Is it a privilege to strike on Women’s Day?
By Val Reynoso
Throughout post-colonial history, the underclass and other marginalized groups have gone on strike in protest of capitalist exploitations under the hands of the bourgeoisie.
International Women’s Strike and May Day are two instances of mass strikes in which thousands of oppressed people participate. International Women’s Strike is on March 8th of each year and is commemorated as a day of action organized by and for women oppressed by the wrath of decades of neoliberalism, as the birth of a new international feminist movement that organizes resistance against capitalism, imperialism, and all other oppressive isms.
May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, is a notable day for socialists and communists and is held on May 1st of each year to commemorate the struggles of the working class under capitalism and bourgeois democracy. It is not a privilege to strike for International Women’s Day nor May Day because women who strike do so because they are burdened by oppressions due to capitalism, imperialism, racism and classism, and striking is their means of protesting that oppression in hopes of their socioeconomic conditions eventually improving.
Capitalism is at fault for the socioeconomic disparities that force women to strike out of desperation and hope for radical change to the system. Capitalism is a system in which the means of production are privatized and held by corporations and other powerful groups of people, is founded on the idea of the free market (laissez faire), privatized personal gain and is reliant on imperialism to exist.
Capitalism relates to feminism/gender power dynamics because capitalism was birthed through imperialism, both of which were used as systems of oppression through the colonization and exploitation of African and Amerindian lands and peoples—in which women of color were most oppressed and patriarchy was also forced on these societies, many of which were matriarchal and communist in nature prior to white invasion.
Friedrich Engels believed that the invention of private property during feudalism is the origin of gender oppression. Private property is the relation of the individual to the natural world in which their individuality finds objective expression in the relation of wage labor and capital; it is the foundation of capitalism which is an oppressive system that is utilized in part for the subjugation of women, such as through denial of private property and the transatlantic slave trade. The free and cheap forced labor of African and indigenous people is what was used to first fuel capitalism in the West; as a result, working class women and women of color were among most socioeconomically marginalized to this day and are vulnerable to capitalist and imperialist exploitations.
Contemporary women strike in hopes of obtaining livable wages, improved working conditions and protections in the workplace, strengthening of labor unions, etc. For instance, undocumented women often work in the agriculture industry and for factories of major corporations—where they are exposed to hazardous chemicals such as Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide when working in the fields and do other backbreaking work for minimal pay.
Moreover, Syrian refugees—many among which were women and children—were not entitled to work permits until this year, which is the motive as to why many refugees work informally hence making them more susceptible to being under-payed, overworked and abused. Turkey began issuing permits in January of 2017; however, the vast majority of Syrian refugees work sans legal protections and are more vulnerable to mistreatments because of that. Refugee, proletarian and undocumented women working for said industries are entitled to the basic human right of being provided with sufficient pay for their labor as a means of survival.
Labor unions have declined with the rise in power of mega corporations such as Walmart—the largest retailer and private sector employer in the US. Walmart has an extensive history of being adamantly against labor unions, abusing their employees, as well as falsely advertising their products as being made in the US when in reality, these products were made with sweatshop and child labor in countries such as Sri Lanka.
The idea worker groups being no longer needed due to Walmart goes along the lines of corporate propaganda, seeing that labor unions are a threat to the corporate and capitalist powers of Walmart. Furthermore, Walmart has raised its minimum wage for store workers to $10 per hour this year—which is still not a livable wage and is evident of the corporate greed and exploitation of workers that are characteristic of the retailer and which disproportionately affects already marginalized women. Seeing that the needs of these women are clearly not being met by the corporations and mega industries that exploit their labor, they are forced to find other means through which their needs can be addressed and satisfied, such as striking on days dedicated to workers and to the proletarian struggle like May Day and International Women’s Day. Bourgeois women have access to full proximity to elitism and reap all benefits from classism, they never have to strike because their economic needs are always beyond met whereas proletarian, undocumented, refugee and oppressed nationality women have never been able to.
Capitalism cannot fully provide marginalized and proletarian women with their needs, hence a new system is required in order to achieve this. Capitalism upholds patriarchy, is reliant on exploitation of proletarian labor, imperial domination, racism and bourgeois supremacy in order to exist; for as long as there is capitalism, said oppressions of the underclass, women and oppressed nationalities will exist.
Reformed capitalism is still capitalist and hence still oppressive, reformism is bourgeois ideology and is just a form of softer capitalism that will still result in the bourgeoisie reaping all the benefits. The workers seize of the means of production and the establishment of a socialist state that will overthrow capitalist class interests and wither away to full communism will liberate proletarian women from the burdens brought to them by capitalism, classism, imperialism and all other oppressive isms and then striking will cease to be necessary.
Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.