Tomorrow, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The organizers of January’s Women’s March on Washington have been calling for women to participate in “A Day Without a Woman” by taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor.
The New Yorker writes that “Comparisons between the strike and the post-Inauguration march…are inevitable, and likely to be unfavorable to the strikers.” The March on Washington, after all, was one of the largest political demonstrations in U.S. history. It was also an outpouring of the cumulative anger and angst from an all-too-long election season that was specifically vicious to women (and a few other groups). Tomorrow’s proposed strike may also be disadvantaged by most Americans’ lack of familiarity with striking (e.g., because of the decline in unionism in this country). And of course, the absence of a culture of striking may lead some employers to be less forgiving of the strikers and impose harsh penalties on them.
But the only way to know if a strike works may be to…strike. New York magazine provides an account of “Women’s Day Off” strikes in Iceland in the 1970s. Soon after the early strikes, Iceland elected Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, a divorced single mother, who became the world’s first democratically elected female president, was subsequently reelected three times in office, and served as president of Iceland for sixteen years. Despite this and many other forms of progress by Iceland on women’s rights, the article reports that “…every ten years since 1975 (and sometimes more frequently) Iceland’s women have replicated Women’s Day Off as confirmation that there is still work to do.”
The article also details an October 2016 strike by women in Poland against proposed legislation that sought to ban abortion in the country. As part of that effort, over 100,000 women took to the streets across more than 90 Polish cities, despite fears of retribution from their government. It was called Black Monday, and women held up black umbrellas to symbolize the defense of their reproductive rights.
The Black Monday strike had an immediate impact. “Two days following Poland’s massive protests, the controversial abortion ban was voted down in the Polish parliament by a vote of 352 to 58.”
The proposed strike in the US has certainly generated its fair share of skepticism. Not surprisingly, the most popular charges against the strike are that it is elitist (“A Day Without a Privileged Woman”) and fuzzy (“What is the work of being female?”). But other commentators have defended the strike. For instance, an article in The Nation points out that vulnerable women have already been striking in the recent past, and asks: “Given that so many women with so much to lose from striking are already doing so, perhaps instead of asking what it “means” for women to strike, we should ask, “How can we make it possible for more women to strike or keep striking?””
Tomorrow’s strike has been endorsed by multiple immigrant groups, and it has already shut down several school districts in the country. But because this particular strike is aimed at mobilization of women more generally rather than at any specific or imminent legislation (as in the 2016 Polish example above), its real impact is likely to be part of a larger cumulative effect and be realized in the longer term.