Chapter 16: An International Wave of Struggle

Trump’s election and the Women’s March protests have become a global reference point in the fight back against bigotry, misogyny, and the reactionary anti-women agenda of the right. Across the planet, there is a growing determination to fight back against systemic inequality and growing violence against women.

This global fightback has been building for years. For example, there have been mass demonstrations in recent years against femicide in many Latin American countries from Mexico to Paraguay, many under the slogan “Ni Una Menos” (“Not One [Woman] Less”).

In October 2016, 140,000 women in Poland in 60 cities took part in a national women’s “strike” which succeeded in pushing back a near total abortion ban. In addition to the victorious struggle to repeal the anti-abortion 8th amendment in Ireland (described below), the movement to legalize abortion gained huge support in Argentina and almost succeeded in forcing through legislation in 2018.

In India, there have been mass protests against horrific gang rapes as well as women coming forward in entertainment, media and government to tell their stories of sexual harassment of the job as part of MeToo globally. Most recently, in January millions of women in Kerala state formed a massive human chain to protest the exclusion of women from Hindu shrines. All of these developments reflect the growing integration of women in India in the paid economy and parallels massive general strikes against the anti-labor and privatization policies of the right wing Modi government.

International Women’s Day 2018 saw further mass demonstrations and other forms of protest internationally. In Spain a “feminist strike” brought millions into the streets. Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE – Students Union) and Libres y Combativas – a socialist-feminist platform launched by SE and Socialist Alternative’s sister organization in Spain, Izquierda Revolucionaria – played a key role. They called for a 24 hour student strike which received massive support. 90% of high school students and 80% of college students joined the strike. Our members raised the call for a “working class, revolutionary, anti-capitalist feminism.”

To illustrate the scale of this global uprising, we focus briefly on developments in two countries.


On May 25, 2018 a referendum was passed in Southern Ireland which repealed the longstanding constitutional ban on abortion. This political earthquake was the result of decades of struggle by determined activists and a focused movement over the last five years including mass protest, civil disobedience, and a concerted drive to win the public debate over abortion rights. The repeal movement in Ireland was reignited in 2012 with the death of Savita Halappanavar who was denied a life-saving abortion. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest this horrific death and demand change from the lethargic Irish establishment.

Key to the repeal victory were young women but it also very striking that the vote to overturn the 8th amendment was strongest in working-class areas. As in the previous victory for marriage equality in Ireland in 2015, the working class demonstrated that it is the most consistently progressive force in modern society.

Socialist Alternative’s Irish sister organization, the Socialist Party, played a critical role in this movement alongside many others. With three elected members of the Dáil (the Irish parliament) and strong roots in the youth and labor movements, we built ROSA (Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism, and Austerity), a determined socialist-feminist wing of the broader women’s movement.

This victory required a relentless struggle against sections of the establishment and Catholic right who fought tooth and nail to keep the anti-woman status quo intact. The courage of Irish women has already inspired the beginnings of a movement in Northern Ireland to follow suit and win the right to choose there as well.

Polarization & Mass Struggle in Brazil

The global economic crisis has brutalized women across the world through austerity measures which disproportionately decimate services we rely on. The impact of this crisis is also revealed in the level of violence that women face. According to the Brazilian Directory on Public Security, a woman is killed in Brazil every two hours, a 54% increase in the last decade. On top of this, Brazil leads the world in the murder rates of trans women.

In early 2018, the assassination of Marielle Franco, a PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party) councillor in Rio de Janeiro, further exposed the deep polarization in Brazilian society and the right wing offensive to women’s rights. Marielle, likely assassinated by right-wing militias linked to the Military Police (PMs) in Rio, fought to expose the violence of the PMs against mainly black youth in Rio’s favelas. As a black lesbian woman originally from the favelas, her murder ignited mass protests and encapsulated the war on women and the entire Brazilian working class, which has been escalated to a level not seen since the end of military dictatorship in 1985.

In response to the right-wing offensive, we have seen a resurgence in the struggle for women’s rights. In late 2017, the Temer government introduced legislation that would criminalize abortion in all instances, setting reproductive rights back by decades. Mass protests were organized within 48 hours. The women’s movement defeated this attack on women’s rights for the time being. Our Brazilian sister organization, Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolucao (LSR), has been active in all these struggles, fighting for a socialist feminist perspective.

But now women, LGBTQ people, and working people in Brazil as a whole face an even greater threat with the election of the far right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, as president. Bolsonaro, nicknamed “the Brazilian Trump,” is an aggressive bigot, an open misogynist and despises the LGBTQ community. His coming to power reflects the failure of the existing mainstream left, in particular the Workers Party (PT) which ruled the country for many years. The PT brought in some improvements for ordinary people but then increasingly followed a neoliberal line, showing that it’s not possible to serve both the working class and the capitalist class. Brazil is now mired in the worst economic crisis in its history with massive levels of violence. Desperate for answers, and with none coming from the PT, many turned to the “strongman” Bolsonaro. The LSR argues that now is the time to go into the streets to build mass resistance and to develop a genuine working class socialist political force that can defeat the right.

Our Fight Is International

From Ireland to Spain and Brazil our sister organizations in the Committee for a Workers International are fighting for a “working-class, revolutionary, anti-capitalist feminism.” As capitalism is an international system and as the capitalists do not hesitate to act internationally, the struggle of women and the working class for freedom must be waged on an international basis. In the coming period, we need to build a mass international working class socialist force that, like the Communist International 100 years ago, will be the most uncompromising fighters against every form of oppression.