The first state-wide meeting of Libres y Combativas – the socialist feminist platform launched by the Sindicato de Estudiantes and Izquierda Revoucionaria (CWI in Spanish state) was a great success.
Ever since, one year ago, we flooded the classrooms with revolutionary feminism to call a general student strike on 8 March, Libres y Combativas has become a fighting tool of hundreds of student activists and working class women. All this drive and enthusiasm was reflected in the attendance at our first state-wide meeting on 24 February: more than 220 people attended – workers, students, and representatives of women’s collectives etc, met to discuss the ideas of anti-capitalist, working class and internationalist feminism. The meeting hall, Casa de Vacas del Retiro in Madrid was too small for us!
People attended from Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Valencia, Andalucia, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Madrid … from more than 30 different locations. Comrades also attended from England and Wales, Ireland, Belgium and Germany who gave an international dimension to our Meeting.
The day was divided into three discussion panels: 1. Revolutionary Feminism and class struggle. 2. Sexuality, reproductive rights and LGBTQ and, 3. The international struggle against sexist violence and the oppression of working class women. Throughout the day dozens of comrades took the floor in a day of excitement, emotion and above all inspiration.
Our feminism is working class and revolutionary
The whole meeting was electrifying. And if there was one idea that went through all the interventions, it was that women are oppressed, but not all women are equal. To our gender oppression we add our class oppression, and as working-class women we have nothing to gain from having female bosses instead of male bosses, which is why our struggle is anti-capitalist. As Barbara Areal pointed out when she opened the first panel on revolutionary feminism and class struggle: “All our rights were achieved in the struggle, in demonstrations and in strikes, that is why our feminism is one of struggle. Our emancipation as oppressed women will not be conquered in parliaments.”
And this idea was made very clear by the representatives of women in struggle that we could hear first-hand: from the PAH anti-evictions movement, the “espartanas” striking Coca-Cola workers, the Kellys cleaners, and many more.
All these women, in the front line of battle against sexist violence, workplace exploitation and precariousness, against PP cuts and the policies of big business and bankers, inspired us with their moral strength and commitment, but above with how we all saw our struggle reflected in the struggle of others. Their testimony was a confirmation of the brutal oppression suffered by women in the capitalist system, and how our liberation is part of a much broader struggle to transform society. As Coca-Cola worker comrade, Gema Martin, said in her greeting to our meeting: “Women are not aware of our size until we stand up.”
In this first debate we also discussed our historical memory: we are heirs of a long tradition of combat led by anonymous women, like the workers who rose up in the 1930s in the revolution which responded with arms in hand to fascism. Later, we suffered the dictatorship that crushed all our rights. “The repression in the Franco era was not only physical but it went through all the pores of society: through the power of the state, of legislation, of the church, of the family model …” explained Coral Latorre from Barcelona.
We could not leave out an open denunciation of the role that the Catholic Church plays in perpetuating our oppression. The same Church that supported the dictatorship, which continues to enjoy omnipresent control over education (90% of state-funded private education is in church hands) where it maintains a pulpit to spread all its sexist, homophobic discourse. As Miriam Municio explained: “The hierarchy of the Church is a machine of terror, involved up to the neck in sexual abuse of minors and in the cruel theft of babies. All in connivance with and unpunished by the State apparatus”.
It is not only the church which wants to control our sexuality, the system makes huge profits with our body, as the comrades explained about the fight against the contraceptive drug, ESSURE. Their testimony was especially heartbreaking. They are women who decided not to be mothers again and suffered genital mutilation, the loss of fallopian tubes or even their uterus after experiencing a calvary of side effects. All for having been deceived and having using an unsafe contraceptive implanted in their bodies by the pharmaceutical company, Bayer, to fatten their profits in collusion with Social Security. What they demand is justice and compensation and “to choose to be mothers or not without anybody profiting from our sexuality”.
We must also underline the intervention of Hannah Sell, a leading member of the Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales) and member of the CWI International Secretariat. In a very powerful speech she denounced Trump’s misogynistic politics, and explained the character of the current rebellion that millions of women are carrying out in the US and throughout the world, as part of a global struggle against predatory capitalism and its institutionalized violence against women.
Our body, our decision!
Under the capitalist system, women’s bodies are just another commodity: endless horrors such as prostitution, pornography and the purchase of babies through the renting of wombs are the direct consequence of this. Our position is clear: our body, our decision! The exploitation of women can not be reformed, only abolished. This was the subject of the discussion in our second panel: sexuality, reproductive rights and LGTBQ+, introduced by the comrade Mónica Iglesias from Asturias.
An Irish comrade from ROSA (Reproductive Rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) explained to us the wonderful fight against the 8th amendment to the constitution that bans abortion, with mass mobilizations in the streets which have provoked an great social convulsion. However, in addition, ROSA’s comrades have promoted organized civil disobedience, obtaining and distributing safe abortion pills to women who needed them. The current situation is that the movement has forced the right-wing conservative Irish government to hold a referendum on the right to abortion and surely we are in the run-up to a great victory for the revolutionary feminist movement.
There were also interventions dedicated to the LGBTQ fight. We defend, loud and clear, that we want the right to be what we are! So that the LGBTQ struggle is not assimilated by the system through “Gay Pride” being turned into a lucrative party for entrepreneurs, we defend a revolutionary struggle for freedom of sexuality and demand to be heard and to assert our rights. This March 8, the demands of the LGBTQ struggle will be present throughout the day of feminist struggle.
Working class feminism is international!
The third panel started after lunch. It seemed impossible to improve on what we had already experienced, but the international dimension of the women’s struggle further broadened the perspective of the discussion. The introduction was given by Ana García, general secretary of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (Students’ Union). After her, comrades and guests from Honduras, Belgium, and Germany took to the stage to explain the mobilization around the globe.
Gema Martinez of the Honduran Community in Madrid, opened her speech explaining that “violence against women is epidemic” in Honduras: a woman is murdered every seven hours, a woman goes missing every day and a woman is raped every half hour, giving a measure of the situation of poor women in Latin America. But as the comrade from Germany informed, in the other pole of the world, in an advanced capitalist country where the working class resulting from the struggle has achieved a greater “welfare state”, working class women are also very far from equality, and they are exploding struggles against precariousness and low wages in which women are the protagonists.
An important feature of discussion on this panel was the denunciation of the triple oppression of migrant women and their children: oppressed as women, workers and foreigners. Comrades Oumaima and Omama from Barecelona made a brilliant presentation of the daily life of the women of Muslim origin in the Spanish State. How the system tries to raise prejudices by reason of place of birth and race to divide us. But we fight against them, and against that false “liberation” of forcing women to take off the hijab. As the comrades pointed out: “those who really oppress us are the people who discriminate against us. Asking a Muslim woman to take off her hijab so as not to suffer sexism is like asking a black woman to wear white makeup so as not to suffer racism or asking any woman not to return home alone at night so that no one rapes her.” “We fight so that any woman can decide what she puts on or takes off without suffering for it!”
The rhythm of the interventions was tremendous, but when the comrade Susana Guerrero took the floor all the assistants were moved and indignant. A victim of paedophile violence and of a bourgeois justice system that instead of imprisoning the abusers lets them go unpunished, the testimony of Susana shook our hearts, but inspired us like no other, seeing all of her strength and determination to defeat the injustice of which she is a victim.
The social rebellion which workers and young people are leading threatens all spheres of power. That is why Susana Guerrero, Juana Rivas, the victim of the the “La Manada” gang rape, and so many other women that the system tries criminalize in the courts and the media, are for us an example of the feminism that we want: not an armchair feminism of posing and posturing, but feminism that can liberate us as poor and working class woman, oppressed and subjugated by the patriarchal sexism of the capitalist system.
This meeting has shown the vitality and strength of Libres y Combativas, and amplifies our intervention in the run-up to the feminist strike on 8 March. A strike against systemic and institutional violence against women, against wage inequality, for our reproductive rights, against the sexist and homophobic propaganda of the Catholic Church, against the objectification of women, against prostitution and the slavery of our bodies, against sexist and patriarchal justice …
A strike in which millions of women will declare war on the system, against the right and its allies, against those who cut our social and democratic rights, against the parasites that exploit us every day. And in this great mobilization we will welcome our male colleagues from study centres and workplaces who want to join in with us and make our movement stronger, precisely because we do not want them to be strike-breakers but to take full consciousness that this is also their fight and the fight of the entire working class, youth and oppressed.