Women’s Movement Shakes America
The vicious right-wing agenda of Trump has been pushed back in the midterm elections, in which 41 Republican members of Congress were thrown out by voters. Millions of women are disgusted by the unbridled sexism of Trump and the Republicans who pushed Brett Kavanaugh through the Senate confirmation process to the Supreme Court despite the multiple credible sexual assault allegations against him.
Increasingly, women are enraged by there being one set of rules for the elites and another for everyone else. The Republicans showed with Kavanaugh that they won’t stop their attacks on women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, workers, and other oppressed groups, for lack of a popular mandate. It will take a determined movement in the streets, communities, workplaces and schools to stop Trump’s right wing offensive.
#MeToo Goes Into the Workplace
A new women’s movement has developed through the giant women’s marches, the online explosion of #MeToo, and now through workers taking job action to fight sexual harassment. The first phase of #MeToo was powerful in its own right. Individuals shared their stories and became part of a collective sense of outrage, and corporate moguls, politicians and others revealed to be serial abusers fell from grace. The new phase of #MeToo is about organizing in our workplaces, either in unions or in new organizations, to fight for justice on the job.
From some of the most well paid workers at Google to the most oppressed at McDonald’s, women workers, often together with their male coworkers, are organizing and walking off the job to pressure bosses to end sexual harassment in the workplace. Google workers have already won a partial victory after their November walkout of 20,000 workers internationally: management there has agreed to end forced arbitration in sexual harassment cases.
After lengthy strikes in several cities, union workers at Marriott hotels have recently won stronger language protecting workers against sexual assault by guests, as well as strong wage increases. Unions should be, and sometimes are, including demands around sexual harassment in their bargaining. They should also be opening critical discussions within their memberships on how to fight sexism on the job, and on how critical it is to have a unified workplace across gender, race and other divisions to win on all issues including wages and benefits. This new phase of #MeToo — of organizing and going out on strike if necessary — holds enormous potential power to improve the day to day lives of millions of women. Through building workplace organization it will also improve the lives of male workers.
Defend Abortion Rights!
With arch-conservatives in a majority on the Supreme Court, defense and extension of abortion rights must be a key priority for the women’s movement in 2019. Roe v. Wade was won during the momentous 1960s and 1970s women’s movement, when a conservative Supreme Court was dragged along with the pace of events and rapidly changing public opinion. Recent surveys show support of Roe v. Wade at 71% overall, including even 52% of Republicans! Even if the Supreme Court steers clear of Roe v. Wade, a mass movement is desperately needed to win back the ground that has been ceded in reproductive rights over the past several decades of far right attacks in state legislatures.
The strategy of the mainstream women’s organizations of closely aligning with the Democratic Party establishment has been an abject failure for defending women’s reproductive rights. Young women rejected the stale arguments of corporate feminism to vote for Bernie Sanders in big numbers in the 2016 primaries. A new women’s movement will need to go further and join with radicalized union workers, LGBTQ, BLM and immigrant activists, fighters for environmental justice and others to form a new party that is independent of big business and which has a pro-worker, left-wing program that fights for the rights of all oppressed people.
In much of mass media, feminism over the past decade has been dominated by individualism. This type of feminism celebrates the achievements of wealthy ruling class women like Hillary Clinton, and emphasizes that women can take individual action to reach greater heights in their lives and work, as preached by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. The “feminist” CEOs and capitalist politicians want to see more women at the top, as they actively work against working class women’s interests. The for-profit health care system, the severe crisis of housing affordability, low wage jobs: these factors and more, alongside the rollback of reproductive rights, all contribute to women’s oppression. We need to continue to reject a feminism of the elites that is placated by the symbolism of a few token women breaking a glass ceiling.
We need a women’s movement with an organized socialist feminist wing that will fight to center the needs of working class women, women of color and LGBTQ women. Crucially, a socialist feminist platform must highlight the need for the economic stability needed to raise a child just as it highlights reproductive justice. It needs to fight for gender and racial justice simultaneously, and it must stand for the rights and equality of LGBTQ people. But most of all it needs to point away from a system organized solely on the basis of profit and toward a new egalitarian society where people’s needs will be the top priority.