On International Women’s Day this past March, an estimated 5.2 million women took part in what was popularly described as a two-hour “feminist strike” throughout the Spanish state, and an unknown number stayed away from work for the rest of the day. The tide of support for the strike mass protests reached nearly every sector of society. In addition to the radical political organizations and parties and the labor movement, even the neoliberal Spanish Socialist Workers Party and elements within the Catholic Church expressed support for the actions. An astonishing 82 percent of the population, according to one poll, agreed that there were “valid reasons” for the protests.
Laia G. Facet, a member of Anticapitalistas in Catalonia, spoke with about the background to this uprising and what it means for future organizing.
THE STRIKE and mobilizations on March 8 were the biggest in the history of the Spanish state, or nearly so. Can you describe the size and reach of the strike? Can you share any stories that give us a sense of the day? And please tell us a little about your own role.
I’M A member of Anticapitalistas and a feminist activist, and I participate in the feminist strike assembly in Catalonia.
The strike on March 8 really was a historic day. The mobilizations in the afternoon were the largest in the history of the feminist movement in the Spanish state. Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in the biggest cities like Barcelona, Zaragoza and Bilbao, with about 1 million in Madrid. And there were important mobilizations in smaller cities and town as well.
Moreover, the strike itself involved some 2 million people in the labor movement, making it the first feminist strike in history. All of this comes in a context in which it’s been many years since there’s been a general strike. So all in all, a success.
CAN YOU describe how the strike was organized? What were the most important organizations?
THE STRIKE began to be organized in August and September of 2017, a time during which many feminist collectives in the Spanish state met to analyze the feminist movement and the situation in which it was operating and to assess the potential for organizing a strike on March 8, 2018, following the strike organized by feminists in Argentina in March 2017.
Since then, we’ve been calling assemblies, discussing political platforms in all parts of the Spanish state where feminists are active, and organizing women’s commissions among trade unionists and activists in general. This all came together at a statewide meeting of 450 women in Zaragoza, in which we agreed upon a manifesto and the specific kind of strike we would call.
WHAT EXPLAINS this success? Is it that sexism in the Spanish state is worse than the rest of Europe? Or is it because the feminist movement is so strong?
I THINK machismo in the Spanish state is equally as strong as it is in other European and non-European countries. Of course, there are particularities. Today, the feminist movement is an international phenomenon that, in addition to activating pre-existing layers of organizers, has brought in a new generation.
The particular success we saw in the Spanish state clearly flows from many factors.
The first is that, although we failed to organize a feminist strike last year, the protests on March 8, 2017, were the biggest I have ever seen. This raised the appetite for action as well as expectations.
Another factor is that there has been a very sharp focus on elections and electoralism in recent years. This focus has led to some victories, but also many limitations.
In this context, the feminist movement organized a historic mobilization in 2015 on November 7 that brought together people from all over the Spanish state. Since then, feminism has maintained the social pulse within the electoral cycle and is now highly visible, something that has not happened with other movements.
At the same time, the strike won a certain legal legitimacy from trade unions. Alternative union federations called for a 24-hour strike, while the main trade union federations called for a two-hour strike. This was critical to be able to activate the strike in female-dominated workplaces and sectors. This allowed the strike call to spread to sectors that were, perhaps, not accustomed to participating in the movement.
On the other hand, the media created a powerful phenomenon in which hundreds of women journalists got involved in spreading news about the strike.
This media phenomenon meant that even the reigning Queen of Spain spoke about March 8, and there were prime-time television shows dedicated to it. This opening in the media led to a big debate about the meaning of the feminist strike, if it’s a legitimate tool or not, and even a discussion about the definition of feminism.
WAS THE strike an expression of radical left forces, such as the left-wing Podemos party and the independence movement in Catalonia? Or is it a separate phenomenon? From reports written by members of the Anticapitalistas, it seemed like the revolutionary left played an important role, but that even some important figures in the Catholic Church offered a certain amount of support. This is all to say that we’re dealing with a mass action.
IN THE Spanish state, as in other countries, we’ve seen expressions of opposition to the neoliberal crisis and its consequences. Feminism today is one fruit of this more general dynamic. We have seen very important mobilizations denouncing pensioners’ poverty in the last few months throughout the Spanish state, and, of course, the protests in Catalonia.
However, although the feminist movement flows from this confrontation, it maintains its own particularities, and because of this, it was able to stir up political parties and unions. The March 8 strike was an act of the masses that overtook the unions and all left-wing political parties, and even those on the right.
There’s no doubt that women who are active in political parties or unions take part in the feminist movement’s spaces, but the phenomenon goes far beyond this layer and has demonstrated two important things: the mainstream trade union federations have not been able to put themselves at the head of the feminist movement and women workers’ demands, and the right has positioned itself very badly with respect to the strike.
Precisely because of this, March 8 was not only a mobilization. It was also a strike that made all these conflicts between different interests more visible.
WHAT ARE the specific demands raised by the feminist strike? Do you expect to win anything in the near term?
PEOPLE CAN read the strike’s manifesto here. It outlines the feminist movement’s demands with respect to many areas, including labor questions, economics, sexist violence, migration, education, health, sexuality and more.
Having said this, there are two things that we must be clear about. The first is that this is a long-term struggle, because many social, cultural and economic changes are necessary to address forms of discrimination deeply embedded in our society. These can only be overcome through sustained mobilization, women’s self-organization and structural transformations.
The second thing is that we know there are concrete legislative changes in terms of economics and employment that could be implemented today, which point toward important improvements for women.
For example, repealing the government’s neoliberal labor legislation and supporting reforms that shrink the salary gap and feminized poverty would put us on the road to a more just and equitable distribution of social labor, both productive and reproductive.
Or, for example, a “statewide agreement” was concluded last year in terms of violence against women, but it was limited to altering the previous law. However, besides being politically restricted, the law has not been a budgetary priority this coming year.
While they are passing laws prohibiting violence against women, they do not designate necessary resources to it. So we are seeing what we can do as collectives of young women to organize against sexual assault and violence in the streets and clubs and bars, because we are capable of doing a lot more than the government.
The next step will be to think through and translate what we experienced on March 8. We must assess political terrain precisely and give shape to specific demands that will allow us to advance.
But we must also consider our next actions. We have seen that many women are demonstrating an interest in feminism. But while they participated in the day of the strike, at the same time, they have not been moved to take part in our assemblies, in the collectives, in caucuses.
We must set our sights on building a movement that takes advantage of all this potential. And, of course, we must ensure that March 8, 2019, is an even bigger success. We aim to organize the strike more effectively in workplaces and expand the strike among caregivers.
CAN YOU explain the international development of March 8 mobilizations in recent years? Is there coordination, for instance, between the massive marches in Argentina, the protests against Marielle Franco’s assassination in Brazil and the Women’s Marches in the U.S.? Or is it more that specific national struggles are taking place in an overall context of oppression and sexist violence?
I THINK that it’s more the latter. That is, the struggles are national, but there is a mutual international recognition and a global dynamic.
We have seen a tendency for social movements to retreat on the national level in the West. Fortunately, feminism has provided a countertendency. The different feminist movements are recognizing one another. We know that we are fighting against common oppressions, and we see that our movements are gaining strength from struggles in other regions.
There are some international networks stemming from the 2017 international women’s strike, although they are weak. This did not stop us from seeing the struggle of women in Poland for free and on-demand abortion to be our own, nor stop us from repudiating Marielle Franco’s assassination in Brazil, nor stop us from organizing solidarity actions with the Women’s Marches against Trump in the United States.
I think we are living in a time when neoliberalism is becoming more authoritarian, one that will attempt to create divisions between different sections of the people and working classes, between different peoples, in order to sabotage solidarity among them. Many times, they will succeed, but feminism is building ties of solidarity.
IS THERE anything you’d like to communicate to women in the United States?
YES. THE Women’s Strike and feminism for the 99 Percent shows us that even in the heart of global imperialism and capitalism, there is important and radical resistance. Whereas they want to build walls, we are building bridges between common struggles!
Translation by Todd Chretien