For Randi Weingarten, “raising our families is real, but so are our challenges, like sexual harassment on the job” and unequal pay for equal work. For Jean Ross, the chaos in the U.S. health care system is real – and the Republican revisionist health care plan would make it worse. And for Rosa DeLauro, the women’s strike is real – but so is the fact that millions of U.S. women couldn’t afford to miss work to join it. All that led the two union presidents -- Weingarten of the Teachers and Ross, co-president of National Nurses United – to lead the D.C. section of the National Women’s Strike, March 8. DeLauro, the veteran congresswoman and women’s rights advocate, spoke. The strike, the second of two marches that day in the nation’s capital, drew almost 1,000 women, plus some male supporters, into the streets around the U.S. Labor Department. The earlier pro-choice march drew even more, and confronted the White House, people said. Read more below
Besides the Teachers (AFT) and NNU, members of the Government Employees, Jobs With Justice, the Postal Workers, the Communications Workers, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, the Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Bricklayers marched.
And they made their demands known, through speeches, homemade signs, T-shirts and chants. “Woman workers united will never be defeated,” was a frequent one. “We won’t give up,” a sign said. And “What do we want? One fair wage. When do we want it? Now!”
The D.C. action was buttressed by teachers from several school districts. Their administrators closed for the day because their predominantly female teaching and support staff planned in advance not to show up. Participants also came to D.C. from Detroit, Pennsylvania and DeLauro’s home, Connecticut.
The marchers, like those elsewhere in the U.S., made clear they had a twin agenda. One part was to campaign for equal pay for equal work, a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour and abolition of the lower “tipped minimum” of $2.13, an end to sexual harassment, or worse, on the job, and the right to organize.
The other was to strike back at the anti-woman actions and attitudes of the Republican Trump administration and its GOP congressional allies, including their new health care plan. That plan, if enacted, could restore insurer discrimination against women, among other things.
And, as Weingarten pointedly said, the best route for woman workers is to organize.
“The power of collective action is real,” she told the crowd. “The way we gain power is in collective bargaining and at the ballot box. Women in unions earn 31 percent more than women who aren’t in unions, and women of color in unions earn even more” in a percentage gap “than that.”
As for the foes, Trump included, Weingarten added, “They want to stop our power because they don’t want any checks on their power…That is why we will resist and persist.”
“We’re looking not just for economic justice, but for health care justice and safety on the job,” Ross added in an interview. NNU is also campaigning “against officials who put private profit above public health and safety,” she told the crowd. Despite the small crowd, she said afterwards, the strike “will be successful if it gets media attention, because people will take note” of the problems it addresses.
Ross conceded her union would “would support not doing away with” the Affordable Care Act, which the GOP wants to repeal and replace, at least for now. “But we don’t have a health care system in this country,” Ross declared. “So we need Medicare for all.” Her red T-shirt made the same point, adding jobs and Social Security preservation as NNU’s goals.
That wasn’t the only goal. “I stand here today for millions of women who couldn’t afford to take the day off. We need paid sick and family leave and paid child care,” said DeLauro.
March 8 marches both in the U.S. and abroad were peaceful, if pointed. They included:
• New York City participants paraded from Columbus Circle to the Trump International Hotel in midtown. Organizers then sat down in front of it “as a form of civil disobedience” and were peacefully arrested.
• Before the D.C. protest began, at least 10 female Democratic U.S. House members, all wearing red in solidarity with the marchers, walked out for a speech on the Capitol stairs.
“We walked out today for ‘A Day Without a Woman’ to send a clear message: That we stand with our sisters across the country who have walked out in defense of equal rights for women,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “We are raising our voices for the millions of women who can’t.”
• Some businesses, notably NARAL Pro-Choice America, closed down in solidarity with their staffers. Others suffered as female workers stayed home.
• While U.S. women wore red, those overseas wore black. They were in solidarity with Polish women whose general strike last year – which idled half the country – forced the right wing Polish government to drop a planned near-total ban on abortion.
- Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer; photos by Korey Hartwich, NNU