How Nationwide Strikes Play Out Worldwide

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Image credit: flickr/Kheel Center

ON DECEMBER 12, women in 18 cities across the U.S. went on strike to protest the impending election of Donald J. Trump to the country’s highest office. Women & Allies organized the strike in response to fears that the Women’s March on Washington, planned for January 21, would be blocked by the incoming administration. Through the National Parks Service, Trump’s Presidential Inauguration Committee filed a “massive omnibus blocking permit” to reserve D.C.’s most visible and famous locations for the president-elect’s inauguration event, blacking out weeks before and after the January 20 ceremony. Unaffected by the permit, the Right to Life’s anti-abortion protest on the National Mall is scheduled to proceed as planned on January 27.

Like many peaceful protests, the Women & Allies’ strike failed to garner much attention from the national media, and, despite the hopes of many, the outcome of the 2016 general election did not change. However, to paint the strike with a broad brush as ineffectual denies the very real effects of women’s demonstrations throughout the last several decades. Nationwide strikes could affect the country’s trajectory over the next several years, but only if they are carried out in an organized manner, with clear and articulated goals in mind.

Here are a few of the best and most memorable women’s strikes in modern history.

Women’s Strike for Equality — August 26, 1970

Perhaps the most famous march in recent history is the Women’s Strike for Equality. On August 26, 1970, tens of thousands of women and their allies blocked New York City’s 5th Avenue during rush hour in protest of the male domination of major industries, including “unions… the military, the universities, [and] even the organizations of the New Left.”

The Women’s Strike for Equality served as the catalyst for feminism’s second wave, cementing the movement’s major demands: free childcare available to all women at all times, free abortions on demand, and gender equity in employment and education. Although second-wave feminists did not achieve these goals in full, they radically altered the childcare options available to working mothers and won both nationwide abortion access and equal-education legislation within a few short years. By 1973, all three of the Women’s Strike for Equality’s major demands had been met in part.

Women’s Day Off — October 24, 1975

Five years later, women in Iceland organized a nationwide strike to protest the gender wage gap. Today, that remarkable event has been memorialized in a national holiday: Women’s Day Off. Every year on October 24, Icelandic women leave their posts at the exact minute when they would have made their daily wages — if they were paid the same salary as men. Today, Iceland routinely ranks among the best countries for women, but its female workforce continues to demonstrate annually for equal pay.

Black Monday Protests — October 3, 2016

Since 1993, Poland has restricted legal abortion to only cases of rape, incest, and fetal or maternal health, up to 12 weeks gestation. When the Polish parliament floated an outright ban on the procedure, punishable by up to five years in prison for both doctors and their patients, thousands of women across the country organized “Black Monday” demonstrations. Inspired by the original Women’s Day Off, women in Poland went on strike from school and work, “caus[ing] widespread disruption to businesses, traffic and to government offices.”

The nationwide women’s strike worked. By October 6, Poland’s parliament withdrew the proposed abortion ban.

South Korean Protests — 4th Quarter 2016

In late October 2016, South Korean citizens took to the streets en masse to protest President Park Geun-hye’s connection to Choi Soon-sil. Choi held no office or national security clearance, but was privy to the South Korean president’s sensitive private communications and provided her with advice on political affairs. It also came to light that Choi may have used her connections with Park to extort large donations for her charities, with at least some of the money going toward her daughter’s dressage career.

The revelation was a long time coming, beginning with the gambling arrest of a cosmetics executive in November 2015. For weeks, South Korean citizens turned out on Saturdays, bearing signs, banners, and bullhorns, to protest Park and Choi’s corruption. Choi was arrested and jailed shortly after demonstrations began, and Park fired many of her closest advisers, but the protests continued.

On Dec. 9, the South Korean parliament voted overwhelmingly to impeach Park, suspending her presidential powers in the process, a move met by celebratory demonstrations throughout the country. That vote has now moved to a high court, which is currently conducting an impeachment trial of the president, but many protesters continue to call for Park to resign her post instead of waiting for the outcome of the trial.

Resignation or no, Park’s impeachment is a victory for many of her detractors. Protester Park Seong-su tells The Guardian:

We accomplished a peaceful revolution … For long, people were told by politicians what to do, but on Friday, it was the will of people that forced politicians what to do.

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