On 8 March 2018 – International Women’s Day – an unprecedented strike against sexism and women’s oppression took place across the Spanish state. The socialist-feminist organisation Libres y Combativas played a central role in organising and mobilising for this event. Now, the campaign is building for a new student strike against sexism in education to take place on 14 November. The Socialist spoke to Ana Garcia, an activist in Libres y Combativas and the general secretary of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (student union).
Women marching with the 'Libres y Combativas' campaign in Spain, photo Libres y Combativas

Women marching with the ‘Libres y Combativas’ campaign in Spain, photo Libres y Combativas   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Why did you set up Libres y Combativas and what makes it different to other campaigns or organisations set up to support women’s rights?

Libres y Combativas is a socialist-feminist platform that was launched by the Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE), along with Izquierda Revolucionaria (IR – the CWI in the Spanish state). We launched the organisation as a response to the effects of capitalist crisis, particularly on young and working-class women.

Here, as in many other countries all over the world, the fight against the oppression of women is becoming a more and more important arena of struggle against the capitalist system.

The issue of sexism is among those prompting millions of people to wake up to politics – to the need to take action. What’s more, young and working-class women are increasingly drawing the conclusion that it is the capitalist system which perpetuates sexism.

Within the movement for women’s rights here in the Spanish state there are different debates ongoing. These have included discussion on the question of whether the fight against women’s oppression is a task for women alone. We defend the idea that this is not just an issue for women but for the whole of the working class.

Of course, working-class women should take a lead in this struggle. But for us it is a class issue. Women are oppressed because they are workers as well as because of their gender. That’s why we know this is not a task for every woman, but for the working class majority.

Female bankers who order evictions of poor single women, female owners of big companies who implement lower wages for women and fire women when they’re pregnant, or female right-wing politicians who defend cuts in education and health care and who say abortion is murder: those women are not welcome at our protests.

On the other hand, working-class men, who fight on the same issues we do, are very welcome in this struggle. We need our male comrades on our side to defeat the system that promotes the oppression of women.

What kind of action has the campaign taken so far – what has it been able to achieve?

Libres y Combativas is composed of workers and young women. Its main strength is among young women. We have been taking part in movements which already existed.

But we make an important contribution to these movements by offering an anti-capitalist pers-pective and socialist ideas to solve the problems faced by women.

At the moment, there is a very angry mood about aspects of women’s oppression which are being newly revealed and brought to light.

For example, a lot of capitalist institutions – including the government and the justice system – are in a state of crisis. Their reactionary character is being exposed.

Recently there have been several court cases involving rape and violence against women in which reactionary judgements were made. These have included judges blaming the victims.

This has highlighted that women’s oppression is not ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’. It is governments who make reactionary laws, who implement cuts which often hit working-class women hardest.

It is the Francoist justice system which routinely blames women for their own experiences of rape and sexual violence.

One of our first and most significant actions was on 8 March this year, International Women’s Day. This day marked a real explosion against the reactionary Partido Popular (PP) government.

This strike was a shout against all of the right-wing politicians – against the sexist justice system as well. But the 8 March general strike was not the only action.

SE organised several strikes, including one responding when five alleged gang rapists walked free following a very prominent court case. The response to this case had some of the characteristics of an explosion. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets.

The action was not only about showing solidarity with the victims of rape, but also about denouncing the kind of ‘justice’ offered by capitalism: ‘justice’ which effectively punishes women, essentially putting them on trial for reporting the violence they have suffered.

You’ve recently called for another strike to take place in November. I know that since the last strike in March, the government of Spain has changed. Now you have a government led by Pedro Sanchez and the so-called socialists of PSOE. Is the new government attempting to pose as feminist? Is there still a mood to come out and protest?

The PSOE government’s main aim is to maintain social peace – to dampen the outbreaks of mass struggle that have rocked the Spanish state in the last period. They are giving a lot of speeches about women’s rights, about the historic memory of people who were killed under the dictatorship, and so on. But they are not doing anything about the issues we face.

So the purpose of the strike we have called in November is to kick sexism out of schools. We argue that education should be used to help combat sexism and LGBT+phobia.

This raises the need for the restoration of funding taken from the public education system in the last years of austerity.

It also requires opposing the large amount of public money which is currently given to the Catholic Church to teach religion and to spread reactionary, sexist, homophobic and transphobic ideas within schools.

We are demanding the introduction of sex education in schools in order to counter sexual harassement and rape culture, and to help make young people feel free to be who they want to be – not to be bullied, not to be judged and not to be punished, as happens right now.

We are also fighting against sexist dress codes in schools. In particular, during the summer months when the weather is very hot, women are often forbidden from wearing appropriate clothes. Often students are asked to go home and change.

The argument used is that our clothes are a provocation. But our clothes don’t provoke anything! This is an echo of the sexist arguments used against women in the justice system when they report experiences of rape and abuse.

We are saying to the government – if you say you oppose sexism, what are you going to do about it? PSOE like to call themselves “the feminist government” because they have more female ministers. But they have so far done nothing to change the situation for working-class women.

So you recently won a battle to call a strike on 8 March – on the next International Women’s Day…

It wasn’t only our victory. It was a victory of the working-class part of the women’s movement which is by far the majority of people who have been in the streets demanding the end of our oppression.

There has been pressure coming from the supporters of the new government within the women’s movement to ‘keep social peace’ and not mobilise to fight for our demands. The capitalist class is desperate to maintain the relative stability that the first few months of this new government has provided.

But we have not kicked out Rajoy’s PP government only to remain in the same situation. Precisely now is the moment to go one step forward – not one step back!

So Libres y Combativas attended the ‘8M commission’ – the open assembly set up to organise action for International Women’s Day. We argued that there should be a general feminist strike – a strike by people of all genders to fight for women’s rights – and that we should be exposing the hypocrisy of this new ‘feminist government’, demanding real changes.

We emphasised that even if it is a feminist strike this should not just be a strike of women. We want to stop everything! The whole economy! Challenge the big owners, bankers, political representatives who implement our oppression in every sense! For that, we need our male comrades to support our strike and to stop working too.

Our arguments made a big impact. The commission voted that there would be another general strike on 8 March.

This doesn’t exclude further attempts to ‘soften’ this call by those whose priority is the maintenance of social peace. But the mood of the movement is so strong that I believe there is little question that it will go ahead on an equal or possibly even greater scale to last year.