Strike4Repeal - A Call to Action this January

Date:

Strike4Repeal launched in January 2017, it exists currently as an ad hoc group of pro-choice activists, academics, trade unionists, artists and students. We directed a single demand towards the government: a national strike would take place on the 8th March unless a referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Constitution was called.

In December, we in Strike4Repeal came together once more to announce that a second strike action will take place if it becomes clear during Dáil debate that full abortion access will not be legislated for or if there is no straight repeal question on the ballot in the upcoming referendum. [ Video ] [Audio]

Strike4Repeal on 8th March 2017 defied the expectations of many. The strike was a success with over 12,000 people taking part in strike action in over 50 places across Ireland and internationally. Actions on this day were self-organised by local activists within their own areas, and much of the success of strike is owed to organisers who took initiative to engage in direct action locally. Stalls and demonstrations were held across the country to mark the day of action. In Berlin, London and across Europe, various actions and protests took place with some occurring outside of Irish embassies. Demonstrations were held in cities across the US, Canada and Australia. Students in every major university in Ireland organised walkouts. O’Connell Bridge was blockaded by over 6,000 protesters and held for over three hours, seriously disrupting the capital.

Autonomous organising and radicalism were the key ingredients to the success of Strike4Repeal on 8th March and they will be key factors in the success of Strike2. Although the political landscape has changed vastly and we have seen significant progress since March, the need for radical direct action has not dissipated. The Citizens' Assembly and Joint Oireachtas Committee has proposed liberal reforms to our abortion laws and while Strike4Repeal welcome these recommendations, we feel they do not go far enough to ensure there is full abortion access for all those that need it after 12 weeks. There is also no guarantee that these recommendations will be implemented. The UN, World Health Organisation, Citizens’ Assembly and numerous other international and domestic human rights organisations have repeatedly told the Irish state to legislate for full abortion access yet this has not happened. It is only via direct action we can ensure that our demands for a straight repeal question in the referendum and full access to abortion will be met.

The significance and urgency of this action cannot be underestimated. This is our final chance to organise and influence debate before referendum wording is finalised, and our timeline for such an action is tight. From current indications it appears the debate could happen over three days. If the deadline for a May referendum is to be met then the debate and vote will take place between 16th and 31st of January.

Taking this into account we will be holding a Strike Assembly outside the Dáil on the final day of debate. We will be gathering at Leinster House and we’ll be monitoring the debate to make it known that any watering-down of our demands will not be tolerated. No specific date has been announced for debate or for the vote, and we recognise the challenge this poses to those who wish to organise and participate.

We are asking people, firstly, to attend the Strike Assembly outside the Dáil but also to be ready, prepared and pledge to strike at short notice sometime within the 16th to the 31st January if the debate and subsequent vote goes badly. Participation can take many forms such as wearing black, taking a day off work, withdrawing from domestic labour or taking part in a form of protest. We ask that people sign the Strike4Repeal supporter’s form; wear visible support or share a pledge on social media; organise a show of support in your local area; talk to friends and family about the issue. It was a grassroots movement that was responsible for the success of Strike4Repeal on 8th March and it will be a grassroots movement and all those who pledge to strike who will be responsible for the success of Strike2.

A clear message was sent to the government on International Women’s Day. It showed there can be no doubt surrounding the strength of our movement or the number of people sufficiently angry and motivated to participate in a direct action in the pursuit for full abortion rights. With this, Strike4Repeal has marked a distinct shift in tone of the abortion rights movement in Ireland and has given a space for anger to be expressed through a direct action. An act of civil disobedience of this scale is new for our movement, and has captured the political imagination of the thousands that autonomously organised and participated within their own local communities, universities or took part in blockading O'Connell Bridge.

The decentralised and non-hierarchical structure of Strike4Repeal keeps in line with strong anarchist and feminist traditions. A great deal of trust is required on the part of organisers, that people can and will organise without the need for instruction from a central committee. There were a number of factors that were effective in raising the political consciousness of all involved in Strike4Repeal and contributed towards making it one of the most memorable pieces of pro-choice activism to occur in Ireland and internationally in recent memory. Firstly, the radical tone of the strike was fresh and new, and has been seldom seen in the abortion rights movement in Ireland. The radical nature of the action reflected the feeling of frustration among participants. Secondly, providing people with the concept of a social strike as a method of action resonated with many; how it differs from a traditional union strike and how it works to connect different facets of labour both inside and outside the workplace. Lastly, activists were given the autonomy to organise according to their own capacity. Local activists know their local communities best and as organisers they have the final say on what particular strike action has the greatest chance of success.

An important feature of Strike4Repeal, as with any strike, is the emphasis on workers’ rights and the fact that abortion rights are workers’ rights. In a novel and recent study commissioned by five trade unions, the Alliance for Choice and the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment, over 3,000 trade union members from five unions (Unite the Union, Unison, Mandate Trade Union, the CWU and GMB) both north and south of the border were surveyed. It stated that over 20% of workers have direct experience of abortion; of those with direct experience 73% did not disclose it to their workplace. Other issues cited by those affected by abortion in the workplace were stigma, advice and support, time-off and sick pay. Within the context of Strike4Repeal, taking a day's leave from the workplace is an important act of solidarity for all those that are required to take time off work to travel outside of Ireland for an abortion or those that take abortion pills at home. Whilst also acknowledging that withdrawing from domestic labour in the home for a day is also a radical and participatory action in itself.

Need Abortion Ireland (NAI) operate in a similar vein, with an emphasis on direct action. NAI are a group of activists that contravene law to deliver an essential health service that the state neglects to provide. They work with Women Help Women to provide information, advice and financial support for people who wish to procure a medical abortion in Ireland. Their tone is that of solidarity and support, and their focus is on desperately needed service provision opposed to political lobbying. Much like Strike4Repeal, the manner in which Need Abortion Ireland operates is the anarchist method of working outside the state to enact change, doing what is right rather than necessarily what is legal.

Even if Joint Oireachtas Committee recommendations are enacted through legislation how widely will they be implemented in practice? The HSE is an extremely strained health service that is already struggling to provide elective procedures without massive waiting lists. If medical abortion is left in hands of GPs (a more preferred option) will conscientious objection become an obstacle for those wishing to obtain a medical abortion, as has been case in other European countries? Considering the above, the service NAI provide could still be extremely necessary for many in a post-repeal environment, and brings need for decriminalisation to the fore. Decriminalisation – something UK abortion activists are still fighting for – would mark a step forward allowing NAI and those who wish to procure an abortion at home with pills continue to do so without risk of prosecution. Thus begging the question: even if a legal precedent for abortion is set do we trust the Irish state to make it accessible to all those who need or want it?

Pledge your support for Strike4Repeal. Rights were never won by asking politely, it is only through radical and direct action that our demands will be heard and met. We will not let constitutional clauses or restrictive wording sabotage our chances for a straight repeal and full abortion access. No more debate, we won’t wait.

Pledge2Strike form: https://tinyurl.com/y7nxszz9
Strike Assembly event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/322845051455332/

Like what you're reading?
Find out when we publish more via the
WSM Facebook
& WSM Twitter