A nationwide strike will take place in Spain on International Women's Day. PlayGround+ editor Anna Freeman reflects on what the UK can learn from Spanish feminism
07 Marzo 2018 16:20
Barcelona, Spain - It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) and female workers in Spain - and here at PlayGround - are going on strike.
What many of our readers may not know is that PlayGround+’s office is situated a stone’s throw from Barcelona’s downtown beach. Meaning that I, too, will be striking tomorrow. As a British journalist whose Spanish (or Catalan, depending on who you speak to) journey started just nine months ago, strikes, protests and unionisation have been a staple of working life. First, the Catalan independence crisis and subsequent police brutality prompted mass walkouts and marches, and now, with IWD taking on a whole new meaning in the era of #MeToo and other centralised feminist causes, a nationwide strike has been called by the 8M Commission for the first time.
I can’t help but compare social movements in the UK with those in my new home here in Spain. Perhaps pondering the similarities and differences could seem like a reductive act of postulation: why compare the two when each lives, evolves, changes in its own socio-political context? But I deem it necessary because although we are all sisters together in our fight for female equality, our enactment of change varies substantially.
Here at PlayGround headquarters, there is a focus on grassroots organisation by employees. Socialism, revolution and a feminocentric uprising are just a click away in our ‘#8marzo’ (‘#8March’) Slack channel (if you don’t know what Slack is yet, you probably will one day). Techno-feministas unite! What we’ve been focusing on is how to effectively communicate the struggles of women, not only in the workplace, but at home, in public spaces, in the family, you name it, in an act of togetherness. We’re leading the conversation from the ground up - and that in itself is important.
I expect to see this DIY approach during the IWD march in central Barcelona as well. If I have learnt one thing it’s that don’t underestimate the appetite for anarchy here. What has most impressed me about feminism, and socialist movements, in Spain - and what I think sets itself apart from the UK somewhat - is the anger. The disruption. The fuck-you to the system. ‘We’re striking, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ And although there is a planned strike by feminist collectives and groups planned in the UK, the momentum and thirst for it doesn’t feel like a shared sentiment. None of my feminist friends in Britain will be walking out of work.
Don’t get me wrong, there are fantastic, exemplary feminist leaders and allies in the UK. Even though the country’s reputation as a diverse and progressive country is slipping in the era of Brexit, in many ways Britain is still a cultural leader for disparate voices. The feminist cause is a mainstay of art, film, television, literature and so much more, but I sometimes feel that our Britishness - or awkward stiff upper lip - gets in the way of our battle cries. Protests are kind of ‘lovely’. Music playing, marching, banners, sure, but we’re not smashing up the system in the same way as women in Spain. We (mostly) don’t leave our desks to say no to unequal wages, domestic abuse and precarious work. We don’t march on a weekday because we know less people will turn up. We don’t find the addresses of men’s rights activists and shove used tampons through their letterboxes (just a suggestion!).
I know this risks generalising women in the UK and upsetting those I call allies. This is not my intention. I am part of the problem. I didn’t walk of work on IWD last year when I worked in London, or equal pay day, like some others did. I was too scared of what my coworkers would think because no one else was going to; in fact, I was scared it would compromise my job. The balance of power between employers and workers is skewed, and how are women - or anyone for that matter - meant to feel strong when they worry about losing their jobs for exercising their democratic right to protest?
The stark difference I see between IWD in the UK and here is that ditching work to express your support of feminism isn’t a radical act; it’s almost a given. Which is so fucking refreshing. Feminist collectives and radical activists are in abundance in the UK - for example, Sisters Uncut who stormed the BAFTAs red carpet in response to Theresa May’s domestic violence bill - but I’m talking about the everyday woman. Those who engage with feminism each day in the way they work, speak, live, but who might not see the urgency of our struggle. Reflecting on my own experience, I have had the privilege that is not afforded to so many others. I recognise my position as a white, middle class woman and although I still face everyday sexism and the threat of sexual violence, I think we need to pour out onto the streets not (just) for ourselves, but for other women. More emphasis on intersectionality has never been so important. That’s what IWD means to me.
It may come as no surprise that the Spanish central government, controlled by the conservative People’s Party (PP), has called the nationwide IWD strike ‘elitist’. They argue only women who can afford not to be paid for a day’s work can participate - a popular political tactic of conservative governments around the world who want to trample on progressive social movements (and extremely rich given the corruption charges that have plagued the PP). But you know what: fuck them. We’re not asking for permission. We’re not asking for approval. That’s the whole point. By showing how productivity can grind to a halt without valuable female participation, we’re making our voices heard. UK - sit up and take note.