[AUDIO] What Would/Does a Feminist Labor Movement Look Like?

All too often, both in the mainstream and within the left, feminism and the labor movement are portrayed as “separate spheres,” two different movements that have different sets of concerns. Of course, this is not true now (nor has it ever been), but the narrative sticks.

To counter this narrative, Dissent contributor Sarah Jaffe gathered a group of feminist thinkers, writers, activists, and organizers whose work is done through the labor movement. They discussed organizing among teachers, fast food workers, domestic workers, and communities; the rise of the service economy and the decline (or outsourcing) of manufacturing, and the role of gender in all of these jobs. They called for a feminism of shorter hours, for an interrogation of the ideas of independence, dependence, and interdependence, and the need to redefine the idea of work itself.

Listen to the panel here:

Our panelists:

Sarah Jaffe (moderator), co-host of Dissent magazine’s podcast Belabored, independent journalist, and author of “Trickle-Down Feminism.”

Jennifer Klein is professor of history at Yale University and a co-director of Yale’s Initiative on Labor and Culture. She is the author of Caring For America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State, co-authored with Eileen Boris. Her previous book on health care, pensions, and the politics of security is For All These Rights: Business, Labor, and the Shaping of America’s Public-Private Welfare State (2003). She is co-editor of the journal International Labor and Working-Class History. Her articles have appeared in The New York TimesNew Labor ForumDissentLabor NotesDemocracy, and CNN.com. She has been active for over a decade with New Haven’s community organizing-labor coalition, working with Connecticut Center for a New Economy, Unite Here, CORD (Communities Organized for Responsible Development), and New Haven Rising.

Premilla Nadasen is a historian and activist who writes about welfare, domestic work, labor and social movements. She works closely with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and is currently writing a book on the history of domestic worker organizing.

Emily Giles is a high school science teacher in the south Bronx who has been in the classroom for ten years. She is a founding member of the UFT rank and file opposition caucus, MORE. She is also a member of the International Socialist Organization and contributor to Socialist Worker.

Olivia Leirer is the Communications and Social Media Director at New York Communities for Change, a community-based, member-led organization fighting for social and economic justice in low and moderate income communities throughout New York State. Her focus is putting the voices and stories of working families at the front of our movement and integrating new technologies into organizing. Olivia is a proud alumna of Antioch College where she studied Creative Writing and Gender Studies.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.


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