By Claire Zillman
March 8, 2017

Today is International Women’s Day. In the U.S. the holiday is being marked by “A Day Without Women,” an initiative launched by the organizers of the January 21 Women’s March. They’re encouraging women to refrain from paid work and unpaid labor “to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in the U.S. and global economies, while calling attention to the economic injustices women and gender nonconforming people continue to face.”

With the women’s strike, U.S. organizers are, in a sense, reclaiming International Women’s Day as their own. The holiday originated in America, but in recent years, other countries have observed it more widely. As Slate reports, “the first official National Woman’s Day was declared in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, which held several large events on a single day in New York City.”

One difference between the 1909 event and today is that the first Woman’s Day took place on a Sunday to ensure that working women could participate. The fact that this year’s holiday and its Day Without Women strike occur on a workday has prompted some critics to deem the initiative a luxury reserved only for privileged women who can easily call in sick or take paid time off. “[F]or women in lower-wage positions with few or no protections, leaving for even a day might mean going without necessary wages, or incurring the wrath of an abusive boss, or even losing her job entirely,” according to Elle.

In an article in liberal Jacobin Magazine, labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein counters that view by arguing that today’s Day Without Women is “brilliant” because it “halts business as usual.” He notes that in the past, some of the most effective demonstrations—the 1963 March on Washington of “I Have a Dream” fame and the first “Day Without Immigrants” in 2006, for instance— took place on weekdays.

“While more people might be expected to show up on a Saturday, the potency of their protest is diluted by creating a divide between what people do in the arena of politics and how they conduct themselves in the world of work,” he writes.

Nonetheless, women who skip work today do invite risk. “Unless employees have union contracts or civil service protections, they can generally be terminated at the discretion of the employer,” Lowell Turner, a labor relations professor at Cornell, told me. But the more people strike, the harder it is for employers to retaliate. The whole point of this kind of movement “is to up the ante, take risks, demonstrate collective power,” he says. “The strongest statement comes when workers (in this case women) walk out in large numbers together.”

@clairezillman

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