Strike4Repeal to Tap into the Legacy of Striking for Gender Inequality and Reproductive Rights

Striking is one of the fundamental rights that we as workers have. It allows us to protest for fair pay rises, better working conditions and fair contracts. Strikes have been used throughout the years for this purpose but they’ve also been used to make a point about how we value certain members of society. This is the vein that Strike4Repeal is aiming for, to apply pressure on the axis of power in Leinster House to call a referendum on the 8th amendment.

But what is Strike4Repeal? Essentially it’s a group of students, academics, trade unionists and activists who are encouraging people to strike on March 8th, if the government does not call a referendum on the 8th amendment by then. The likelihood of the government calling this referendum before March 8th is low given that they have continually stated that they wish to wait for the findings of the Citizens Assembly which is expected to report back in summer of this year.

The strike itself is not a traditional one so to speak as people are being encouraged to take annual leave on the 8th of March, cover someone’s shift if they can’t take the day off or wear black in solidarity. There will also be an event at the Ha’penny Bridge at around 12:30pm and a march to mark International Women’s Day later in the day. Students are being encouraged to walk out of lectures or to wear black in solidarity and try to discuss the strike as much as possible with friends, co-workers, family members and lecturers. The action has been officially supported so far by Trinity College Student’s Union and supported by a number of other colleges around the country. UCDSU have committed to support the strike for Repeal, and will be supplying t-shirts for the UCD for Choice group.  

So why should we as students support the action? On October 24th 1975, the women of Iceland went on strike to protest against the wage gap where women were earning less than 60% of what men earned for the same job. The main message of the protest was to show how the country could not function if women refused to work either in their jobs or in the home. It was estimated that approximately 90% of Iceland’s female population refused to attend work or do any work in the home that day resulting in the closure of many industries. There was no telephone service and no newspapers were printed that day as all the typesetters were women. Most of the teachers were women so many of the schools closed and bank executives had to work as tellers in order to keep banks open. In short, the strike caused such a colossal shutdown of many services that the following year, the Icelandic government passed a law which guaranteed equal rights for men and women. The legacy of the Icelandic strike lives on. Every 10 years on October 24th, Icelandic women leave work around 2:30pm to symbolise the time at which they stop earning an equal pay to their male counterparts.

The Black Monday protest in Poland in 2016 was largely based on the Icelandic strike of 1975. This protest was organised in the wake of the Polish government’s threat to abolish access to abortion services in the country where access is already limited to abortion in the case of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality or risk to the mother’s life and health. Women in 60 cities went on strike and the following Thursday, the proposed ban was rejected in the Polish government following the intense political backlash.

What the Icelandic and Polish examples show is that strikes can and do have a massive effect on the political landscape. While the likelihood of a referendum being called before March 8th is low, the strike will likely keep the pressure on the government to face the abortion issue instead of hiding behind delay tactics and empty rhetoric. A strike allows people to show their support for the Repeal/pro-choice campaigns in a new way. It allows the people to tell our leaders than we can wait no longer. A strike allows the people to show their solidarity for any person who has to leave Ireland to procure an abortion or order abortion medicines from the internet. It lets our government know that this issue is not going away anytime soon. Similar successes of collective action have worked for transport works in the Luas, Dublin Bus, and this year teachers, nurses and Garda have leveraged the threat of strike to demand better conditions

Will a strike cause a sudden change in our legislation or constitution? Probably not yet that reason alone does not make a strike worthless or pointless as some people have suggested, Will it change the minds of those who are still undecided on this controversial issue? It is difficult to say, the real debate will likely only start when a referendum date is tabled.

The strike will certainly be a force of momentum to draw form for the growing movement to Repeal. The more engaging the action, the more people feel empowered and the more momentum gained. The Strike4Repeal campaign is allowing people to voice their anger in a powerful way. The withdrawal of work has many effects and is yet another ripple to incite more change in the way we view our abortion services in this country.

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Rachel O’Neill   |   Feature Editor

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