Not One Less

One month ago, women in Argentina walked off work to demand an end to violence, fair pay, and full reproductive rights.

A #NiUnaMenos protest in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 3, 2015. Colectivo La Luz

One month ago, heavy rain drenched all of Argentina. But the weather didn’t deter hundreds of thousands of women, all dressed in black, who marched in a general strike against patriarchal violence.

“We strike,” their organizers said at the march’s end. “We, housewives, workers in the formal and informal economy, the teachers, the cooperativistas, the academics, the laborers, the unemployed, the journalists, the activists, the artists, the mothers and daughters, the maids . . . we are women, trans people, lesbians.”

The national one-hour industrial action, followed by a massive street protest, was called in response to rising violence against women. Using the hashtags #niunamenos, #paronacionaldemujeres, and #vivasnosqueremos — “not one less,” “women’s general strike,” “we want us alive” — it was planned in less than six days in response to the brutal murder of Lucía Pérez, a teenager who was drugged, raped, and tortured before being killed in the coastal city of Mar del Plata.

But the strike also put a broader set of demands on the country’s agenda, and its echoes are now visible across Latin America. It participates in the new Purple Tide — so named because feminist groups identify with that color — a movement attempting to address capitalist patriarchy.

In the last month alone, twenty-three women have been murdered in Argentina, demonstrating an obvious uptick in gendered violence. But the movement wants to address the issue beyond the narrow limits of law enforcement. The first mass action against gender-related crimes took place in June 2015 where organizers put forward a list of demands to the state and citizens designed to confront patriarchy at all levels.

Argentina has a long history of feminist activism. This new upsurge stems primarily from the Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres, held yearly since 1986 in rotating cities and organized by self-organized working groups. New initiatives emerged from these meetings, including the national campaign to legalize abortion that started in 2003.

The campaign includes more than 350 organizations fighting for legal, safe, and free abortion in public hospitals — an essential demand in a country where a woman dies every two days from illegally administered abortions. Political parties and Congress still refuse to debate the issue.

What’s more, the movement denounces President Mauricio Macri’s austerity-oriented government and the sexism embedded in the labor market and the state. Argentina’s political and judicial system subordinates women’s issues under its male-dominated leadership. The “Purple Tide,” s0 called because of the color the protesters are donning in the streets, wants to dismantle the way social and state agendas are built, calling for remedies that address issues beyond gendered violence.

A little-discussed aspect of these marches, for example, is that participants are making many work-related demands. Argentinian women — like women everywhere — have higher rates of unemployment and informal employment and take on 76 percent of unpaid domestic work. According to the country’s official employment numbers, women work, on average, two hours more per week while earning 27 percent less than men.

The strike’s demands included higher and equal salaries, an end to precarious and informal labor, longer parental leaves that include fathers, workplace nurseries, and effective prosecution in cases of workplace abuse, violence, and discrimination.

The organizers presented their demands to the government, but also see Argentina’s official labor movement as a problem. Right now, union leadership is trying to suppress protests against the new government and backing the Supreme Court’s decision to only allow unions with state recognition to call strikes. This rule not only takes stop-work actions away from nonunionized and outsourced workers — of which women are the vast majority — but also requires workers to seek their union leadership’s approval before acting, diminishing rank-and-file power.

The court decision, made in June, would make workplace walkouts — which have a long tradition in the country — all but illegal. The political motivation came from the independent industrial actions that have risen against the growing number of layoffs following Macri’s election.

As a result of the ruling, the Ministry of Labor has encouraged prosecuting left and independent union leaders while establishing a “dialogue table” with the all-male leadership of the General Confederation of Labor (GCL) — the principal trade union federation in Argentina. The group would also solicit guidance from the Catholic hierarchy strengthening patriarchal conservatism in the state and labor movement.

The Purple Tide is fighting against the country’s rising misogyny and austerity. The women who participated in the one-day strike have challenged the trade unions’ monopoly over strike tactics, male control of leadership, and the labor movement’s male-dominated agenda. Hopefully, October 19 is just the beginning.