The people who headed up the Women’s March on Washington a few weeks ago (hereinafter Marchers) now have a strike in the works. They should think carefully before starting.
A strike is not the same thing as a protest. A strike matters because it interferes with material production. When there’s a strike at the North Pole, the elves stop making toys. If Santa Claus has no toys, kids stop leaving him cookies. This forces Santa Claus to negotiate with the elves so they will go back to producing.
If the elves’ strike succeeds, it is for two reasons. First, the elves cooperate with each other. If just a few quit working, they only make more work for the working elves, then get fired by Santa Claus. Second, the elves make something that people want before the strike. People miss their product when it disappears. If the elves only made knockoff Barbies with pre-snarled hair before the strike, or if not enough elves quit working to make a real dent in production, their strike won’t work.
Women’s Strike Problem One: Worker Cooperation
The first problem is uniting the workers for the strike. Things at the shop are so bad that the great majority of workers have agreed to take the risk of refusing to work. They can only help themselves by helping each other, sharing the risk and making the line together. Crossing picket lines betrays a fellow schlep, and the evidence is that there’s a picket line to cross.
Feminists would like to make scabs out of women who disagree with them or have more pressing duties than activism, but what if there are more scabs than strikers? So if there were 6 million Marchers on January 21, that leaves more than 310 million Americans who didn’t show up in DC or at their nearest local march.
Let’s say ten people wanted to march for every one who did, which makes 60 million “Wish I Could Marchers.” We still haven’t collected enough people to bargain. We don’t have enough strikers building a picket line the remaining workers would hesitate to cross (and in real life, picket lines are made of people, not wishes). In these right-to-work days, we couldn’t even makeshift an effective union. Enough workers are enough satisfied to keep the shop open.
Women’s Strike Problem Two: Material Production
What kind of shop are we talking about here, anyway? That’s the Marchers’ second problem. Committed contrarian Janet Bloomfield analyzed the male and female U.S. workforces a few years ago and reached this conclusion: “If women took the day off, with the sole exception of NURSES, nothing would happen. No one would die. The world would continue to function. The hair salons and primary schools and retail clothing stores would close, and the male management structure would have to find some way to answer their own phones for a day, but essentially, nothing would happen.”
Bloomfield details what the world would look like if Atlas shrugged, using numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s worth the read. Men overwhelmingly work in the places that keep the sine qua nons of contemporary life operational. They have the jobs that generate and deliver our electricity and gas; they build and maintain the robots in our kitchens and garages; they take out almost all of the trash; they run die Herz Maschine und die Moloch Maschine; and this list could go on for a long time.
But if Atlas’ concubine doesn’t show up for her job (which she has a hard time describing but involves a lot of social media platforms and the word “facilitator”), and Atlas’ sister boldly cancels her classes (while leaning on her advisees to don stupid hats), and Atlas’ mom doesn’t put his birthday card in the mail, Atlas isn’t going to care.
We’ve Tried This Before to No Effect
The March itself was an informative trial run for the proposed strike. Every person who marched that day was not at her/his/zeir job (paid or unpaid), but the gears of civilization failed to grind to a halt. Planes took off and landed, appendixes were removed, sewage left our houses and never came back. The only people who missed the Marchers were those with whom they share domiciles.
To be fair, the March was on a Saturday. Lots of people have Saturday off. But there was also a women’s strike the day before (you got it: Friday). That day, 7,408 women refused to work. The number of oppressors they brought to the negotiating table has not yet been reported.
A stronger women’s strike effort was hostessed by Betty Friedan on August 26, 1970 (that was a Wednesday). Twenty thousand strikers showed up in New York, while other strikes were held around the country. Do you remember the stock market catastrophe that day? Do you remember the gridlock on every interstate, and how there were no cornflakes for weeks? No, because they didn’t happen.
The most significant economic impact of these events was probably the amount of travel and hype they generated. The absence of all those Marchers or strikers from their normal tasks on each of those three days failed to depress the systemically sexist GDP. Them being offsite from their normal work did not shut down the shop. Donald Trump filled his sleigh with racist toys and put them in stockings all over Michigan and Pennsylvania.
That means the events didn’t work as strikes. One day of absence from work brought no significant material loss to anyone higher up.
The Economy Isn’t Smiling, It’s Just Gas
The workforce has enough women in it that if they all agreed not to show up, there would be a noticeable public impact. The difficulty from a striker’s perspective is that most of the work women do would still get done.
The day women don’t show up for work would be the day women take care of their own kids, make their own lunches, and wash their own dishes. If they kept not coming to work, a lot of unemployed men would get jobs, a lot of made-up jobs would get un-made-up, and a lot of women would move back in with their parents. The economy would technically shrink, but the greater impact would be its reconfiguring. An extended exodus of women from the formal workforce would primarily amount to an undoing of the tangled job-trading women do with each other.
The day men don’t show up for work, however, will be a trial run for Armageddon. It will be cold and dark; there won’t be phones, TV, or Internet; and people will yell at you if you open the fridge. If men kept not coming to work, the only people happy would be preppers.
So, Marchers, consider. If you call a strike, make it a real one. It needs to halt production. It needs to cripple the economy. It needs to empty the bellies of the overlords and make them beg for the sweet music of your demands.
Traditionally, strikes last longer than one day. In the absence of a union, strikers don’t get paid, so you should factor that in. Skilled nurses will be key, but I don’t have any great leads after that. I am genuinely curious to see if you can get it done.