Today, on International Women’s Day, women in the United States are participating in a general strike called A Day Without A Woman, planned by the organizers of the Women’s March. On its website, the organizers say: “Let’s raise our voices together again, to say that women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability.”
Inspired by recent immigrant-led strikes in the United States such as the Bodega Strike and A Day Without Immigrants, A Day Without A Woman is also an entry into a long history of women’s labor strikes around the world. Here are a few you should know about, in chronological order:
1. the Dover Women’s Strike of 1828
In the first recorded women’s strike in American history, about 400 out of 800 women working at a cotton factory in Dover, New Hampshire went on strike over harsh new rules that lowered wages, imposed a fine for lateness, prohibited unions, and banned talking during work hours.
For more, read "All-women strike in Dover still a mystery" at fosters.com
2. Washerwoman’s Strike of 1881
In 1881, black working women in Atlanta, Georgia went on strike for higher pay. The strike began with 20 black laundresses, who formed a group called the Washing Society and established a uniform fair wage. Through canvassing, they brought in more laundresses — including some of the few white laundresses working in Atlanta, making this one of the first interracial protest movements — and grew to include cooks, maids, nurses, hotel workers, and other laborers as well. In three weeks, their numbers grew to over 3,000. Though the city pushed back, the women’s numbers were too strong and they succeeded, which meant higher wages for women laborers in the whole city.
For more information, read "Atlanta Washerwoman's Strike" at ALFCIO.org.
3. The New York Shirtwaist Strike of 1909
In 1909, more than 20,000 young, working-class Jewish women in New York launched an eleven-week general strike in the shirtwaist industry, asking for shorter hours, better wages, and safer working conditions. At the time, it was the largest women’s strike in history. Though they won only some of their demands, they sparked a movement that made the garment industry one of the best-organized trades.
For more information, read: "The Uprising Of 20,000" at JWA.org.
4. Pecan Strike of 1938
In the 1930s, pecan companies in San Antonio employed Mexican American women to do the pecan-shelling work by hand in poor conditions. In 1938, 21-year-old activist Emma Tenayuca led a strike of 12,000 women who walked off the job. They were joined by another 6,000-8,000 workers, and hundreds — including Tenayuca — were gassed and arrested by police. After 37 days, the strike ended and workers achieved a higher wage.“What started out as an organization for equal wages turned into a mass movement against starvation, for civil rights, for a minimum-wage law,” Tenayuca later said. This strike is credited with sparking the Mexican American social justice movement.
For more information, read "Pecan Shellers' Strike Sparked Hispanic Workers' Movement" at APWU.org.
5. Women Strike for Peace, 1961
In 1961, about 50,000 women marched in 60 cities to protest against nuclear weapons, making this the largest women’s peace protest of the century. Consisting mostly of mothers, and led by Bella Abzug and Dagmar Wilson, the strike also included actions such as petitions and letter writing campaigns. It is credited with bringing down the House Un-American Activities Committee and helping push the United States and the Soviet Union into signing a nuclear test-ban treaty.
For more, read "Women strike for peace" at jwa.org.
fon6. Women’s Strike For Equality, 1970
In 1970, 50,000 feminists marched in New York, blocking traffic; they were joined by similar marches around the country. Sponsored by the National Organization For Women and led by Betty Friedan, the Women’s Strike For Equality was organized as an action to show the American media the power of the feminist movement; they marched for three reasons: free abortion on demand, equal opportunity in employment and education, and the establishment of 24/7 childcare centers. Though none of these demands were met immediately, the march helped propel forward action that led to the passing of Title IX in 1972, laws against workplace sexual harassment, and more.
For more, read "The Day Women Went On Strike" at time.com
7. 1975 Icelandic Women’s Strike
In 1975, Icelandic women went on strike for equal pay. 90% of women did not go to work or do any housework or child-rearing work, and 25,000 women gathered in Reykjavik for a rally. Basically the whole country was forced to shut down — newspapers couldn’t print anything, airlines had to cancel flights, schools had to close. The strike led to a law that guaranteed equal rights for men and women — on paper, if not in reality. Every few years, Icelandic women recreate the strike, leaving work early to demonstrate the wage gap. In 2016, they stopped work at 2:38pm.
8. Black Monday, 2016
Last year, in Poland, women around the country held a strike, wore black, and marched in protest of a proposed absolute ban on abortion (Poland already had rigid abortion laws; abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother’s life, or irreparable damage to the fetus). Women boycotted work and school in 60 cities, holding strikes, marches, blood donation drives and readings. Their strike succeeded, and the proposed ban was voted down.
For more, read "Poland votes down extreme abortion ban after thousands of women go on strike" at vox.com.
9. #Strike4Repeal in Ireland, 2017
While #ADayWithoutAWoman takes place in the US today, across the pond Irish women are fighting for abortion rights. Abortion is illegal in Ireland, which means Irish women have to flee the country to have an abortion in the UK, or seek an illegal and potentially dangerous one in their own country. Women in Ireland have died because they’re not able to receive lifesaving abortion services, including, notably, Savita Halappanavar in 2012.
For more, read "Irish women go on strike over abortion ban" at independent.co.uk.
And for even more information about women's strikes in history, read "Shut Down The Mills: Women, The Modern Strike, And Revolution" at publici.umic.org and "Women In Labor History Timeline" at AFSCME.org.
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