Ahead of the 8 March International Working Women's Day strike, Lucha de Clases published this article explaining that the struggle for women's liberation is also a fight against capitalism, which entrenches gender inequality. The article calls for a general strike and unified action by men and women workers to overthrow the chauvenistic capitalist system. The incredible success of the women's strike has changed the entire situation in Spain, as Jorge Martin explains; and such unified struggle against exploitation and oppression must be adopted going forward.
Article originally published 7 March.
On 8 March, International Working Women's Day, we will have a day of struggle, in which millions of women from all over the world will go out to the streets to demand their rights. For the first time in Spain, different unions have called a one-day general strike, with the aim of combating gender inequality in the workplace and sexism. Minority unions like CGT and SAT, together with the feminist movement, have called a 24-hour general strike. Furthermore, the larger unions like CCOO and UGT, have joined by calling for partial stoppages of two hours per shift. Demonstrations and rallies have also been called in all cities and it is expected that, as in previous years, these will be massive labour movement mobilizations.
Women workers, the most exploited sector of our class
There are many reasons for these mobilizations. Although in the last several decades democratic improvements and fundamental rights have been achieved, women workers continue to suffer a double oppression: as women and as workers. As Marxists, we are against any type of oppression and therefore, we support those demands that advance the emancipation of women.
Even today, the wages of women are lower than those of our male colleagues: on average by 23 percent. This figure is exacerbated if we take into account that women have shorter working hours: 24 percent of women workers do not work full time, compared to 7.8 percent of male workers.
This fact not only condemns us to a situation of inequality in the present, it also has future consequences, since when women have reduced working hours and lower incomes, they will have lower pensions when they reach retirement age. This is something that we can verify with current data. The average pension of women in Spain is € 718.23 a month, for men it is € 1,140.4. Women also make up 76.55 percent of non-contributory pensions: those received by pensioners who have not been able to meet the minimum contribution years.
We must bear in mind that women workers encounter multiple obstacles to accessing a job. If we look at unemployment statistics, 58 percent of the unemployed people are women, the remaining 42 percent are men.
If they are hired, women encounter many prejudices, especially if they are of childbearing age and particularly in certain industries that have traditionally been occupied by men. This occurs in a generalized manner, except in the feminized sectors of the economy tend to be the most precarious. Examples of this are telemarketing and in nursing. The situation has also been highlighted by recent struggles by the ‘Kellys’ (floor maids), who have lately begun to organise for their rights.
The difficulties of women entering the labor market; coupled with the wage gap and precarious employment, in many cases condemn women to economic dependence on men, which places them in a most unfavorable situation within the family unit.
When a person does not produce in the capitalist system, they are considered a social burden; this generates a series of tensions and pressures, which introduce a huge amount of distortions in relationships. The most extreme expression of the tensions generated by capitalism within the family is male chauvinist violence.
In Spain, over the last decade, on average 65 women have been murdered by men each year and more than 1,200 rapes are reported: this means a rape every 8 hours. This violence is sustained through the cultural and moral influence of patriarchal society, which still survives and is reinforced in the capitalist system. This is where the right of property extends to conjugal life where the woman is considered the ‘property’ of the man.
A struggle only of women?
The struggle for equality is not only a matter of gender, it is also a matter of class. Here, our natural ally is the working class man and not the bourgeois woman. The latter are separated from our demands when there is talk of unemployment or a strike in the workplace, as the leader of Citizens, Inés Arrimadas, and the ministers of the PP government have made clear in relation to 8 March this year. They are defenders of the system from which they derive their privileges and they themselves, in the business or political sphere, carry out actions that oppress us.
Bourgeois women do not hesitate to use working class women to get a greater share of power in the business and political sphere, but when we go further and demand wage improvements in our workplaces or the socialization of domestic work, they do not hesitate to take off the mask and defend the safeguard of the established order that oppresses us and rewards them in turn.
Therefore, we do not share the position of the so-called Feminist Coordination to exclude male workers and male social activists, both from the tasks of organization and participation in the 8 March strike and mobilizations. As Marxists, we argue that the best way to combat the prejudices that many men of our class still have towards women's struggle for equality is to incorporate them into our struggle and make them aware of our problems. And that can only be done by fighting side by side.
Fighting for our emancipation as women of the working class must be linked to our emancipation as a social class. Women should not fight to have the same precarious conditions as our male comrades. Women and men must fight to end the precariousness of working and social conditions for all. In the same way that it is not possible to overthrow capitalism without incorporating women into the struggle, we will not be able to overthrow patriarchy by leaving our male comrades behind.
In the concrete, we see how demands as ‘equal pay for equal work’ are also demands that concern male workers. Workers hired by subcontractors or multi-service companies have lower wages than colleagues in their parent company. Also in privatized services, such as education or health, professionals have lower salaries in the private sector than in the public. Only if we unite male and female workers will we be able to accomplish the historical struggle for equal pay for work of equal value.
Nor do we want to get rid of the burden of domestic work to unload it onto our partners. We must fight together for the socialization of these tasks, so that the conditions are given so that both women and men of the working class can reconcile our personal and professional lives.
No to a symbolic strike
In order to organise the working class as a whole we need a real general strike, in which the trade union organizations unite and raise a common struggle of female and male workers.
The call issued by the main unions consists of partial, two-hour strikes by women, while the rest of the smaller union organizations call for a 24-hour strike. Both leave the decision by men on whether to participate to their own individual choice. All this creates a series of weaknesses that hinder the success of the movement.
In the shop steward committees, information is lacking on the part of the union leaders, which in many workplaces means mass meetings are not being organised. This prevents female and male workers from having enough information and support from their union organizations. In practice, this means leaving the workers alone when it comes to participating in the strike.
We run the risk that this strike day will be merely symbolic, something that these trade union leaders take for granted: especially the CCOO and UGT, who seem to have been dragged by the rest of union and social organizations into supporting this call. This is something that undoubtedly weighs not only on the preparations for the strike, but will also play a role on 8 March, since it does not seem likely we can count on a deployment of union forces that can guarantee a real general strike.
It is not a symbolic strike that we need. We need a real, united 24-hour strike with the largest deployment of union forces. Only in this way can we put the system in check and place ourselves in a better position to achieve, not only our emancipation as women, but also as a class.
Nadia García is a union delegate of the SAT in Adecco-Procavi (Marchena, Seville), Aura Orbe is a health worker affiliated with CCOO-Sevilla. This article was originally published in Spanish on Lucha de Clases.