Proclaiming “Women move the world. Stop now! All on strike!” women took over the streets in Barcelona on October 22 demanding an end to the “social, economic and legal policies that severely undermine our rights, dignity and freedom.”
The day began with several hundred women blocking traffic and hanging household utensils such as buckets and brooms from building facades. Banners read “Patriarchy and Capitalism Are Criminal” and “Death to the Patriarchy. Caretakers Strike.” Male supporters organized childcare so women could leave their children while they were hitting the streets. By evening the crowd had grown to thousands. Protests also occurred at train stations against public fare increases. Other cities supported the protest.
Vaga De Totes is a coalition of diverse feminist groups determined to make women’s labor, both public and in the home visible. The coalition met for months to plan and organize the strike and produce a manifesto signed by more than 900 individuals. Some 60 groups, not all of them feminist, endorsed it.
The Manifesto takes on not only the usual feminist issues of “freely deciding whether to be or not to be mothers” and violence against women but also speaks to the unequal double and triple shifts that accrue to women as society’s caretakers. It points out women’s extra burden has been intensified by policies imposed under the austerity “reforms” of the Spanish debt crisis, with its “criminal cuts to public services and social welfare that affect women’s employment and wages and increases caretaking duties.”
It also speaks to the “labor reforms that deepen inequalities in labor” for women, such as freezing the minimum wage, reforming the income tax, instituting policies that increase the wage gap, postponing the improvement of the widow’s pension, and the exclusionary immigration laws that are causing “migrant women to live in misery.”
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The Vaga de Totes protest comes in the wake of further tightening of the already strict and painful imposition of austerity imposed in the Eurozone after the country’s failure to recover from the global recession. As Jack Rasmus explained in “The Eurozone’s “New Austerity Model” on CounterPunch recently:
No longer just cuts in government social programs and elimination of subsidies for the working poor, as before, the ‘New Model’ for Austerity emerging in the Eurozone consists of direct attacks on workers’ wages and incomes. The plan is to hold down wages in order to lower business costs and price of exports. …
The rationale behind the new direct attack on wages is the argument by a growing number of Euro capitalist elite and politicians that Europe must somehow “export” its way out of its latest recession. … The focus on exports means that the costs of production must be reduced. That means in turn a reduction of labor costs—i.e. by cutting wages and by finding other ways to raise productivity. And that means so-called “labor market reform”—i.e. the cover phrase for wage reduction. …
The forerunner to this new model austerity has been tested in the past two years in Spain. Depression level unemployment of 25% has driven down wages. Hiring of mostly temp workers in the past five years has further kept wages depressed. Other “labor market reforms” have been tested as well by Spain’s conservative Rajoy government, including introducing limits on collective wage bargaining by workers.
The result in Spain has lowered production costs that have made Spanish exports more competitive in recent years. To the extent that Spain’s economy has ceased declining recently, it is largely because of its exports rising—export gains made possible by steep wage reduction that have lowered costs and therefore prices of exports. While economic growth has only risen 0.6% in latest figures, it has halted the further decline of Spain’s economy. This fact has not been lost to capitalist policy makers elsewhere in Europe.
The Spanish policy of reducing costs and prices of exports by reducing wages is sometimes referred to as “internal devaluation.” With the Euro as its currency, Spain cannot formally devalue its currency by itself to get a cost-price advantage to boost exports. But it can “internally devalue” and boost exports by labor cost reduction, which it has.
A huge strike led by labor unions against the austerity program shut down several large cities, airports and other transportation in March 2012. The Vaga de Totes coalition point out that women’s needs, in many ways greater, were left out the 2012 strike and other demonstrations, so they proceeded to call their own. They also propose there should be another general strike in March of next year that includes the demands of everyone, including those who “were already living in a crisis before the crisis.”
[We ran into language barriers in trying to report this story and may have made some unintended errors due to poor translation. We welcome your corrections.]
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