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Global Women’s Strike—Struggles and Celebrations
Since the new millennium, women around the world have chosen International Women’s Day to promote the Global Women’s Strike against No Pay, Low Pay and Overwork, demanding that governments Invest in Caring, not Killing. This year brought successes for caregivers in two South American countries, and ongoing struggles for women worldwide.
Two unlikely Global Strike partners, Welfare Warriors of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Laborers Voice of Nazareth, Israel united in street actions on March 8 to protest Wisconsin’s welfare program, W2, which took effect in 1997 in Wisconsin, but invaded Israel in August 2005. In both Wisconsin and Israel mothers are forced to work at private companies and non-profits for no pay in exchange for their families’ basic survival income from the government.
This year Welfare Warriors chose to strike at Maximus, one of Wisconsin’s private W2 administrators, who also run “The Wisconsin Plan” in Israel. The Warriors protested against W2’s increase in the numbers of mothers working for no pay (workfare) and decrease in women’s wages overall as tens of thousands of women take any job for any pay to avoid W2’s mandated unwaged work. Global Strikers exposed the failure and danger of W2 which graduates the majority of its clients—single heads of households--into temporary and part-time jobs, with 81% earning wages far below the poverty level.
After spreading its no-wage, low-wage, anti-woman practices around the US, Wisconsin’s welfare program crossed the sea to Israel. Four private corporations, including Maximus, run Israel’s “Wisconsin Plan” which forces mostly Arab moms to work off their “Family Income Supplement” at 30 hours of unwaged work each week.
On International Women’s day, the Laborers Voice protested again Nazareth’s Wisconsin Plan. Since it began in August 2005, it has already terminated 940 families’ income supplements when mothers were unable to abandon their family responsibilities for 30 hours of unpaid work. (Moms often care for both elders and children.) Parents must leave their children when the youngest is two. No childcare is provided or available. Children often accompany their moms to the “Wisconsin Center.” Similar to Wisconsin’s W2, the Wisconsin Plan in Nazareth forces women to travel miles away to pick up garbage, clean prisons, or dig potatoes—all for no pay. In one Kindergarten, the paid cleaning personnel were laid off after the kindergarten requested and received forced “volunteers” to do the cleaning.
At their March 8 protest the Nazareth moms were also mourning the first fatality under the Wisconsin Plan. Just two days earlier, a married father of four children became sick while at the Wisconsin Center. He requested medical help or permission to leave. The caseworker told him he could not leave until he had completed his 6 hours of required activities. He died on his way home.
While the 2006 Global Women’s Strike saw women in Wisconsin and Israel struggling to end low wage and no wage work, moms in Venezuela and Argentina were celebrating monumental victories. In recognition of their work in the home, the poorest Venezuelan homemakers, in particular single mothers, will receive a monthly income equal to 80% of the minimum wage, or about $180. 100,000 women will be paid in June, and another 100,000 in July. Eventually half a million women will be paid. Homemakers in Argentina will now be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits without having paid into the Social Security fund.
In this new millennium the world is beginning to recognize and value women’s hidden contribution to society as caregivers and homemakers. Hurray!
Let’s Take Action:
Did you know that 50% of homes in New Orleans still (mid November) have no electricity? And NO public schools and NO public housing is open--2 and1/2 months after Katrina? Did you know that the feds/ FEMA are NOT releasing funds because the city, state and feds still have no "PLAN" in place? So 100,000 folks in Houston, 80,000 in Baton Rouge and 60,000 in Atlanta can not return. Remember how all those poor people had to wait on rooftops for days, while the disabled and elders died? And everyone had to wait for help for a week because there was no "PLAN" for their evacuation? HMM... STILL NO PLAN. Not even the poorest, most low-tech countries are unable to provide electricity to their people for three months after a hurricane. This is open warfare on the poor to allow the rich to carry out an instant land-grab around the French Quarter.
Now is the time for activists across the country TO TAKE ACTION to save New Orleans from instant gentrification. We have an unprecedented unity of perspective among progressive peoples. We agree that the slaughter of New Orleans’ low-income communities was not some backward US “incompetence” nor merely an act of mother nature. The US has more than enough technological expertise and economic resources to protect our people from Hurricanes, even hurricanes exacerbated by global warming. No one doubts that massive instant aid would have been provided if the people on rooftops or in nursing homes were white people with money. And they would never have been forced to live in sports stadiums hundreds of miles from home.
We also agree that the levies were intentionally “sabotaged” by the federal government’s slashing of $71 million for their maintenance. (There IS disagreement on how much direct sabotage may or may not have been involved, but that is not important.) We all know that experts— and even published articles — had predicted this exact devastation for four years. Our “leaders” had plenty of time to prepare for the storm with an evacuation plan--for everyone-- and shoring up of the levies. But instead they chose to do the opposite.
Since we know that this not-so-natural disaster is being used to facilitate a modern land-grab and an escalation of the war on the poor, what can we do? We know that the mass media shamelessly promoted racist distortions of the poor community’s alleged criminal response to the crisis. We’ve watched in dismay as our government arrogantly gifted no-bid contracts to monster billionaire corporations like Halliburton, Bechdel and Maximus —despite their histories of fiscal corruption and human abuse. We’ve been sickened to learn that these billionaires will be allowed to pay LESS than prevailing wages to workers rebuilding New Orleans, thanks to another blatant federal government intervention.
It’s time to move beyond charity and bitching. The African American, bi-racial and white people in poverty who have been so violently abandoned and violated will never be able to return, reclaim and rebuild their communities without support. And that support will not be coming from billionaires like Halliburton and no-sayers like Maximus. On the contrary, the corporate mission is to reclaim the miles around the French Quarter, for the wealthy white population.
I propose the creation of brigades of volunteer workers and watchers from across the US. They would assist New Orleans neighborhoods, organizations and individuals who want help rebuilding—and provide witness to the actions of the corporate billionaires, the military and the police. Political groups and churches could organize these buses of both skilled and unskilled workers, coordinating efforts with groups in New Orleans. The US has organized similar brigades of volunteer workers during the Civil Rights campaign and to Israel, Cuba, and Guatemala (witnesses).
By taking action to STOP the land-grab in New Orleans and STOP the no-sayers of public benefits, we will also be sending a message to our leaders. They will learn that the US people will TAKE ACTION to stop billionaire corporations from ruining our government and pushing our country into ugly racist warfare on poor families, the disabled, and struggling workers.
Pat Gowens, Editor
Call to Action on TANF!!
There is still time to contact your senators. Let's FLOOD them with demands for "Justice in TANF"!
is still time to affect the TANF re-authorization bill (HR 4) which passed
the House in February. The Senate TANF bill is in the Senate
Finance committee, The vote on it has been postponed TEN TIMES. But it
will probably be voted on in September 2005. The House bill (HR 4) would only allow three months education to
count as work for women on TANF, despite their need to support their
families singlehandedly. Instead of allowing education, the House bill
would allocate $1.5 billion to states to train and "educate"
moms to marry. And the House bill would require single moms on TANF to
work off their TANF checks at 40 hours a week!