What do women do when they get sick of being valued as less than men? When they want the state and the Catholic church to stop governing their bodies? When they want everyone to be able to enjoy a dignified life? When they want to reclaim a feminist and supportive economy? In general, what do they do to change the world? An answer to all of these questions was sought in Vaga De Totes – last month’s huge social strike that went largely unreported outside Catalonia.
1. What is Vaga De Totes?
Vaga De Totes is an initiative brought about by diverse feminist collectives trying to highlight the asymmetrical situation of women in Catalonia and Spain. After months of assemblies, they produced a manifesto and organized a series of strikes to make women’s work visible, under the slogan ‘We Women Move The World, Now We Shall Stop It’.
Vaga De Totes – ‘All Women on Strike’ in Catalan – took place on 22 October and it’s like nothing you’ve seen before.
2. What makes it different from other strikes?
First, it is a women-only strike that aims to unite the intersectional struggles of women and LGBT people, the main victims of sexism and patriarchy.
Second, Vaga De Totes goes beyond stopping production; its main objective is to highlight how the work of women makes possible the patriarchal production system. It is a strike that welcomes female workers of all types: whether productive, reproductive, domestic, sexual, formal or informal – and reaches every sphere of everyday life, including consumption, transport and care. Another facet is that labour unions aren’t the main organizers of the strike, which is attracting massive participation.
3. Who supports it?
The Vaga De Totes manifesto has been signed by more than 900 people and is supported by 60 different activist collectives, not all of them with a feminist focus. Among these 60 groups are neighbourhood assemblies, the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (anti-eviction movement), Stop Pujades (against the rises in transport prices), student assemblies, labour unions, collectives from other Spanish cities and even the cleaning service of Greece’s tax office!
4. What happened on 22 October?
The strike began at 7.30am with picket lines blocking Barcelona’s largest avenues; action that was mirrored in nearby cities and villages. The morning was spent engaging with other women on the street and learning about their situations.
(Photo: Sergi Rugrand/Directa)
By noon, the Círculo de Economía (Economy Circle) was occupied in an action against recent remarks made by the president of a related think-tank, Círculo de Empresarios (Circle of Entrepreneurs). Mónica Oriol had publicly warned against hiring women between the ages of 24 and 45 in case they get pregnant, and encouraged women who want to have professional success to marry a state employee, so he could enjoy his parental leave. The occupiers further wanted to denounce the role of this circle of the powerful in perpetuating a devastating market system which undermines both social justice and gender equality.
At 6pm, Stop Pujades held open the gates of three different subway stations, allowing people to travel for free in protest against the price increase of public transportation.
A full day of direct action culminated with a demonstration (for both men and women) in Barcelona’s Plaça Catalunya at 7pm. After a public reading of the manifesto, thousands marched around the city for several hours.
(Banner reads: “We stand up against the social control of our bodies and lives”)
During the demonstration, direct action continued to take place. A group of strikers armed with aprons and masks climbed the statue of Joan Güell i Ferrer (a pioneer and symbol of the powerful Catalan textile bourgeoisie), tied a rope around its neck and stained it with red paint.
The façade of a right wing Catholic radio station was also attacked.
5. What’s the role of men in Vaga De Totes?
The strike is intended to be women-only and to highlight how the invisible work that keeps the gears of capitalism moving is all theirs. However, men were very much welcome at the demonstration and in the broader feminist fight. Some men decided they wanted to participate a bit more, so they organized a crèche in Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter) for women to leave their children while they were hitting the streets.
6. And now what?
The events of 22 October – or #22O – are only the beginning of a series of strikes. After the success of this first experiment, participant collectives are now mobilizing to organize a general strike on March 2015.
You can keep up with Vaga De Totes on Twitter @vagadetotes