On 8 March there was a feminist strike throughout Spain consisting of three components: a labour strike, a consumer strike, and a care strike. In the case of the care strike, men were asked to take care of children, elderly, other dependents, and the house itself on that day as a substitute for their women. Many care arrangements were provided by the organisers, but many women, like Lina, did not have a man as a substitute. Thus she could not participate in the care strike.
Lina Gálvez is Professor of Economic History and Gender Studies at Pablo de Olavide University, Seville
Cross-posted from eldiario.es
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
In my article two weeks ago on the importance of the wage gap, I said that the measures to combat it would be discussed in my next contribution to this website. But on March 8th the Economists Against Crisis manifesto published an article, in which I was a co-author and included all the measures that I modestly believe must be implemented in a coherent manner to tackle such a complex problem as gender inequality. That, in the end, is the main cause of the income gap between women and men.
So as not to repeat what is in that article, I will use this space to explain why I went on strike on March 8th for all those who believe that feminism is the best tool to fight for gender equality. But I also went on strike for all those who could not, did not know how, or did not want to strike. Let me give some examples exclusively linked to the labour strike, easier to quantify than the consume or care strikes. It may help to explain why many women did not strike on March 8th.
Care workers for the elderly or disabled reliant upon their support could not strike. These precarious jobs are found in a sector, which is staffed by women. As in the case of the youngest children, absence of care is neither compatible with human dignity, nor with life itself. In sectors like this there were no male employees who could replace their female colleagues, unless the directors of the care centres, who are mainly male, replaced female workers for example, cleaning the arses of these elderly and/or disabled.
So many women in the most feminised sectors of our labour market could not strike. In Spain’s official statistics there are more than 35 branches of economic activity, but two-thirds of the women employed in Spain are concentrated in just five of these branches: commerce, agriculture, personal and domestic services, education and health. Moreover, in relation to the fact that we have few vacant jobs in Spain, female unemployment is still higher than among their male counterparts. The latest data tell us that three out of every four new unemployed people in Spain is a woman. Therefore the pressure on women is very great in feminised and precarious sectors not to risk losing their jobs. Statistics show that as long as unemployment remains at current levels, there will always be others waiting to be hired. As we know, unemployment disciplines the workforce.
The employees in many shops could not strike, as they feared retaliation – knowing full well that there is a queue of unemployed female workers waiting to replace them; or fearing that their employers would take away a day’s pay from their already squalid wages. Although prominent companies in this sector had announced with hype and fanfare that they would give their employees total freedom to back the strike, the truth is that this announcement was little more than a public relations exercise. These companies are known to have the toughest glass ceilings in Spain, despite claiming feminist credentials.
Nor were many domestic workers able to strike because, to begin with, they do not have the same rights as other workers, unless they are hired through companies. Most domestic workers, if they are registered, are part of a scheme under the Special System for domestic workers, different from the General one. Under this system, any thought of these women having rights, including the right to strike, is a joke.
But there were also those who did not know how to strike. And there are those who didn’t strike because they have no feminist consciousness, or because they, or the people closest to them, believe they have not been discriminated against within this patriarchal system that disadvantages them. But there are also many who have not had access to sufficient exposure to feminism to waken their consciousness; who have no experience of male-dominated sectors, where mobilisation and union action have been the norm; and who quietly do their work to bring a day’s wages home to their families month after month.
We come from diverse backgrounds, because women are different, because we are retired, young, autonomous, disabled, civil servants, and so on. Meanwhile the privileged think this does not concern them. When the financial crisis caused starvation among whole families and threw them out of their homes they said they didn’t see the crisis anywhere because the bars were full. The bars and restaurants in their neighbourhoods. Because their families, friends or neighbours were not suffering the crisis. Some of the privileged know the truth, others do not, but the truth is that even within their privileged lives, women are afraid of coming back home alone during the night, and they have lower salaries than their colleagues if they are part of the labour market. They can also be the victims of violence from men, even though their resources to get out of such a situation, or cover it up socially, are greater.
And finally, I don’t want to forget those who openly didn’t want to participate and boasted of a “Japanese style strike” because in that way they fought more for equality. Some female politicians of the People’s Party (Partido Popular), claimed that in this way they worked more effectively for equality. I also went on strike for them and for the female politicians of Ciudadanos, the Spanish liberal party, who do not consider feminism as the main tool in the fight for equality and decided not to strike.
Well, I went on strike for all of them too. I also did this for all those who don’t recognise that they are leaders today only because many women before us went on hunger strike, organised strikes, risked their lives in factories that curiously caught fire, lost their jobs, their lives… they did that fighting for gender equality, the goal for which feminism struggles – just feminism, no movement other than feminism.
I striked as a worker and as consumer. But I could not follow the care strike and stayed with my small daughter and took her to the demonstration. So I just have to thank everyone who was involved also in the care strike; that they were also on strike for me.