Why Women Strike 


On International Women’s Day, women around the world are engaging in mass protests, strikes, and other collective actions meant to draw attention to their labor—both waged and unwaged, in care work, inside and outside the home. In the United States this year, the rallies and walk-outs have a particular resonance: the country has seen a recent series of strikes in which women workers in education, healthcare, and service industries have reasserted their power by withholding their labor, forcing a conversation about not just their working conditions but the political and social conditions in which that work happens.

What follows is in no way a comprehensive list of the actions women have taken in recent months to demand justice for themselves and their communities, but each strike points to shared conditions and shared fights. In the broad movements surrounding and supporting each strike, there is a collective vision against sexual violence, against transphobia, against austerity, against racism, against homophobia, against privatization, against xenophobia, against an assault on reproductive autonomy, against police and state violence, and against oppression as women experience it in their day to day lives. Together, they tell a story about the present moment and where we might go next.

Happy International Women’s Day. Your fight is our fight.

In New York City, more than 10,000 nurses across three hospital systems are prepared to strike over patient conditions, hospital overcrowding, and staff shortages. “Year after year, protest after protest, these hospital administrators ignore us. What choice do we have?” Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a nurse at Montefiore Hospital and president of New York State Nurses Association, said on Thursday after announcing the authorization vote. “Our principle demand? Safe staffing ratios, a safe workplace, community involvement in best addressing the needs of our patients.”

In Oakland, California, teachers returned to the classroom this week after striking to demand smaller class sizes and wage increases. Students in the district turned out to a school board meeting on Monday to oppose nearly $22 million in cuts that put programs like the district’s restorative justice program at risk, but the cuts passed. The strike had only moved their schools only so far, they said, and that more had to be done: “Now we have to stick together, no matter what. And do it for us.”

In Denver, Colorado, teachers engaged in a three-day strike in February, securing wage increases for educators and other staff along with reforms to a merit-based pay system that had left teachers struggling with fluctuating pay and financial instability for themselves and their families. “It’s been a struggle to finally feel like I have my feet under me—and barely,” Rebecka Hendricks, a 33-year-old high school teacher and bargaining committee member in the union, told Vice News. “I still have to have a roommate. I’ve had several extra jobs: I used to drive Lyft, I used to deliver food for Postmates, I used to sell things on eBay. I did whatever I could to get extra money to just be able to make it that month.” (In 2018, a Republican lawmaker in the state Senate introduced a bill that would have banned teacher strikes, threatening them with fines, termination, and jail time. It failed.)

In January, Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson called for a general strike to end what was then the longest government shutdown in history. While the strike did not happen, Nelson framed the shutdown as not just a crisis of government, but a wake-up call to all workers:

The country sees no solution in sight, but labor can lead the way. Dr. King rallied us by reaching for the mountain top. He didn’t seek integration of just one school, he sought freedom in our schools for all children. He didn’t seek integration of just one lunch counter, he aspired to have us all “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” And sisterhood, Dr. King!
Today, people are starving for this kind of leadership. They are hungry for answers where some would say there are none. Through our labor movement, we have the answers for them and together we can lead the way.

In Los Angeles, California, teachers engaged in a week-long strike in January to win smaller classroom sizes; more nurses, counselors, and librarians in their schools; wage increases; reforms to standardized testing; and, in what was arguably the centerpiece of the struggle, a cap on charter schools. “In the day to day, teachers on the ground hold stuff together. We go above and beyond to take care of our students. And we want the district to do that too, to really push itself,” Kirti Baranwal, a teacher with the Spanish-English Bilingual Program at the UCLA Community School, told Jezebel as she prepared to strike. “It inspires me that our contract demands are not just about teachers as workers. In our contract, it’s us asking: How do we, as union members, raise standards and the bar for what communities and students deserve? Because the billionaires are not going to do it. The privatizers are not going to do it.”

In San Francisco, California, workers at the Marriott hotel chain reached an agreement with the company, ending a nine-week, multi-city strike that involved thousands of workers across the country. The deals negotiated varied from city to city, but in San Francisco workers secured increased wages, maintained lifetime health benefits, and shored up pensions. Workers across shops also won additional protections against sexual harassment and violence on the job. “It means so much to me,” Larrilou Carumba, a single mother who had, prior to the strike-won wage increases, been earning $23.50 an hour after six years working as a housekeeper at a San Francisco Marriott, told the New York Times. “I will be able to take care of my kids now because I don’t need to go work another job.”

In mid-October in Los Angeles, California, tenants in a three-building complex in Central Los Angeles were still engaged in a rent strike to protest poor living conditions and rent increases that tenants said would force some families out of their homes. They were part of what was one of several rent strikes that had been launched in the city since 2016—with similar strikes happening across the country—in response to an affordability crisis that is hitting low-income families of color especially hard. Jackelin Lopez, a 34-year-old mother of two who had also participated in a rent strike in her Exposition Park building, told Jezebel that organizing with her neighbors against her landlord was the first time she had participated in a strike, but it led her to become active in the fight for other families in Los Angeles facing the same conditions. “The frustration is very big,” she said, both of her own situation and the crisis conditions that are pushing more tenants into organizing.

In September, workers at McDonald’s in cities across the country went on strike to protest the fast food giant’s refusal to meaningfully address sexual violence and harassment on the job. In Kansas City, Kim Lawson, who walked the picket with her three-year-old daughter, told Jezebel that her decision to strike was about sending a message to her employer and to her child. “I’m a single mom,” she said. “I want to set the right example for my child by speaking out about something that happened to me that is wrong. I can’t tell her to stand up for herself if I’m not willing to stand up for myself.”

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