Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Striking on International Women’s Day Is Not a Privilege

 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?

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