Strike Winds are Blowing around the World: A Map of the March 8 Feminist Strike
This is not just any strike and mobilization on March 8. It is taking place two years into a pandemic that forced the feminist movement to reinvent itself in territories under emergency conditions: with fewer opportunities to occupy the streets in a multitudinous way, we instead submerged ourselves in less visible, but persistent, forms of organization.
This means that mobilizing this year is no simple task: we have to fight against isolation, against increased precarity, felt in our pocketbooks and in our bodies, and against the exhaustion of an exceptional two years. On the other hand, this 8M is interwoven with other political moments in which the feminist movement is intervening decisively: negotiation of the external debt in Argentina, the constituent process in Chile, campaigns related to the electoral scenarios in Brazil and Colombia – which recently decriminalized abortion! –, a referendum against the laws of the coalition government in Uruguay, to name just a few regional situations.
Across Europe, where the new president of the European Parliament is known for her anti-abortion stance, there is transversal antifascist activism against a right which is emboldened with antifeminist and antimigrant discourses. These feminisms do not merely propose isolated and specific agendas, but rather a politics of social transformation that directly enters into dispute with these reactionary times.
How is this 8M being prepared for across different geographies? What are “the questions that make the movement” this time, to evoke the lovely formula of the Chilean feminist Julieta Kirkwood? What slogans are being woven together to produce the text on the streets? What ideas lie behind the call for the strike and historic day of action? What horizons do feminist movements propose toward the future? Here we draw a partial cartography to weave together collective orientations, share strategies, and once again, demonstrate the internationalist force that makes the feminist movement into a tide of multiple rhythms and tributaries.
Taking back our time and the streets
When the pandemic and its disrupted times, which have led to more paid and unpaid work, mixed with the hardships of illness and death, seem to crush and flatten time, feminism speaks of the future. Last November 25 two banners circulated that are noteworthy because of their shared verb. Colectiva Feminista en Construcción from Puerto Rico dropped an enormous banner from a bridge that said: “Better times are coming, we are building them.” Meanwhile, the 8M Coordinator of Chile waved purple handkerchiefs with the slogan: “The feminist strike is coming. 8M.” Not allowing the future to roll over you, but rather actively producing the future starting from the here and now is, undoubtedly, a show of political strength. This is truer than ever in a moment when producing the time to organize ourselves – and, thus, putting a stop to the endless flow of tasks and worries, collectively reflecting on and evaluating where we are headed – is so difficult.
In Argentina, the meetings, assemblies, and coordinating networks started weeks ago. Are we returning to the streets? Did we ever leave? Some conversations revolve around that axis. Representing the union movement, Ama Lemos, Interior Secretary of the Unión Obrera Ladrillera de la República Argentina [Bricklayers’ Union of the Argentine Republic] says: “We never left the streets because we were putting our bodies on the line in other ways, starting from other places, after two years we really need this mobilization. Coming together and mobilizing seems essential to us and it will allow us to mark and expand a feminist agenda over time. Every 8M enables us to generate more organization.”
Dina Sánchez from the UTEP [Union of Popular Economy Workers] makes a similar diagnosis: “The pandemic both stopped us and, yet, we never stopped showing up. ” Sánchez and UTEP are perfect examples of just that point, serving others throughout Covid, while also forecefully repelling the plans of politiciasn who would “convert” welfare benefits into “genuine” work. “They still think that care is not work,” she adds. Johana, from the Garganta Poderosa and organizer of the Casa de la Mujer de la Villa 31 [a women’s organizing space in one of Buenos Aires’s shantytowns], emphasizes the importance of demanding wages for community workers, arguing that nobody asks who cooks the tons of food distributed by community soup kitchens. Talking about what happened during the pandemic, as we do in every feminist gathering as we return to in-person meetings, means collectively listing what was done, where we were, and, in turn, narrating why it is necessary to come together again in collective mobilization.
From the city of Neuquén, Ruth Zurbriggen, from La Revuelta collective, which has been meeting to plan the 8M, explains: “We have to reconstruct the fabric, this has to be part of what motivates us to take the streets on March 8 with this powerful web that, as feminists, we know how to produce, in order to intergenerationally insist on everything that they owe us.” If, during these years, the strike was a process that took on multiple forms, today that dynamic is impacted by overburdened domestic spaces, bus cards without credit, an exhaustion caused by the never ending need to address everyday emergencies and juggle multiple jobs and tasks to make ends meet. “We have to intervene in the midst of a debate that seems poisoned by the payment of the external debt, a debt that will not be paid by those who fled the country with millions of dollars from the loan,” Ruth adds.
Debt is at the center of many of the debates this March 8 in Argentina. “The debt is owed to us” is the slogan that has been used since 2020 to connect labor, territorial, and economic demands with calls against violence, building on the slogan used in 2018: “we want to life, free and debt free.” However, today, in the midst of negotiations with the IMF, it is more urgent than ever. Luci Cavallero, a member of the Ni Una Menos collective, clarifies: “The denunciation of the external debt is not new. Since 2018, when Mauricio Macri’s government led us to the worst process of indebtedness in our country’s history, feminist movements have argued that the external debt is a war against the possibility of living a life free from violence, against the possibility of increasing budgets for gender-related policies and to repair the inequalities that drag us down. Therefore, this 8M takes place in a special context: we have an enemy who is clearly going to try to take away our rights and that enemy is the International Monetary Fund. We have to debate debt in all its dimensions (its legitimacy, who is complicit at the local level, those who got rich and fled the country with that money, the everyday forms of blackmail that it entails) and not only on March 8, but until not a single IMF official is left in Argentina.”
Acting in Turbulent Times
The issue of labor also runs through the diagnoses and demands: wages for careworkers, debates about how the jobs that are being “recovered” after the pandemic are more precarious, about wage negotiations, and the psychological overburden of support work in a pandemic that does not disappear with the return to in-person activities. The urgent need for anti-extractivist measures is also key in this conjuncture, recognizing that extractivism is responsible for the unprecedented droughts and fires that have arisen across Argentina and that directly affect food prices. “This year we will not be able to carry out a verdurazo [an action carried out by the Land Workers’ Union giving away vegetables to make visible the labor behind agricultural production and provide an alternative to inflationary food prices] for the 8M” announced Rosalía Pellegrini from the Secretary General’s Office of the Unión de Trabajadorxs de la Tierra, “because the drought drastically reduced what we are able to harvest.” At the regional level, challenges to the patriarchal violence of the judicial system and the conservative reaction, against LGBTQI+ rights, and against migrants intersect. NiUnaMigranteMenos [Not One Migrant Woman Less] will carry out interventions in that regard in its own mobilization on 8M, rendering visible transborder demands, as well as the campaign to “free Laura Villalba, for the appearance of Lichita, and for justice for the two murdered girls” in Paraguay.
In Chile, the call for the feminist strike this year reads: “Let’s go for the life that they owe us!” The Plurinational Gathering of Those [Women] Who Struggle is being prepared. Therefore, Wayra Villegas, the new spokeswoman of the Coordinadora 8M, emphasizes that organizing the strike “is a collective and continuous process that leads to the 8M.” What do they hope for days after Gabriel Boric assumes the presidency? A handwritten list from one of the recent assemblies reads: “to be a tide in the streets,” “a new constitution,” “to reach all the territories,” “against Piñera’s impunity,” among other desires. “One of the big mobilizing questions,” to cite Kirckwood, “is over that dichotomy between institutionality and social movements, because the challenge lies in entering and transforming that patriarchal institutionality. Now we are in the first row and our strength involves a commitment to an equal, plurinational democracy without limits, to overcome the neoliberal model. That is what brings us into the institution as a constant exercise to transform the country.”
“The conjuncture in which we find ourselves is marked by a cycle of mobilizations that were interrupted by the pandemic and therefore we are in a process of taking back the streets, public space, and mobilization. We are facing the end of Piñera’s government, who is leaving with complete impunity after having systematically violated human rights. We are also on the verge of a change of command that was made possible, among other reasons, by the feminist force of women and sexual dissidents who demonstrated a majoritarian power to detain the advance of the extreme right that we were confronted with in the second round. Lastly, we are amid a constituent process, in which we are participating, constructing an alternative for the people, from which to articulate emancipatory horizons that will open the way to a plurinational, post-extractivist Chile with working class and feminist protagonism at its heart,” adds Javiera Manzi, another activist from the 8M coordinator who is involved in the constituent assembly.
2022 is a year of a full and decisive electoral calendar for Brazil. “Here we have gone through the pandemic with a government that denies the pandemic, that left the people to their own devices. Today we have more than 600,000 deaths due to Covid, record unemployment, an increase in violence against women, hunger, and misery. The only way to challenge this reality is to defeat Bolsonaro and his misogynist, racist, and exclusionary project” says Mónica Benicio, a compañera of Marielle Franco, feminist legislator, and lesbian. “Therefore, this March 8 we are going to shout ‘Out with Bolsonaro!’ from the four corners of the country!” she exclaims. Another network of collectives in Brazil also calls for actions on March 8 with the proposal “Feminist Tide: Out with Bolsonaro” with the same argument: in an electoral year, defeating the current president is the most important task. The list of reasons is well-known by now but still shocking every time you hear it. They highlight that the Ministry of Women, led by the anti-abortion activist Damares Alves, has been transformed into a “center of hate,” guided by anti-gender and fundamentalist policies against legal abortion; while killings of Black people in their communities, workplaces, and in supermarkets have increased “thanks to the incentive of racist presidential declarations.”
In Uruguay, the Tejido Feminista, made up feminist collectives, compañeres from unions, housing cooperatives, art, communication, and education collectives, among others, has been meeting in plazas and carrying out different “preparatory” activities. They have agreed to carry out a strike and march to the sea: “Our strike is [a refusal] of productive and reproductive work, our desire is to make time available for ourselves and among ourselves. This year we also choose to emphasize that our struggle is anti-extractivist, because we are concerned with the ecocide and multiple dispossessions of our territories, and because we know that life is sustained through interdependence. Therefore, this 8M we call to march to the sea and we say that ‘We are water when reality is a stone.’” The PIT-CNT union federation called for a general strike on March 8, opening a polemical debate. The union argues that it is an action in the face of the referendum to repeal 135 articles of the Law of Urgent Consideration (a neoliberal law pushed by the current government and passed in the middle of the pandemic) that will be held on March 27. However, Tejido Feminista has stated: “the call by the union movement to carry out a mixed gendered strike has empowered and reinforced the discourses that seek to negate our autonomy and power, to depoliticize the strike, and to situate us as one specific issue of a supposedly broader agenda.”
In Ecuador, on the other hand, the first assembly for the 8M occurred only at the end of February. It is a difficult context: recently feminist forces have been focused on a law that would legalize abortion in cases of rape and that would be “just and restorative.” “While the law was approved, it is not what the movement was looking for, [as] it establishes time limits of 12 weeks for adults and, exceptionally, 18 weeks for girls, adolescents, and rural women. Furthermore, the president can still veto it,” Ana María Morales, from the Amazonas collective, points out.
Diagnosing the Crisis
In Italy, NonUnaDiMeno issued an open letter for the call that ends “The feminist and transfeminist strike is for everybody,” with evocations that seem to pay homage to bell hooks and her commitment to a feminism for everybody. The issues of housing, accumulated medical costs, labor precarity, and gender-based violence are interconnected. As Maia Pedullà, from NonUnaDiMeno in Genoa, puts it: “It is a strike against patriarchal violence in all its forms, in which one of the keywords is to break isolation.” She adds: “This year we decided to convene the grassroots unions, which was not entirely foreseeable, and it is a sign of political relations and accumulated recognition. But you have to take into account that we are in a situation of an intense social crisis, with growing poverty and precarity. In Italy, inflation is at its highest level since 1996, and the energy crisis is translated into an increase in electricity and gas bills, along with the war in the not-so-distant Ukraine.”
The urgent points that make the demands of this 8M unique highlight the layoffs of women workers who had to stay at home to care for children or the elderly: “This is one of the most macroscropic figures of pandemic trends, along with the increase in sexist violence. We are also demanding rights for LGBTQA+ people, who watched this year as Parliament rejected a law against hate crimes and have been mobilizing in the streets for months.”
The Women’s Strike Assembly of England is planning a national mobilization with protests in several cities with the slogan “We want to live!” In London they are calling for a strike to denounce “police and state violence, and violence against sex workers.”
In Berlin, the Alliance of Internationalist Feminists is has put forth the slogan: “Breaking borders, destroying fascism.” They tell us: “There are always two marches in Berlin on March 8: one is bigger with political parties and unions, mixed, with explicitly feminist demands, and another led by migrant and racialized women who have taken a leading role in an internationalist, anticapitalist, anticolonial, and antiracist struggle. We organize marches for women, lesbians, travesti, trans, and non-binary people on March 8 and November 25 focused on racism and crimes committed on the border, Germany’s arms exports, and how these cruelties are continuities with colonialism. Therefore, internationalist resistance and solidarity are crucial for us.”
In Spain, feminist activist Justa Montera explains: “The context in which the 8M is being organized this year is that of witnessing the effects of the health crisis superimposed on the systemic crisis that was already characterizing our lives: we speak of precarity in all spheres of life, economic and environmental precarity, and the precarity of lives marked by various kinds of violence–of brutal sexist violence and the social violence of the dispossession of resources, of housing, of rights, of services, of land, of dignity.” For Montero, “the antifeminst discourses and practices of the right and extreme right that are prevalent in ‘Spanish’ politics today seek to criminalize this powerful feminist movement. Like every year, many slogans are being proposed, but one from Madrid stands out: “Rights for all women, every day. Here we are, the feminists.” Where are the feminists? “Challenging the system and trying to initiate alternatives so that our lives can be lived with dignity” she adds. In a recent gathering about feminist unionism in Madrid entitled “To organize ourselves is to start to win,” participants shared lessons learned from the feminist strikes, and talked about the struggles during the pandemic led by household workers, day laborers picking strawberries, migrants, teachers, sex workers, health care workers, and renters threatened with eviction. Thinking about how to reactivate the struggle, Rafaela Pimentel, from Territorios Domésticos, summarized: “we need feminisms that make demands and are combative, but also creative. The exercise of recounting the strike makes us tremble again with everything that we have done and allows us to think about where we want to go.” This 8M is in process.
– Translated by Liz Mason-Deese