THEOn October 24, 1975, 75,000 women in Iceland left their jobs, their children and their homes and took to the streets for a general strike that was dubbed “Women’s Day Off”. In Reykjavik, 30,000 women marched down Laugavegur (washing road), while a marching band of women played the tune of the march of Shoulder to shoulder, a British television series about suffragettes that had recently aired in this small Nordic nation. Flyers fluttered against the clear autumn skies: “We marched because it is commonly said of a housewife: ‘She is not working, she is just taking care of the house,'” they read. “We march because the work experience of a housewife is not considered of any value in the labor market.”
For Icelandic men, this day became known as “Long Friday”. With no women at desks and checkouts, banks, factories and many stores were forced to close, as were schools and daycare centers, leaving many parents with no choice but to take their children to work. There were reports of men arming themselves with candy and colored crayons to entertain swarms of children in their workplaces, or bribing older children to care for their siblings. Sausages (easy to cook, of course, and a hit with children around the world) were in such demand that stores were sold out; Boys could be heard laughing in the background as male readers reported the day’s events on the radio.
Many of feminism’s greatest successes have come at times when the boots were on the ground; and our bodies elsewhere to the positions that patriarchal capitalism attributes to women. In the UK, the public reaction to sexual violence against the 300 women who marched to parliament demanding female suffrage on November 18, 1910, Black Friday, was instrumental in gaining the vote of women. The 1968 strike by Ford’s sewing machinists in Dagenham, followed by the 1970 strikes by garment workers in Leeds, was a historic industrial relations dispute that led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. .
Yet domestic work has always been a deceptive injustice to protest against. It takes place in the privacy of the home, making it difficult for women to see themselves doing this work and collectively acknowledge that men don’t share their burden equally (and they don’t – the average British woman still contributes 60%). more washing, cleaning and babysitting a week than the average British man, even as the pandemic has increased this work to around nine hours a day). And there can also be dire consequences if we withdraw this job: homeless children and vulnerable unnourished relatives.
“A women’s strike is impossible; that’s why it’s necessary, ”says the Women’s Strike Assembly (WSA), an activist alliance that, to mark International Women’s Day last week, called for a series of commemorative banners to be erected across the UK to declare why #westrike as women or more importantly why can’t we). In a manifesto released in November, WSA wrote: “We are on strike because we are tired of our work being taken for granted. We go on strike because now we have to do a triple shift: our paid work, our unpaid domestic work and the education of our children during the pandemic ”.
In Liverpool, Bristol and Edinburgh, women gathered last Monday in socially estranged groups carrying their commemorative banners. “#Westrike because we are tired. Very, very tired, “read a banner in Liverpool and a monument painted by Bristol Sisterhood said simply:” Fuck the macho shit, women on fire. “Many of the protests on social media, however, indicated why Last Monday there was no total abandonment of women’s publications. “I am self-employed and they would not pay me (or I would lose my client!). But I am hitting with my colleagues in mind and spirit,” read one DIM banner and another : “I can’t go on strike but I lit a candle in solidarity.”
Recent years have seen a flourishing of strikes against gender work in Spain and South America. In 2018, six million women joined the 2018 ‘Day Without Women’ in Spain, including Manuela Carmena from Madrid and actress Penélope Cruz, as the “solidarity feminist men” were part of a network of collective nurseries. In the solidarity workshops, old-fashioned mother’s aprons, symbols of strikes, were sewn and hung from balconies. But in Britain, general women’s labor strikes have been conspicuously absent.
Selma James, co-founder of the 1970s Marxist activist project Wages for Housework, has a theory to explain this lack. She points out that as the power of unions diminishes, the climate in Anglo-Saxon countries is less hospitable to gestures of retired workforce, even as feminist identity marches gain broader support. Without union protection, British and American women who strike because of paid work risk losing their jobs; For the single mother on the breadline in a pandemic, strikes, in this context, appear to be the exclusive domain of privileged white feminists.
For all this, drawing political attention to the third turn of the pandemic is an urgent project. Only 36% of British women have been able to continue working full time alongside their caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic, compared to 66% of men, and mothers are more likely to have quit or lost their job. As the pandemic recedes on a nation of shattered women, there will be opportunities for direct action. The Women’s March, the Pregnant Woman and then the Fuck and the Women’s Strike Assembly, among others, are calling for protests and marches to highlight the structural sexism that has left women bearing the brunt of reproductive work during this year of crisis.
James, meanwhile, advocates a daily constellation of “little resistances”: banging pots and pans on your window; string a banner and an apron; radically lower internal standards.
Forty-five years after Women’s Day Off, Iceland ranks first in the World Economic Forum rankings. Global report on the gender gap – an index that examines educational opportunities, life expectancy, pay equity and the average time spent on household chores, in 13 of the last 16 years. Yes, for many women it is impossible to strike; but can we afford not to?
The Home Stretch: Why the Gender Revolution Stalled at the Kitchen Sink by Sally Howard is published by Atlantic Books, £ 9.99
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism