Spain’s feminist strike

by BEATRIZ GARCIA, NURIA ALABAO, & MARISA PEREZ

“A strike against/beyond borders: The march 8 feminist strike in Spain” PHOTO/Autonomies

Since 2016, international women’s day has become the rallying point for a new feminist activism in many countries. Poland, Turkey, Italy and large parts of Latin America have seen demonstrations of tens of thousands on March 8th, raising new and old slogans against sexist violence, for reproductive rights and equal pay. But Spain stood out on 8 March 2018, both for the scale of the mobilization—an estimated 5 million—and for its militancy: not just a demonstration but a nationwide women’s strike, una huelga feminista, a stoppage of waged work, care and shopping. In Madrid, the action began at midnight on March 7th with a traditional cacerolazo, the sound of hundreds of banging pots and pans ringing out from the central square, Puerta del Sol. Women teachers, hospital workers, students, housewives and journalists joined the strike en masse. The evening of March 8th saw a million-strong demonstration, six kilometres long, transforming the city centre into a vast fiesta with music and carnival puppets. In Barcelona organizers counted 600,000 parading through the streets to the feminist rally in Plaça de Catalunya. In Bilbao, a crowd of 40,000 packed the Plaza del Sagrado Corazón and sang along with the women’s group onstage in a feminized version of the old militant song, A la huelga! Many spoke of a 15m feminista—a turnout comparable to the Indignados’ occupation of the squares from 15 May 2011 in its scale, autonomy and social diversity. Yet plenty of those celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day were too young to remember 2011.

What accounts for the Spanish 8m? Certainly, there has been a growing consciousness of the state of inequality in which women live, in terms of workloads, precarity and responsibility for care—female labour-force participation has soared, while the pay gap and the burden of reproductive work are unchanged—and in terms of the sexualization and objectification of women’s bodies, which is tinged with violence. According to surveys, young women perceive this inequality to a greater degree, and there are very few women who haven’t experienced machismo in their lives. Intensive public debate was sparked by a gang rape in Pamplona, where the five men—one an ex-soldier, another from the police—were taking videos of it and boasting to their friends on WhatsApp. The inequity of the judicial process—the young woman was effectively put on trial, and the men acquitted of all serious charges—had a powerful impact. Domestic violence has also been a major issue in Spain for many years.

In addition to growing awareness of gender inequality, 8m was also the result of intensive organizing efforts, going back several years. The Argentinian women’s strike of 2016 had an electrifying influence on Spanish feminists, via Hispanic social media. On 8 March 2016 there was a huge demonstration in Spain, the biggest for years, with large numbers of young people marching; but there wasn’t enough time to prepare the strike. That’s why, from 9 March 2016, organizing began. Meetings were held on the 8th of every month in cities across the country, with loose national coordination by the 8mcomisiones under the umbrella of Hacia la huelga feminista—towards the feminist strike. Participation in the meetings was very high, with many different women’s groups involved—the whole fabric of organized feminism, campaigns and collectives; activists from other struggles; but also thousands of young women, who are just beginning to organize themselves. At the same time, no one group could dominate the strike call; it was an appeal from the local coalitions, without partisan control or hidden agendas.

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