Women Workers Continue to Struggle Against Exploitation and Oppression Amidst the Ongoing Pandemic

Indian women protesting India’s agricultural laws

The International Women’s Alliance recognizes May Day as an important day for workers around the world to fight the system that keeps them, as well as most people in society, exploited and oppressed. Today marks the second time the International Workers’ Day has been celebrated in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. Over one year of lockdown and repression to quell the impact that has been felt by all workers around the world, especially women, who face a unique position in the global economy compared to their male counterparts due to the additional impacts of patriarchy.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already rotten conditions experienced around the world – the global economy has begun to crumble at a faster rate as the pandemic has heightened the impacts of capitalism and imperialism. COVID-19 has impacted women due to our unique position in society around the world. Patriarchy limits women’s participation in the workforce, but still requires women to support their families. Because of this a majority of women work in what is often referred to as the “informal economy”. This means women are more likely to work in roles such as domestic service, street vendors, nannies, etc. The informal economy is marked by insecure positions which do not offer paid leave or the ability to work from home. In fact, women make up 80% of domestic workers, and 72% of domestic workers have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

Migrant workers stuck in Mumbai because of a lockdown lining up for food.

Women who are part of the working masses faced a decrease in working hours – one UN report found that 53% of women experienced reduced work hours as compared to 31% of men. Additionally, as nations sought to limit the impacts of the pandemic through regulations such as school closures it is estimated that 1.54 billion children, including 743 million girls, stayed at home. As women are often primarily responsible for children, many faced a new expectation of leaving their jobs or juggling responsibilities while also serving as teachers and supervisors of their children full time. The gross neglect of the demands of domestic life led to women leaving the workforce – as of June 2020, based on a sample of 55 countries, there were 321 million women compared to 182 men (1.7 times as many women as men) outside the labor force.

While women workers suffered,  the concentration of wealth in the hands of the capitalists increased as they continue to amass massive profits despite the pandemic. Among the ranks of global billionaires, ten are women and one half represent women living in the United States – the current throne of imperialism. One such woman is Alice Walton who is the heiress to the Walmart fortune. One year into the Pandemic – Walmart topped the revenue list of Fortune 500, with a registered profit increase of 123.1%, reaching 14.9B USD. While Walmart boasts that 57% of their workforce (as of 2012) are women, they are also known for poor workplace practices and limiting benefits and exploiting workers to increase profits. Alice Walton’s billions are stolen from the hundred of thousands of women and men who work for minimal wages and are exploited as she and her family amass great wealth. 

Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founding Sam Walton

Amidst a wave of job losses and a crash in the economy, multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos, saw a spike in this pandemic era boom as CEO of Amazon. Jeff Bezos ex-wife and heiress to the Amazon empire, MacKenzie Scott, boasts a net worth of over $64 billion dollars, making her the 3rd wealthiest woman in the world.  Meanwhile, millions of women worldwide live in poverty conditions. Amazon’s carbon footprint is such a travesty, that it intimidates workers, lowers wages, busts unions, and ensures precarity. The corporation also pays scant tax bills. In 2019, Amazon paid just 1.2 percent federal tax on its U.S. profits; the prior two years, it paid none.  Although organized labor efforts in Bessemer, Alabama, a majority of whose warehouse workers are black women, was not able to get the majority vote to unionize, global pressure from international strikes in the UK, Italy and Germany continue to expose Amazon’s ruthless schemes to get away with massive labor violations with impunity.

Due to increased adoption of flexibilization and contractualization schemes by multinational corporations, labor conditions have become more and more precarious, leaving many workers at risk to suffer extreme labor conditions, high rates of economic exploitation and lack of economic security.  Because of the harsh reality of the lack of jobs in the formal economy and neoliberal schemes that further exploit the workers,  women and other marginalized communities, especially in the LGBTQ sector, have no other choice but to enter into the sex trade industry for survival.  Engaging in sex work is already part of the precarious labor market due to lack of protections, social service and a stable economy to meet their needs.  Many sex workers, expecially those who are forced into sexual slavery and trafficking are subject to further violence, sexual exploitation and at a higher risk for contracting the corona virus as well as other sexually transmitted diseases in addition to further upholding the patriarchal attitudes that subject sex workers to commodification.  

In the U.S., racial injustice and equality has risen during the pandemic, especially towards black, brown and Asian communities, who are at increased risk from COVID-19.  Communities have been relentless in their call to denounce police violence towards our black communities as massive BLM protests sparked an international movement against police brutality and racism. In most recent months, there has been a rise in asian hate crimes, including the fatal shooting of 8 massage parlor workers, 6 of whom were Asian women.  

Not only has the state failed to address the pandemic with a holistic approach to increased social services and equitable healthcare for its people, it has responded with more police repression and brutality often treating perpetrators of this violence with impunity.  This culture of white supremacy has had long standing impacts on our communities of color, amidst a backdrop of increased repression by the state, leaving the poor, working class and migrant communities most prone to receiving the brunt of this violence. Women of color are especially vulnerable as they lack the kinds of social services and protections needed to ensure their safety and survival in an increasingly volatile time of the pandemic. 

While women face unique challenges as workers, IWA asserts that this adds to, rather than limits, our revolutionary strength. As we join together with all workers in our homelands and around the world we are able to decisively challenge the current neoliberal imperialist domination of the world. With women workers in the fight for liberation, our fight and determination is unstoppable! 

IWA and its member organizations continue to confront their class enemies and clamor for change.  Women continue to be on the frontlines in the workplace, facing extreme conditions and struggling to survive for themselves and their families. We draw inspiration from the women in India who continue to rise up in protest against Modi’s new agricultural laws. We draw inspiration from the women in the Philippines, who continue to call for the ouster of Philippine President of Rodrigo Duterte and denounce the ongoing extrajudicial killings and warrantless arrests. We draw on inspiration from the women in Myanmar defending their rights and civil liberties against the military coup over their government.

IWA calls on all women to push back and fight to change our situation and oppression. We call all women to struggle for our most basic rights and interests: from higher wages and employment regularization; to lower payments for social services (such as childcare, healthcare, and contraception); to health measures against Covid-19; and protections against state and domestic violence. We call on all our sisters all over the globe to unite against facism, imperialism and patriarchy, and to form organizations and unions of women, so we may struggle effectively for liberation for us, our families, our children, and our world.

On this, May 1, 2021, IWA recognizes the decisive power of workers and women to struggle against facism, imperialism and patriarchy and we applaud the struggle of women workers during the last year of the global pandemic. ###

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