October marks 40 years since women in Iceland went out on a historic strike that changed the outlook towards them. These women walked out and refused to work, cook and look after children for a day. Today, Iceland ranks first in gender equality globally. Speaking of strikes, let’s take a look at some historic moments of women’s strikes across the world.
1918: London Transport Women’s Strike
On August 17, women working at the Willesden bus garage in London decided to go on strike to protest their unequal treatment. The strike, within a week, spread to several other transport outposts as well. The women were protesting against a war bonus that men who worked in the London public transport system received. Women in the same positions were not entitled to this bonus. The strike resulted in the company finally granting its female workers the bonus.
1937: Woolworth’s Sit Down Strike
On February 27, over 100 female clerks at Woolworth’s Detroit store, in the United States, stopped working at 11 am. The bold move brought attention to the workers’ requests for a raise, the 40-hour working week, and overtime at the popular chain store. After a week of strike, the company and the union finally reached an agreement.
1946: Women’s Revolt in Bengal
This movement, in Bengal, is remembered as a significant event from history. The Tebhaga movement was an important political movement emerging from an agrarian crisis. The fight was for a fair share of crop holdings. Women rose to voice their grievances to the same degree as men. Going further, the landless and peasant women formed their own fighting troops, called the “Nari Bahini”. The Nari Bahini played an important role in the movement and actively fought against state repression. Their participation challenged many traditional roles that had been in place. In areas where women weren’t even permitted in fields, they were now standing strong on the front line, fighting patriarchal institutions.
1961: Women’s Strike for Peace
On November 1, around 50,000 women around the world demonstrated against nuclear testing. The women’s peace activist group, in the United States, marched in 60 cities to demonstrate against the testing of nuclear weapons.
1968: Dagenham Women’s Strike
On June 7, female workers at the Ford plant in Dagenham, outside London, went on strike for three weeks. They were fighting for equal pay. These workers achieved 92 per cent of the men’s payment rate after the plant was closed. Barbara Castle, England’s Employment Secretary, entered the fray to negotiate. Although it looked as an improvement on the pre-strike rate, it wasn’t parity that was fully achieved. However, one big measure that arose from the strike was the UK’s Equal Pay Act.
1970: Women’s Strike for Equality
On August 26, Betty Friedan called for strike and accumulated a huge crowd. They fought for reproductive rights, childcare provisions, and equal employment rights. About 50,000 protesters flocked New York City’s Fifth Avenue during the movement.
1975: Women’s Day Off
On October 24, about 90 per cent of women, in Iceland, took the day off on to demonstrate the huge contribution they made with their hard work, both at the workplace and at home. Vigdis Finnbogadottir, Iceland’s, and Europe’s, first female president, later said she would never have been elected to the country’s highest office had this strike not happened.
1977: Grunwick Dispute
On August 23, Jayaben Desai walked out of London’s Grunwick film processing plant when a colleague was sacked. She walked in protest at the poor treatment of immigrant workers. More than 100 of her fellow employees followed suit. Desai demonstrated for a year and bravely told her manager that she and her fellow strikers were lions. Although the strike did not result in success, it ignited a fire and a thought process. The dispute’s cause became of interest to the trade union movement at and also the prime minister himself.
2015: Munnar Tea Plantation Workers
Women working at tea plantations in Kerala went on strike to demand an increase in daily wages from approximately Rs 230 to Rs 500. The women’s demands were hardly anything compared to the 12-hour work days they faced and the conditions they were living in. The strike crowd grew quickly, which pressured the management to give in to their demands for bonuses. The strike further highlighted more problems than one. The women’s struggle revealed the corruption that existed within plantation trade unions. It also challenged the patriarchal rule in unions. Men were not allowed to join the protests, nor were unions allowed to interfere. The Munnar strike will always be remembered as a revolutionary step.
2016: Ni Una Menos
On June 3, women in Argentina were encouraged to strike and take part in the “Ni una menos” (Not One Less) march against femicides in Buenos Aires. The protest against gender violence grew largely after teenage girls — Melina Romero, Chiara Paez, Daiana Garcia, and Angeles Rawson — were murdered in a matter of months.
2016: Black Monday
On October 3, 2016, women dressed in all black attire in a protest strike called Black Monday. They protested in solidarity against the government’s near-total ban on abortion in Krakow, Poland. The 30,000 people, marching with conviction, succeeded in persuading the government to pull back on at least one proposed, controversial anti-abortion bill.
Featured image credit: BBC