Women on strike – a history of resistance

by | Oct 31, 2016

With women on strike, fighting for equality, give us a voice

women on strike

When we speak up, change happens

This week, Iceland’s women went on strike.  The country has a 14% pay gap between men and women. On October 25th, women left work at 2.38pm, exactly 14% before the end of a standard 9-5 workday.  We’re not getting paid for this time, went the reasoning, so why should we work?

Amazingly, [Tweet "this isn’t the first time the women of Iceland have struck for gender equality."] On 24 October 1975, an amazing 90% of Icelandic women refused to work.  Banks, factories, and shops had to close without their female staff.  Schools shut and housewives refused to look after their children, leaving many men with no option but to take their children to work.
The one-day action certainly had an effect.  Before the 1975 strike, there were just three sitting female MPs in the Icelandic parliament; five years later, Iceland had elected single mother Vigdis Finnbogadottir as president, making her the world’s first democratically chosen female head of state; today, it is the best place  in the world for working women.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Former President of Iceland

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
Former President of Iceland

How history changes when women strike

From the legend of Lysistrata to present day, [Tweet "all-female strikes have often been used as a negotiating tool."]
In 1842, the first factory strike in US history involved 102 women weavers in Rhode Island.  Mississippi launderesses formed the first African-American women’s union in 1866, and went on strike just weeks later.  A 1917 strike by female textile workers in St Petersburg soon sucked in workers from other industries, kicking off the February Revolution which felled the Tsarist government.  The famous Dagenham machinists strike of 1968 led to the UK introducing equal pay legislation just two years later.

Their story has been made into a film and stage musical

Their story has been made into a film and stage musical

Historically, most women’s strikes have involved textile workers.  The textile industry was an early adopter of the factory model, and even today most garment factory staff are women.  Recent protests in China and Bangladesh  have seen some of the world’s poorest women standing together for better conditions.  There have been all-women walkouts it many other industries dominated by women, from childcare to tobacco. Non-industrial strikes are less common, but often have far-reaching effects.

Textile workers are no strangers to strikes

Textile workers are no strangers to strikes

The Liberian civil war ended in 2003 after a women’s action group physically barricaded leaders into the presidential palace.  They refused to let anybody in or out until peace talks had been concluded; just like that, a 14-year civil war was resolved in a matter of days.  The feminist March for Peace and Equality in 1970 New York was credited for the rash of equality legislation in the following years.  In October this year, women in Poland called for a country-wide strike to protest a proposed tightening of the already-strict ban on abortion.  Embarrassed by the global coverage, the government rejected the law just two weeks after voting in favour.
[Tweet "When women stand together, governments listen."]

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Alice Bell Contributor
"Alice writes online about business, popular science, and women's lifestyle. After a few years working her way around the world, she has settled in the north of England and taken a day job as a maths teacher. Her life's ambition is to earn enough money to start repaying her student debt."

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