A Day Without Men was a trans-inclusive day of discussion and organising for women and non-binary socialists on 29 September 2018. Around 20 people attended, allowing for in-depth small discussion groups on a range of topics. Below, three attendees (Taisie Tsikas, Kate Bradley and Beverly Keenan) offer their reflections on the topics we discussed across the day: fascism and sexual violence, migration and the care industry, and workplace organising.
Fascism and gendered violence
The first session of the Day Without Men asked questions about the relationship between gendered violence and the far right. We discussed how elements of the far right often couch their anti-migrant and racist politics in terms of defending women and children from sexual exploitation. Meanwhile, the far right is itself intensely misogynistic.
Via a video link, anti-fascist activist Farah drew attention to the racism and sexism inherent in defending white women and children from the supposed sexual threat posed by migrants, men of colour and Muslims. It is racist because it plays on prevalent Islamophobia and racism to identify a racialised Other as especially culpable for sexual violence. By focusing only on sexual violence purportedly perpetrated by migrants and Muslims, the far right seeks to deflect attention away from more generalised patriarchy. For them, gendered violence is only a tool to support their agenda, and they wouldn’t lift a finger to confront the realities of rape culture.
rs21’s Ida P sketched out the significance of gendered violence for fascist ideology, focusing on the manifesto of fascist Anders Breivik in Norway. Misogyny, sexual entitlement and fantasies of violence against women, as well as histories of perpetrating domestic and sexual abuse, are common among fascists and their sympathisers. Their rhetoric about ‘protecting’ women and children has to be understood in relation to their nativism and racism. The paranoia about sexual violence against (white) women and children runs parallel to an obsession with the integrity of the nation, which migrants (particularly men) are seen to ‘penetrate’ and threaten.
Julia from Women’s Strike Assembly spoke on the necessity of building a feminist anti-fascist movement that enables those directly impacted by sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia of to join in and direct the resistance to those forces. By centring care and feminist politics, we can make anti-fascist organising sustainable and accessible. These arguments fed into the organisation of the successful anti-fascist protest in London on October 13th and explained some of the rationale behind it.
Imperialism, migration and the care industry
The session on imperialism, migration and the care industry helped me to think through how capitalism affects us all on a macro level – e.g. by underdeveloping certain nations and regions of the world and pushing people to move countries to find work – but also on a micro level, changing how we see our roles and responsibilities in life. I also learned a lot of interesting things about the economics of migration, and the struggles and experiences of individual workers in the care industry.
We began by watching a video of a speech (above) on migration and care work across Europe by Sara Farris, a Marxist writer. The speech blended Marxist theories of labour with up-to-date statistical information, explaining how integral migrant women in particular have become to Western European economies as carers. Farris’ research shows that 42% of all migrant women in 15 EU countries work in the care sectors: care-domestic sector in private households, the care sector in hospitals, residential care, and home-care and cleaning activities – the ‘social reproductive’ sector. This is a type of work that cannot be easily outsourced abroad or mechanised, and so it has remained a growth sector in Western European economies even after the 2008 economic crash. Nevertheless, Farris explained that care work remains marginalised and insecure, often leading to intense exploitation and oppression of its workers.
Hanna G from rs21 spoke next, drawing on her knowledge and experience of Eastern European migration to give a fascinating perspective on the many reasons women move to Western Europe to become carers, including supporting a family at home, paying off debts, and escaping high levels of unemployment. She also reflected on how difficult it can be for care workers to fight for better working conditions as a result of the structure of the care industry in Western Europe, since many migrant carers are live-in in private homes, or work for agencies and never meet their colleagues. The talk was enlightening, and our discussions afterwards were varied and interesting, encouraging people to go out and look for where resistance is popping up and how we might show our solidarity.
The whole session fitted nicely into ideas about social reproduction theory, the way capitalism’s need to reproduce itself and its workforce shapes our world. The essential nature of the care industry means that its workers have potentially unprecedented power in challenging capitalism if social reproductive workers can join forces to resist their exploitation.
Workplace organising: power and surveillance in the modern workplace
rs21’s Lois C introduced the discussion by outlining her experiences as a paralegal in a law firm. She described the different ways in which employers are able to discipline and disempower the workforce. During the workshop, further contributions ranged from across the private, public and voluntary sector, including jobs in health, education, publishing and call centres. Despite the variety, clear similarities were apparent across all our workplaces. All used technology to log work rate and speed up production, as a surveillance tool to monitor or spy on activity, and had an open-plan work-space to monitor and survey work rate. Areas for rest and relaxation were removed and consequently social interaction was limited, impacting on opportunities to share views. Fake treats and rewards, such as ‘Colleague of the Week’, were used as a means of divide and rule, all while real benefits deteriorate.
The role of HR in implementing and enforcing the neoliberal agenda was also very evident across our workplaces. The use of jargon such as ‘work/life balance’, ‘stress management’ and ‘resilience’ is common currency across all sectors. These terms serve to embed the view that mental health is an individual responsibility and to disconnect our well-being from the context of an increasingly stressful workplace. The deterioration of working conditions, increased isolation, lack of control, the disciplining power of management and the weakening of collective power all impact very negatively on our mental health. Finally, we talked about sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, and how it might have changed with the #MeToo moment, though some commented that there is still a real gap in support and services for women facing sexism at work.
However, a positive step forward from this discussion was the recognition that we have such a commonality of experience in the workplace. We also made some suggestions on ways forward. For example, many people suggested making links with other workers on our own level, building relationships that might lead to unionisation, and resisting the tactics of the ‘friend boss’, who tries to get workers to identify with their employer in order to get more work from them. Together we can identify areas where gains might be made, learning from writers like Jane McAlevey to help us organise inside workplaces with a weak or non-existent union (a problem in almost all of our workplaces).