on top of the exploitation they experience as wage laborers (and in the case of many women, un-waged laborers).
Beginning with the global upheavals of 1968, social movementism had become a tendency separate and apart from the traditional terms of the class struggle. As the offensive by the capitalists against the working-class deepened in the 1970’s as a response to the falling rate of profit, which began the process of social atomization, dislocation and disorganization of the working-class, social movementism became a substitute for rather than an auxiliary of labor’s class struggles.
However, as we have seen in the time after the crisis of 2007-08, there has been a return, an irresistible pull, back to the struggle of the working-class as the working-class and off of the terrain of social movementism.
The International Women’s Strike shares many similarities with the Day Without Immigrants strikes, boycotts and demonstrations in the US. They both moved beyond the question of civil rights and posed labor as the defining aspect of their oppression, an oppression which is conjoined and derivative of the exploitation they share with all workers.
Working-class women have been in the forefront of reviving the strike weapon in the United States over the past 3 weeks. The majority of the public education workers in West Virginia who initiated and led the illegal 9-day strike were women, as are the majority of the public education workers in Oklahoma who are poised to strike in the next 3 weeks.
We must work to make the fact that it isn’t enough either to simply take enough resources from the capitalist class to alleviate working class problems, that we must seize the entire productive apparatus, a central part of socialist practice in the present.
We must work toward building independent working-class political organization. Since the election of Trump in the US, tens of thousands of workers have begun to instinctively seek this class independence by flocking to nominally socialist organizations with a much larger number following the socialist press to varying degrees. This is not a reflection of the strength of the programs or analysis of organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America, the Communist Party USA, Socialist Alternative and the like, but the absolute absence of a legitimate class organization.
Until there is a legitimate alternative, our fellow workers who have made the basic connection that capitalism is incompatible with dignity and equality will remain unable to leave the terrain of liberalism and social democracy (i.e. capitalism).
This alternative can only be constructed on the basis of common work and open and frank discussion. An old article in the American labor press observed, “let us seek unity in essentials and learn charity in non-essentials.” We too must apply that observation. Our class is demanding more from its revolutionary minority, and we can do (and be) more as well.