In her recent op-ed for Elle, Sady Doyle asks the important question, “What does it mean for women to go on strike in 2017?” She argues that because increasing inequality among women since the 1970s has given certain women better access to education and job security, participation in a women’s strike is a privilege as opposed to a coherent political project. In the 1970s, she argues, secretaries and housewives could unite around a common project of making their care work visible. Now that the doors to traditionally male jobs have been opened to women, Doyle calls for a kind of guilty, stagnant solidarity of intention, aptly summarized by the title; “Go Ahead and Strike, but Know That Many of Your Sisters Can’t.”
To what extent is the present call for a Women’s Strike on March 8 actually a less coherent project than its 1970s counterpart, or any previous women’s strikes? Our present situation is in some ways closer to the situation in 1908, when the first women’s strikes were led by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Unions were virtually nonexistent then, to say nothing of the brutal working conditions that resulted from their absence (146 people, mostly women, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911). Union membership today is at a historic low (10.7 percent and decreasing in 2016). Was it a privilege for garment workers to strike then? Would it be a privilege for us to strike now?
To the extent that Doyle calls for a redefinition of women’s work for a contemporary feminist movement, we agree that she raises an important question. Fortunately, the answers to some of those questions are already being formulated by exciting new forms of women’s and labor organizing. As part of the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, the National Women’s Liberation called for a strike of paid and unpaid work, from gender roles, and form the myriad expectations placed on feminized people in daily life. A diverse group of women inaugurated the movement for a 2017 strike with their feet and faces, and explained why:
I worked like a mule. Job as a nurse resulting in 2 serious injuries. 3 kids. All the laundry, housework, cooking, No help from the kids father, husband of 22 years. Left because of emotional abuse.
I’m signing the pledge in memory of my mother and all the hard work she did to raise her family. Her work was working in the fields on her knees in the hot Fla. sun who told us not to work when the boss failed to bring drinking water. This was my first lesson in striking for what’s right!
– L.T., Oregon
A lot of women from my office actually came to our meeting last week, but my first thought about this was, OK, I could probably not go to work, but no-one would necessarily notice. Until I realized all of them were saying, “let us know about that strike.” So, OK, I have ten women already at work, my boss is going to be pissed when all of us don’t show up. So that made it feel more real.