Thousands of low paid workers will strike for 8 minutes 46 seconds across the USA today. There will be solidarity strikes in the UK. The basic demand is for 15 (£/$) an hour and union rights. This is the day: Monday 20th July 2020! The speakers at the rally last night were: an Activist from Strike For Black Lives in Missouri USA, Selma James (Global Women’s Strike), Wilf Sullivan (TUC) Asad Rehman (War On Want), a fast food worker activist from South London.
This is a shout out in solidarity.
This movement is reborn and restrengthened during the Covid-19/SARS 2 Pandemic and this is significant. The cry for racial justice linked to economic justice is linked to the demand ‘No return to Normal’. It is the surge of rebellion that arose as George Floyd was choked to death and continued with the toppling and dumping of the Colston statue in Bristol. It is gathering. Last night Selma James reminded us that it is a women’s struggle and Rebekah A said she couldn’t believe that she had omitted to say this. Of course. The vital link.
I remember reading Selma James pamphlet demanding wages for housework in 1972 when it was first published and the storm of controversy within the women’s movement that it caused. It implied that women were mainly responsible for domestic work! Or perhaps it didn’t. Shouldn’t we be breaking down this useless division of labour? Anyway, there she was last night radiant as the moon and clear as a bell.
Of course the strike is happening at dark moon. The new moon rises in cancer today at 13.32 EST (New York time)/18.32 BST (London time). You don’t see the new moon you feel it in the depth of your being. The swaying to and fro of death and life, the mood shift, the dread, the unaccountable hope. This time is resonantly connected to the coalition of human women who created the basis of our species’ life. At dark moon in our origins hundreds of thousands of years ago when the predatory night-sighted big cats had the advantage in the hunt and the humans collected themselves in polyphonic singing to big up the numbers and embolden their souls, when the rhythm of human being was pulsed through the menstrual synchrony with the moon, the dark time of blood loss and the second chance, the birth of language, laughter and deceit. All this beautiful work of reproduction – this time when the miracle of human birth and nurturing was the priority, when growth was not enumerated on a hedge fund bankers device but was the delight in the human wit of the young – is still our goal and our blessing. If you want to know more about this story find out of the work of the Radical Anthropology Group.
Nobody can mistake that the origin of racism and the use of racist ideas/insitutions/structures lies in the desperate competitive urge to reduce the cost of (re)-producing labour. It is women who produce labour. So it is the devaluing of care and nurturing. This function of caring, of real work, is racialised in our poor rich world. But nobody can be deluded by the impact of racism on poor white people. Or can they?
(Of course I was lucky in my teens I learnt most of what I knew from songs so when Bob Dylan sang his song about the Civil Rights movement ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’ and I listened to it in 1964 when I was 15 I just thought: Yes that’s obvious:
A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin, ” they explain
And the Negro’s name
Is used, it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game
But think about it. An English chap called Thistlewood who kept a diary of his time in Guyana on a plantation where he boastfully wrote about the inventive tortures he devised to terrify the enslaved workers also recorded 4000 rapes he committed against enslaved women. (if you want more details and reference to this story look at David Olusoga’s brilliant programmes ‘Profit and Loss’ and ‘The Price of Freedom’). The issue of crushing down the cost of producing labour through racism is deeply connected to the direct physical oppression of women. Men’s power is only their power over women. This is ‘power’ in our system. This is symbolic and actual. Of course this means that men’s power (production dominating reproduction) is really the power they took from women. They took it institutionally. This is the system we live in. This is the system we have to change. We need another system. It might not look like a system. The women in the People’s Assembly online rally for solidarity with the Strike For Black Lives kept talking about the feeling they had that they were making history. All true historic change is really unthinkable. It’s like the new moon, unseen but felt.