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Socialist Feminist Alternative in Russia spreads its wings

6thMarch – Women’s strike

The initiative taken by Socialist Feminist Alternative (SFA) in Russia to call for protests in the form of a one-hour strike or other action on the last working day before International Women’s Day has been an unmarked success with actions spreading from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in the west to Moscow and St Petersburg, with further action reported in Volgograd in the South, Yakutsk in the far north and even at schools in the Ural mountains. There were even reports of solidarity actions in Ukraine.

In Russia, March 8thhas been turned into a caricature of what it was originally meant to be. It’s the one day in the year when women are given flowers and champagne, only to return to work the next day to face workplace harassment, discriminatory wages and high levels of domestic violence, recently decriminalized by the Putin government. But as Aiten Yakubova explained when intervened on Radio Svoboda (Radio Liberty) – “8thMarch is the day of women’s struggle for their rights, and not as they keep telling us the day of beauty, femininity, tenderness and so on. We want to return its original meaning. We think the day is ideally suited to return to political struggle, to propose our specific demands to improve the position of women in society. On 6thMarch, the last working day, we are calling on all to participate in a one-hour protest strike. We are socialists and understand well that a strike is a powerful instrument which allows us to highlight our problems”.

She went on to outline the demands of the protest: to fight against domestic violence, against sexism at work and in the universities, for equal pay at work and in student grants - for a minimum of 300 rubles an hour in work and 15000 rubles a month grant. We also demand a change in the law of the domestic violence and crisis centres built in every region at state expense.

There was no expectation that the strike would have a mass character, but the call raised the confidence of activists across the country to take time out from work or study to explain to their colleagues and the wider public the problems they face and to organise. SFA supplied ample posters and leaflets to use in the process.

Particularly important the SFA call was supported, obviously by Socialist Alternative, but also by Community, the newly formed student union, the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers and the Moscow University Initiative group. All through the preparations stress was laid on the fact that this was not a strike just of women but of all who stand for women’s rights.

Needless to say, whilst the call obtained reasonable press coverage, it also attracted the attention of the state. In Blagoveshensk in the Far East, rather than spend their time fighting Coronavirus, the police spent the week harassing activists who were planning a picket in the city. In Kaliningrad in the West, activists were also harassed by police and two were hauled away to the police station. In Moscow, “Department E” stepped in to try and prevent any action. Part of the FSB (formerly KGB), Department E was set up supposedly to fight extremism and terrorism. Students at the Russian Humanitarian University were threatened with expulsion if they supported the strike.

Notwithstanding this, action was planned at 11 universities and three schools in Moscow. These include major universities such as Moscow State University where the management decided to occupy the place announced for people to gather as the place where they would hand out flowers to the female students. At the multi-site Higher School of Economics, protests took place in shifts. People at work sent solidarity messages and photographs.

Today’s success will be followed by individual pickets in the city centre on 8thMarch.

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