- A new feminist wave is reinventing the strike.
In Poland in October 2016, over a hundred thousand women staged walkouts and marches to oppose the ban on abortion. Later that month, in Argentina, striking women protested against the murder of Lucía Pérez. Soon it spread much further. It surged through workplaces, eventually engulfing the worlds of show business and the media. For the last two years, its slogans have resonated around the globe: We Strike! Feminism for the 99 per cent! #metoo. At first a ripple, then a wave, it has become global.
A transnational movement was formed with the decision to strike together on International Women’s Day, on 8 March 2017. In Argentina, Spain and Italy, women’s-strike feminism has attracted broad support from forces opposing austerity, protesting against the underfunding of schools, healthcare, housing, transport and environmental protections.
- Liberal feminism is bankrupt. Time to get over it.
This militant new wave is a far cry from the corporate feminism that has predominated in recent decades. Dedicated to enabling a privileged few to climb the corporate ladder, anti-discrimination and pro-choice, liberal feminism refuses to address the socio-economic constraints on choice and equality.
The aim of liberal feminism is meritocracy, not equality. Liberal feminism enables professional-managerial women to succeed only because they can lean on poorly paid, migrant and working-class women, to whom they subcontract caregiving and housework. Liberal feminism gives feminism a bad name. Our answer is kick-back feminism—we have no interest in breaking the glass ceiling, while leaving the majority of women to clean up the mess below.
- We need an anti-capitalist feminism—a feminism for the 99 per cent.
Feminism confronts a crisis: plummeting living standards and looming ecological disaster; wars and dispossession; mass migrations; emboldened racism and xenophobia. The feminism we envisage champions the needs and rights of the many: of working-class, racialized and migrant women; of queer, trans, poor and disabled women.
Legalization of abortion alone is not sufficient for women who have neither the means to pay for it nor access to clinics. Universal reproductive justice requires free, universal healthcare. Likewise, wage equality can only mean substantive labour rights, a generous living wage and a new organization of house- and carework. We are not in competition with class struggle —we are right in the thick of it.
- We are living through a crisis of society as a whole—and its root cause is capitalism.
The 2008 financial crisis was the worst since the 1930s. We are living through a crisis of society as a whole—of the economy, ecology, politics and ‘care’. A general crisis of capitalism — globalized, financialized, neoliberal. Driven by the pursuit of profit, capital expands by helping itself, without paying for its replacement, to labour and the environment.
A crisis is not ‘only’ a time of suffering. It is also a time when many people search for new ideas and alliances. But we need to reject not only reactionary populism but also its progressive-neoliberal opponents. It remains to be seen whether profit-makers will manage to turn capitalism’s social contradictions into new opportunities for accumulating private wealth—or whether a mass revolt, with feminists at the forefront, will, ‘apply the emergency brake’.
- Gender oppression in capitalist societies is rooted in the subordination of social reproduction to production for profit. We want to turn things right-side up.
Capitalist societies are by definition class societies. A small minority accumulate profits by exploiting the much larger group who must work for wages. Capitalism did not invent the subordination of women, but established new forms of sexism.
Producing the next generation of workers – requires some fundamental preconditions—material, cultural, social. Without it, neither life nor labour power could be embodied in human beings. We call this vast body of vital activity social reproduction. This is assigned to or associated with women.
The global working class doesn’t just comprise those who work for wages in factories or mines; it also includes those who work in the fields and in private homes; in offices, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, nurseries and schools; the unemployed and those who receive no pay in return for their work.
- Gender violence takes many forms, all of them entangled with capitalist social relations. We vow to fight them all.
Physical, emotional, or sexual, intimate-partner violence is often fuelled by alcohol, shame and anxiety about maintaining dominance, this sort of gender violence becomes especially pervasive in times of economic crisis. The prevalence of sexual harassment at work forms the basis for gender based violence in war and criminal cultures.
Laws criminalizing marital rape or workplace assault won’t help women with nowhere else to go. Sexual violence under capitalism is part of the regular order of things. It has worsened as governments have slashed public funding and out-sourced public services.
The MeToo movement represents a form of class struggle. Harvey Weinstein was not simply a predator, but a powerful boss, able to dictate who would work in Hollywood. Women’s-strike feminists connect the struggle against sexual violence to the fight against all forms of violence in capitalist society.
- Capitalism tries to regulate sexuality. We want to liberate it.
Struggles around sexuality today present an unambiguous choice. On one side, the forces of reaction seek to outlaw sexual practices that violate family values or divine law. On the other, liberalism fights for the legal rights of sexual minorities.
Yet neither side is what it appears. Today’s sexual authoritarianism is anything but archaic. The prohibitions it aims to impose are neo-traditional responses to capitalist development. By the same token, the sexual rights that liberalism promotes are conceived in terms that presuppose capitalist forms of modernity, that encourage individualism, domesticity and commodity consumption.
Right-wing populists can identify real downsides of capitalist modernity, including its failures to protect ‘their’ families and communities from the ravages of the market. European liberals invoke gay rights as grounds for Islamophobia.
We fight to liberate sexuality from procreation and normative family forms, but also from the deformations of consumerism.
- Capitalism was born amid racist and colonial violence. Feminism for the 99 per cent is anti-racist and anti-imperialist.
Today, as in previous moments of capitalist crisis, ‘race’ has become a red-hot issue. Centrist governments join their racist counterparts in blocking the entry of migrants and refugees. Police forces continue to murder people of colour with impunity.
Historically, however, the feminist record in dealing with race has been mixed. Well into the twentieth century, leading British feminists defended colonial rule in India on ‘civilizational’ grounds, to ‘raise up brown women from their lowly condition’. Prominent European feminists justify anti-Muslim policies in similar terms today.
We understand that nothing deserving the name of ‘women’s liberation’ can be achieved in a racist, imperialist society. But we also understand that the root of the problem is capitalism: racism and imperialism are not incidental but integral to it.
- Fighting to reverse capital’s destruction of the Earth, our feminism is eco-socialist.
Today’s crisis of capitalism is ecological. Climate change today is the outcome of capital’s resort to fossilized energy to power its factories.
Women occupy the frontlines of the present ecological crisis, making up 80 per cent of climate refugees. In the Global South, they constitute the majority of the rural workforce and shoulder the burden of social-reproductive labour (family work).
Women are also at the forefront of struggles against climate change and pollution. These movements represent a powerful anti-corporate and anti-capitalist alternative to ‘green-capitalist’ projects. The liberation of women and the preservation of our planet from ecological disaster go hand in hand.
- Capitalism is incompatible with real democracy and peace. Our answer is feminist internationalism.
Today’s crisis is political. Capitalism divides the political from the economic, the legitimate violence of the state from the silent compulsion of the market. The effect is to declare vast swathes of social life off-limits to democratic control.
We are invited to vote for women politicians and to celebrate their ascent to power, as if it struck a blow for our liberation. But for us there is nothing feminist about women who facilitate the work of bombing other countries. To those who purport to justify their warmongering by claiming to liberate brown and black women, we say: ‘Not in our name’.
- Feminism for the 99 per cent calls on all radical movements to join together in a common anti-capitalist insurgency.
Feminists do not operate in isolation from other movements of resistance and rebellion. The new feminism should join forces with other anti-capitalist movements across the globe. We seek to build an anti-capitalist force that is large and powerful enough to transform society.
Struggle is an opportunity and a school. It can transform those who participate in it, challenging our prior self-understandings and reshaping our view of the world.
Joining together to fight against capitalism is the best way to overcome the divisions among us that capital cultivates—divisions of culture, race, ethnicity, ability, sexuality and gender. Feminists for the 99 per cent aim to unite existing and future movements into a broad-based global insurgency.
The above edited extract is from Feminism for the 99 Percent: A Manifesto by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser, to be published by Verso in 2019. A longer extract was published in New Left Review 114, November-December 2018
Another excellent article by one of the authors is available as:
How Not To Skip Class: Social Reproduction of Labor and the Global Working Class