Frauenstreik in Madrid, 8. März 2018, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Fotomovimiento, via Flickr
Frauenstreik in Madrid, 8. März 2018, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Fotomovimiento, via Flickr

”Without women the world would stop.”

Vera Bartolomé Diaz

Women in Spain are striking on 8 March. A new left feminism is gaining ground. A report from Madrid.

Millions second the feminist strike in Spain: and now what?

13 March 2018: It is almost impossible not to hold your breath when you see the images of the streets of Spain full of women and men on 8 March 2018.

The newspapers and TV chains at global level have these images in their openings and front pages. And for a good reason: 1 million people went out to the streets in Madrid and 600.000 in Barcelona to call for a more feminist world. This is the only (but not minor) common demand that gathered such a massive number of participants in the 24 hour strike, the two hours stoppages and the hundreds of demonstrations all around the country.

The broad mobilization for the strike was possible despite the fact that all the different groups that took to the streets have their own – often diverging – definition of what “feminism” is. The diversity of the feminist movement was widened by the incorporation of thousands and thousands of women/men/trans that interpret feminism differently. For some, it has to do with the wage gap and the glass ceiling; for others who go further it has to do with work-life balance measures (paternity leaves, time flexibility etc.) that help women not to be penalized in their labor lives. And for others it means that capitalism needs to be structurally changed by transforming the productive system into one that puts life in the center (which would entail a huge systemic change of the capitalist approach to the reproductive realm and would bring in concepts such as the rearrangement of care).

A common topic is violence against women. There is a social clamor saying “enough is enough” and a common frame for mutual understanding exists not only between the various movements but within society as a whole. In this regard, the work that journalists have been doing in the recent past to raise consciousness of violence against women and the feminist struggles related to it, was successful: it resulted in women being protagonists of their strike. There were feminist journalists paving the ground and explaining what feminism is in various leftist media, but around this last strike mainstream female journalists got together and advocated for the strike, which has had a huge impact in terms of legitimization of the call for the general population.

The feminist movement in Spain (as stated in the previous article published on 8 March below) has been growing organically very slowly during the last years. It could be seen in the streets and in local political wins, as well as legislative ones. The traditional unions and parties in the left were somehow surpassed by this movement which always kept its autonomy from them. However, of course, it is very important that the main unions called for two 2-hours stoppages that were seconded by around 6 million people. The challenge for unions and parties now, is to push forward negotiations and legislative proposals (eight of them have already been introduced in the Parliament and blocked by the conservative government) to solidify their commitment with the social clamor in the streets. Some of the already proposed laws have to do with banning the wage gap, equal and in-transferable paternity leaves, withdrawing the funding for schools that segregate by sex, funding of the State Pact against Violence against Women, ratification of the article 189 of the ILO for domestic workers and many more. Now it remains to be seen how the conservatives in the administration and the neoliberal Ciudadanos, who support the conservative government, interpret the movement’s claims and if they are ready to implement measures or not. At least, it was symbolic that in the days before the strike they had to change their discourse and finally enter the debate.

It is always challenging to manage a success. In the face of a very anti-system / anti-capitalist call for strike and the impressive reaction by the whole society and also the reframing of the issue that the conservative neoliberal forces had to do at least discursively the question now could be: is it possible to keep the momentum to make some wins? How? What is the role of the left unions and parties?

Podemos popularized the word “hegemony” during their campaigns. They tried to link their political proposal with a common sense that was “in the air” in 2014 in Spain. At the moment, when we are living a shift to the right (Unidos Podemos falling in the electoral polls and Ciudadanos growing and winning in places like Catalonia), the feminist movement could be the new hegemonic discourse. There are dangers in becoming the “latest hip”, but it is plausible that the feminist movement (maybe also the pensions movement) can become the retaining wall of the right. That, taking into account the contradiction of the fact that without voters of the socialdemocrats and rights parties numbers such as the ones last Thursday could not have been attained. The transversality of feminism is something to be managed, then.

In Spain apparently there is a space for bold movements that we might have seen fading in the last four years, after the rise of Podemos and the municipalist movement. Bold movements that reach the same rate of approval as the 15M did: 82% of the interviewed sample found that “there were good reasons for the strike on 8 March” (75,9% approved the 15M movement). In Spain, apparently, there are common senses that are being represented by non-parliamentary initiatives. Of course, the material conditions of women should change (not only in Spain) but the symbolic leap is so huge that it is already a success. And this success cannot be understood without the sisterhood with other international movements, particularly in Latin America, that have opened the path for us. A massive demonstration in Argentina also got our message across: “Without women, the world stops.”

“Without women the world would stop.”

8 March 2018: A broad coalition has called for a feminist general strike in Spain.

One could say that the feminist movement in Spain is the only social movement – apart from the Catalan pro-independence movement – that is managing to counter the general demobilization wave that the country is experiencing. After the huge mobilization wave of the period 2011-2013 (15M movement; Mareas), Podemos and municipalist platforms were born. The former got into the state and regional parliaments and the latter won several cities and towns (Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Valencia). This brought about a renewed confidence in political institutions and demobilized the social left, which had been deprived of many cadres.

But feminism has escaped that demobilizing wave. In 2013-2014, after the Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón presented a regressive bill on women’s reproductive rights, there was a wave of massive pro-choice demonstrations in Spain, which led to the Minister’s resignation in September 2014. In the same vein, in November 2015 a coordinated state march against violence against women mobilized around 300,000 demonstrators. The feminist movement has managed to put gender violence on the political agenda, despite the general trend of diminishing attention to and funding of gendered issues that the crisis and the austerity policies have brought about. Thanks to these mobilizations a State Pact of Violence against Women was approved just a few months ago – but remains to be implemented yet.

Last year, in 2017, after several international feminist mobilizations (in Argentina, Poland, US), the international feminist movement called for a World Feminist Strike on 8 March. Only the Confederación Sindical followed the feminist movement call in Spain and called for a two-hour work stoppage, but the stoppage had a surprisingly greater effect than expected. Since then, several national (such as a group rape that took place in San Fermines) and international events (the #MeToo movement) have fuelled feminist organisations and discourses. Besides, the support of the Spanish alternative media has been key, acting as mobilizing agents themselves and giving increasingly more room to feminist journalists and collaborators.

Within this context, 8 March commissions have been formed all over the country and were working to prepare and organize this year’s Feminist Strike since last March. These platforms are formed by various feminist sensitivities and organizations, most of them coming from the autonomous movement. This decentralized movement unites women and trans women who are often not representing political or social organisations but simply themselves.

The 2018 Feminist Strike is the political space that the feminist movement has given itself to discuss, organise and transform several issues: labour, care work and consumption. The choice for the old tool of the strike reflects a powerful idea: “without women the world would stop”. It would not only stop factories and offices, but also daily life and basic needs, such as the meals given children or the attention elders receive. Therefore, this strike calls not only to fight the capitalist mode of production but also the capitalist patriarchal mode of reproduction, which sustains the former. In this sense, the consumption strike aims at stopping the consumerist capitalist society and its environmental implications. The teachers and students are also called to strike and make the feminist impact of longstanding student struggles visible.

After self-organising around several topic-oriented groups and having two milestone meetings during 2017 in Elche and Zaragoza, where around 500 feminist organizers met, many more local and neighbourhood commissions have been born to inform and push for the strike all around the country. The main practical claims have to do with the rejection of all forms of violence against women (as a continuum from “soft” violence to murder/rape etc.), and the implementation of the State Pact of Violence Against Women. They also denounce the institutional LGTBIQphobia. But more than that, the main demands have to do with the social valuation of care work and its reorganization. At the labour level, they denounce the special precariousness that women suffer, the glass ceiling and the gender wage gap. The claim “being a woman is the first cause of poverty”, has been underlined by many studies by NGOs and universities. And they approach gender inequality from an intersectional angle, being aware that racialised, LGTBIQ or disabled women are in an even worse situation. They also claim for the improvement of the pension system, the de-pathologization of trans and non-conformant bodies, the ratification of the 189 ILO convention on domestic work and the defence of the environment and food sovereignty. They finally claim for a public, non-confessional and feminist education system.

For some actors in the left this strike has been a surprise. Since 2012, even after the severe austerity measures that Spain has been through since then, the unions have not called for a general strike. In the face of demobilization and some sort of distraction of the traditional and new left, the feminist movement has pushed political parties and unions to position themselves around some topics. For some leftist people, articulating class struggles and feminism is still a challenging issue. Is feminism an identity movement? What does the working class win by supporting a strike that is not based on the working class as political subject? Also more practical questions arise: what is the role of males?

The link between capitalist oppression and an anti-capitalist alternative as it is proposed in the Spanish Feminist Strike turns this mobilization into one of the boldest mobilizations we have recently experienced. In this regard, it is quite evident that it is anti-capitalist feminism that is leading both discourse and mobilization, forcing reactionary forces to situate themselves. In sum, this strike is an “amendment to substitute”: it calls for a reorganisation of both the productive and reproductive spheres that may “put life in the centre” and gear our society towards a sustainable, non-capitalist one.

The alliances and coalitions that are being built around this mobilization are manyfold: different leftist sensitivities are represented in this call. The media are reporting about the strike every day, political leaders of all sensitivities are asked in talk shows and news about the strike and many cultural products such as videos, songs etc. are being launched. The threads that are weaving this fabric seem to be very solid.

However, there is a challenge ahead of us. Our whole life needs to change and not only on 8 March. In the future the strike needs to grow. We need an international feminist strike to counter the global capitalism and the global patriarchy.

A report by Vera Bartolomé, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Madrid Office.