National Sections of the L5I:

Women at the heart of the rebellion

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The revolutionary events in Argentina electrified workers all over the world. It inspired those fighting privatisation, rising unemployment and cuts in state welfare being forced down their throats by the International Monetary Fund and local rulers.

On International Women’s Day we want particularly to celebrate the role of the women in the ongoing resistance. From the start of events last December women were running strikes, barricading streets, blockading major roads, calling for the government to be toppled and fighting the cops on the streets.

One newspaper reported that a middle-aged woman demonstrator still railed against “this government’s starvation plan” despite having one of her toes hacked off by a horse’s hoof.

When thousands of unemployed people broke into Wal-marts and Carrefour supermarkets around the country, women organised the redistribution of food.

Women have been on the frontline of the struggle, a struggle that didn’t just begin in December but has been going on for many years. What pushes women to the forefront of rebellion during a crisis?

“We participated at highway blockades and pickets, we are struggling alongside the unemployed workers even though most of us are not unemployed, but we are state workers and teachers and are also undergoing the cutbacks,” said Celina, a woman from La Plata.

Women are disproportionately affected by economic instability because of their position in society. In employment, they are highly concentrated in the public sector, i.e. as teachers or nurses, which is the first target of a structural adjustment program.

During the latter half of last year many workers in the public sector were not paid for three or more months. Women are also employed in low paid, casual, non-unionised, insecure jobs that are the first to go when an economic crisis hits.

In addition, as the state cuts spending, all the social welfare, health and education goes and the extra burden is forced upon women. Unemployment in Argentina stands at 20 per cent, but is much higher in specific areas and 44 per cent of those in the cities are officially in poverty. There is no assistance from the state and women have to try to hold the household together.

The prolonged nature of the crisis has drawn more and more women into the political struggle. Women make up over 60 per cent of the unemployed movement which organised the highway blockades last August that were so successful in paralysing the economy, including the previously invulnerable financial sector.

And women are active in the unions, even where, as in the Zanon factory occupation in Neuquén, they aren’t employed. After months of disputes at a Zanon ceramics factory the workers decided to strike because they hadn’t been paid for months. Now the factory is producing under workers’ control.

The Zanon workforce is nearly all men, but leadership of the union (Union of Workers and Ceramists of Neuquén) set out from the beginning to actively integrate the wives and families of the workers, and they are playing an active role in the union.

Women have become radicalised by the events in Argentina. A prolonged social crisis is under way and women are openly debating and organising around all aspects of their oppression. More than 15,000 women marched through the streets of La Plata in August demanding legal abortion and contraception, as well as the release of the unemployed pickets that had been imprisoned during the highway blockades. As we celebrate international women’s day let us echo and amplify the words of one of the protestors that day:

“From now on we employed and unemployed women, who fight for the right to decide what we do with our bodies, the students and teachers who are fighting against the cutbacks and the nurses that are struggling in the public hospitals, we who are fighting against the cutbacks and the poverty – we all must co-ordinate our struggles everywhere we are.”