The International Women’s Strike: German Experience


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On March 8, 2019, an international strike of women and people suffering the consequences of patriarchal structures around the world was summoned for the third time. This international call came after the realisation of mass mobilisations in Poland and Argentina in 2016, in which millions filled the streets under feminist demands for the right to one’s own body. In Poland, the mobilisations took place as a way of resistance to restrictions on the right to abortion, which the Polish government, with the support of the Catholic Church, intended to implement. In Argentina, the Green Tide began to use the historical tools of the working class, the strike, to show the magnitude of the struggle for free and legal abortion. After seeing more than five million people, mostly women, paralyse cities and towns in Spain, the Basque Country and Catalonia on March 8, 2018, committees were fervently formed in other central European countries to carry out an International Women’s Strike, or a Feminist Strike, in more central regions of international capital. This was also the case in Germany.

From March 2018, the first International Women’s Strike Committee was formed in Berlin, creating a space for the collaboration of several left-wing sisters in the German capital. The German left is quite divided in historical terms; seldom do different factions and currents of the left collaborate more than for mobilisations for very specific and circumstantial reasons. Within the framework of the International Women’s Strike, after constant work of more than a year, it was possible to open a new framework of collective experience for many activists from the union bases, political parties of the reformist left, autonomous-anarchist comrades and communist militants of different currents.

In open assemblies, which took place every two to four weeks in the centre of Berlin, the central issues of the women’s strike in Germany were discussed: the precarious salaried work of women (women earn on average 21% less than men in Germany in the same job and with the same qualifications), unpaid care work, gender violence and everyday sexism, the imperialist wars that force women to migrate and the policy of ecological destruction that primarily affects women in rural areas of the global south in a brutal and humiliating way. In addition, workshops were held to find out what the daily problems of ordinary women in Germany are, of which concrete demands were also synthesised throughout the mobilization.

The Committee for the International Women’s Strike in Germany – whether in Berlin or in the rest of the more than 30 cities in which grassroots groups have been formed – has attracted a large majority of university students, many of them of petty bourgeois origin. Many of the young university women have had no previous political experience and spaces for debate were created on different occasions – in more formal workshops, in informal discussions before and after meetings, or over a coffee in a smaller group.

In Berlin, a good part of the activists who have led the mobilisation started from other experiences of struggle such as the struggles of immigrants and non-white people in Germany, union struggles, struggles for free education and diverse spaces of feminist mobilisation. The experiences of fellow unionists – such as nurses, physiotherapists and university workers – have been of particular importance in declaring our independence from the bureaucracies of the big German unions. They also helped carry out actions and discussion workshops with different union bases and with non-unionised workers in our salaried workplaces.

In addition, a mobilisation in the popular neighbourhoods was pronounced as the axis of the mobilisation of the International Women’s Strike in Germany, especially in Berlin. This goal was not realised with force, since there are few experiences of mobilisation in neighbourhoods in Germany. Few activists, themselves generally daughters of workers, took some first steps in this direction referring to campaigns in some working class neighborhoods in the German capital. In the neighbourhoods of Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Marzahn-Hellersdorf for example, local neighbourhood assemblies were held where women and non-binary neighbourhood activists began to get to know each other. Thus began a territorial work with the main focus of getting to know each other as neighbours and starting from there, bit by bit discussing the problems we face as women, single mothers, precarious workers, queer people, etc. The district of Neukölln represents a working class district with a high percentage of immigrant population, which suffers more and more from the gentrification process driven by the bohemian petty bourgeoisie. In this way, a neighbourhood committee was formed, which continues to meet monthly to follow a continuous neighbourhood work, linking itself to local struggles.

In Berlin, a good part of the activists who have led the mobilisation started from other experiences of struggle: from struggles of immigrants and non-white people in Germany, union struggles, struggles for free education and diverse spaces of feminist mobilisation. The experiences of fellow unionists – such as nurses, physiotherapists and university workers – have been of particular importance in declaring our independence from the bureaucracies of the big German unions. They also helped carry out actions and discussion workshops with different union bases and with non-unionised workers in our salaried workplaces.

In addition, a mobilisation in the popular neighbourhoods was pronounced as the axis of the mobilisation of the International Women’s Strike in Germany, especially in Berlin. This goal was not realised with force, since there are few experiences of mobilisation in neighbourhoods in Germany. Few activists, themselves generally daughters of workers, took some first steps in this direction referring to campaigns in some working class neighborhoods in the German capital. In the neighbourhoods of Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Marzahn-Hellersdorf for example, local neighbourhood assemblies were held where women and non-binary neighbourhood activists began to get to know each other. Thus began a territorial work with the main focus of getting to know each other as neighbours and starting from there, little by little discussing the problems we face as women, single mothers, precarious workers, queer people, etc. The district of Neukölln represents a working class district with a high percentage of immigrant population, which suffers more and more from the gentrification process driven by the bohemian petty bourgeoisie. In this way, a neighbourhood committee was formed, which continues to meet monthly to follow a continuous neighbourhood work, linking itself to local struggles.

The International Women’s Strike, or the Feminist Strike, is a label that can be filled with content by the people who claim it. In Berlin, an anti-capitalist stance was achieved after a strong mobilisation from anti-capitalist and even revolutionary sectors of the German Left. Important steps were also taken from the ideological struggle: activists with a class-struggle standpoint have been constantly publishing articles referring to the conditions and demands of the International Women’s Strike. These articles even reached liberal media; pronouncing fundamental criticisms of the feminist-liberal policies established in Germany by means of quotas and percentages of representation; mobilising for strikes in the sectors of health and/or education, without getting tired of explaining time and again – in interviews and in the streets – that the International Strike does not only represent a symbolism referring to a date, but that what we are building is a new women’s movement, a new feminist movement from the working class that can be a vanguard force for the current struggles, like the struggles of the youth for the planet and against the capitalist attacks on it.

First published in Spanish on June 25th 2019 with Revista Crisis: https://www.revistacrisis.com/index.php/debate-feminismo/el-paro-internacional-de-mujeres-apuntes-sobre-la-experiencia-alemana.

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