Gender & Sexuality
This is What Socialist Feminism Looks Like
Pan y Rosas is a socialist women's group in several countries around the world. This article focuses on the rise of Pan y Rosas, Argentina.
July 24, 2017
A group of all male workers went on strike in solidarity with a trans woman’s right to use the bathroom at the company. Workers at Kraft foods engaged in a work stoppage against a manager who sexually harassed a female co-worker. And on March 8 of this year, there were work stoppages at a PepsiCo factory, as well as among teachers and airport workers in honor of International Women’s Day. These are all struggles that Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses), a socialist feminist women’s group has been a part of and helped build in Argentina— a feminism that is rooted in and mobilizes the working class for the rights of women, as well as for the rights of workers and against other forms of oppression.
What is Pan y Rosas?
Pan y Rosas is a socialist women’s group that was born in Argentina and now exists in countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and the Spain State. We are grounded in the firm belief that only ending this system of capitalist misery can bring an end to the sexism that plagues the lives of women around the world. We fight for immediate democratic reforms and for the rights that are denied us today— the right to an abortion, the right to be paid a living wage and as much as men, the right to not be beaten, raped and abused. But, we do so with the full knowledge that real liberation for women is not possible within capitalism, so we organize for socialist revolution. We believe that the working class is the revolutionary subject— the group that can crush this whole capitalist system and the group that can rebuild from the ashes of capitalism, a new socialist society. We believe that the working class, united with the women’s movement, and the movement of other oppressed people- Black people, indigenous people, LGBTQ people- is an unstoppable force.
Pan y Rosas seeks to be a socialist wing within the broader Argentine women’s movement as well, pushing the women’s movement to connect with the working class and taking up working class demands. We also push the women’s movement to understand that the capitalist parties, even the post-neoliberal parties like Kirchnerismo are not the way forward for women. After years of Kirchnerismo in power, Argentina still doesn’t have the right to an abortion, the same way in Brazil after years of the workers party, there still is no right to abortion.
Initially, women from the PTS (Partidos de Trabajadores Socialistas, Party of Socialist Workers) were writing a book about women’s rights entitled “Pan y Rosas” in 2001. That year was characterized by massive unemployment, inflation and government instability, laying the conditions for a movement of unemployed workers known as “piqueteros”. In December of that year, there were huge mobilizations and riots by workers and sectors of the middle class. The militants of the PTS were particularly inspired by the women of Brukman, a factory abandoned by the boss in 2001 and then taken over by a predominantly female workforce. Throughout the first few years when the police constantly attempted to evict the workers, the PTS was always on the front lines with them, chanting things like “Aqui estan, estas son, las obreras sin patrón” (Here they are, these are, the workers without a boss) and “Brukman es de las trabajadoras, y al que no le gusta, se joda, se joda!” (Brukman belongs to the workers and if you don’t like it, go fuck yourself).
In 2002, PTS workers were involved in the takeover of Zanon, the ceramics factory in Neuquen. There, they organized a women’s commission in the factory, organizing women workers as well as their partners and families. Brukman and Zanon were part of a wave of factory takeovers in the early 2000s where workers refused to accept that their factory would shut down and instead, took it over and began producing. At a national conference for recovered factories, women of several organizations, as well as independents began participating in a women’s commissions, addressing the needs of working class women.
In general, the Argentine left hardly spoke about women’s issues in the early 2000’s. Feminist discussion was confined to the university and workers and leftist groups rarely took up women`s issues with any seriousness or weight. Pan y Rosas was born out of the need to articulate Marxist politics that address and fight for women’s rights. Rather than advocating for a separate women’s movement, Pan y Rosas emerged out of a need to articulate women’s rights within the upsurge of workers mobilizations. Simultaneously, Pan y Rosas also engages in the women’s movement with a working class, revolutionary socialist perspective.
In 2003, Pan y Rosas participated in the National Conference for Women for the first time. This conference, which has been going on for 30+ years, brings together women and feminists from all over the country. The Pan y Rosas delegation was only 40 women at this conference, where we and other women demanded the right to free and safe abortions. At the last Encuentro de Mujeres in October, Pan y Rosas brought 4,000 women from all over the country to the meeting.
Pan y Rosas at the most recent national women’s conference.
Pan y Rosas, which means bread and roses, got it’s name from the Bread and Roses strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts where women organized a strike to protest wage cuts. We find the demands for bread and roses to be a powerful one. We demand our rights as workers, for increases in wages, less working hours etc. We demand our rights as women— the right to childcare, the right to an abortion, the right to not be harassed in the streets. We demand leisure, the right to spend time with our families or by ourselves. We demand our right to a full life— the right to bread, as well as the right to roses.
Pan y Rosas is organized by militants of the PTS but is a group that also includes people who are not militants of the PTS. It is a group for women, but we constantly seek to make connections with our male comrades in the workplace and universities. We reject TERFism (Trans-exclusionary radical feminism) and organize with and for the rights of trans people.
Since the founding of Pan y Rosas, we have continued to deepen our involvement in the Argentine working class, as well as in the university. I want to give a few examples of our involvement in the working class, where we seek to mobilize people for women’s rights.
Read the Pan y Rosas International Manifesto.
Pan y Rosas in the Working Class
Pan y Rosas seeks to set up women’s commissions in factories and workplaces around the country. These commissions include women workers, as well as the spouses, mothers and daughters of male workers. These kinds of commissions date back to strikes organized by the IWW that helped set up women’s commissions and serve the purpose of helping women participate in labor struggles, get politicized, and connect with other women who are affected by labor struggles. It is meant to break the isolation that many women feel in the home, engaging in housework and childcare alone or with little help, and to bring the problems of the home to a collective space, seeking to remove “women’s work” from the home and bringing it into the public sphere- where it can be addressed in a socialized manner.
In Argentina, Pan y Rosas has helped set up women’s commissions in several workplaces. In Kraft, for example, this women’s commission helped organize a work stoppage after a female worker was harassed by a manager. This worker had initially gone through the internal channels to launch a complaint and was suspended from her job because of the complaint. The night shift decided to go on a work stoppage until the manager was removed, which he was, all of five hours later.
The women’s commission was also organized with the wives of male co-workers at Donnelly’s a printing factory that was put under worker control in 2014. Women were a central part of supporting the initiative for worker control, participating in the pickets and seeking community support for worker control. Many of these women later became workers in the factory. A daycare center was set up for the children of workers from 5 am- 10 pm. These workers attend the Ni Una Menos and the March 8 protests, as well as organizing workshops for men within the factor to discuss sexism.
Pan y Rosas Argentina and Women's Strikes
Pan y Rosas, a socialist women's group organizes thousands of women in Argentina. In this video, workers and students discuss women's strikes and the need for women to fight back. Come hear about Pan y Rosas- Argentina and strikes for women's rights at the Left Forum.
SATURDAY June 3rd Session 4: 5:20pm - 7:10pm in room: 1.81
Publicado por Left Voice em Sexta, 2 de junho de 2017
Ni Una Menos and Pan y Rosas
The women’s movement in Argentina today has been shaped by the mass Ni Una Menos movement that brought thousands of women to the streets throughout the country. Ni Una Menos is a phrase that was born in Mexico, where the bosses, the government and narco are complicit in a system of femicides of women who work in the maquilas.
Femicide is not specific to Mexico, and soon Argentine feminists took up the slogan after several highly publicized femicides took place. At the first Argentine Ni Una Menos protest in 2015, 300,000 people protested in front of the National Congress. Since then, there have been protests of hundreds of thousands every year— sometimes more than one per year.
Pan y Rosas see femicides as the last link in a long chain of violence against women that is legitimized and reproduced by the state. In Argentina, the right to an abortion is not legalized, the same as in most Latin American countries, leading to the deaths of thousands of women. Just last year, there were huge mobilizations for the release of Belen, who was a woman who was accused of homicide after having an illegal abortion. Despite the government paying lip service to fight domestic violence, these programs are underfunded and women who suffer domestic violence have little or no help from the state. Like in the US, when a woman is a victim of some kind of sexist violence, she is re-victimized by the state— the cops, the courts and everyone who tells her she is lying, who don’t listen to her, who say it was her fault. This is in addition to the institutional violence that is poverty.
Due to these mass Ni Una Menos protests, there is support and consciousness of the women’s movement within the working class. As a result, on International Women’s Day, work stoppages and strikes were organized in various sectors in Argentina. At the PepsiCo factory, work stoppages began at 5:00 am, based on a vote by a workers’ assembly called for by the shop floor committee, which stands in opposition to the current union leadership. At the Buenos Aires airport, LATAM airlines workers stopped check-in services, once again bolstered by assemblies organized by the opposition to the union leadership. Teachers had engaged in a massive protest and work stoppage just a day before March 8th and many sectors of teachers put up a fight in the union to also strike , many times successfully, as was the case in Buenos Aires. Women from Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses) formed part of the oppositional caucuses in both of these work stoppages, and along with other male and female coworkers, were integral in the fight for a strike on March 8.
PepsiCo and Ni Una Menos
The PepsiCo factory in the province of Buenos Aires is one of the most radical factories in Buenos Aires- one of the few places that has engaged in multiple work stoppages in support of women’s rights. With the leadership of members of Pan y Rosas, the shop floor committee led a struggle against subcontracting, for longer maternity leave and for better work conditions.
At the end of last month, these workers were informed that the factory would be closing, leaving 600 employees jobless. These workers, mostly women, decided to occupy the factory in defense of their jobs and later, were violently evicted by the police.
Solidarity with PepsiCo Workers!
Six hundred PepsiCo workers in Argentina have been fired and their factory was closed. They are currently occupying the factory, despite lack of support from the union.
Read more about their struggle here:
Publicado por Left Voice em Sexta, 30 de junho de 2017
Many of these workers see their fight for their jobs as part of a fight for women’s rights. Ni Una Menos also means fighting against the PepsiCo closure, they argue. Katy Balaguer, a leader in the factory wore a jacket to the 30,000 person protest that read Ni Una Menos Sin Trabajo (Not one more without a job).
Fighting Sexism, Homo and Transphobia Advances the Working Class
Pan y Rosas is a group organized by PTS (Party of Socialist Workers) militants, as well as people who are not in the party. However, Pan y Rosas is not the only group within the PTS expected to fight against patriarchy, homo and transphobia— it is taken up by all militants. We believe that these struggles against oppression, when taken up in the workplace, represent advances for the working class. An example of this happened in the factory MadyGraf, which has been under worker control for the past few years. Before the factory was under worker control, the bosses only hired men to work in the factory. Then, a worker came out as a trans woman, but the bosses did not allow her to use the women’s bathroom. The workers at the factory organized a work stoppage to defend her right to use the women’s bathroom and to show the bosses that the workers would stand up against transphobia. As a worker from the factory said, “This experience helped us advance the consciousness of many individual workers, as well as the collective consciousness of the workplace, that decided to face off against the bosses about an issue that generally gets swept under the rug in factories.” A few years later, this factory was under worker control. Many of the people who had advanced the idea of a work stoppage in support of their trans co-worker were militants of the PTS, who despite not being in Pan y Rosas, engage in regular discussions and political actions about sexism, patriarchy, homo and transphobia.
Pan y Rosas and the FIT
Women’s issue are not confined to workplace struggles or the feminist movement. Rather, the PTS seeks to address women’s issues on a mass scale in every aspect of militant work. This includes addressing women’s issues in elections. The PTS is one of three parties in the Left and Workers Front, which runs in elections- not because we believe that we can elect our way to socialism, but because it is a platform for us to reach millions of people. We have one member in national Congress, and over a dozen people in state and local legislatures. We seek to use those seats to denounce the capitalist parties and to support and bring attention to the struggles of workers, youth and women. Importantly, all of our elected officials receive the same salary as a teacher and donate the rest to workers’ struggles.
In the Presidential election, Nicolas del Cano, the candidate for the PTS, was the only person to bring up abortion rights in the nationally televised debate, although there were women who were also running for President. He and all other FIT members of local and federal legislative bodies address women’s rights. We are co-sponsors of a project for a National Emergency plan against violence against women, a replacement of weak protections under a plan that was under-funded and did not give an immediate response to victims of violence. Del Cano proposed to create short-term housing for victims of domestic violence, as well as provide government subsidies to help women buy a home paid for by taxes on the wealthy. The FIT proposes that workers who are currently employed and suffer domestic violence be able to take paid leave off of work. It proposes that women have access to professionals who can offer counseling and help.. This is just one of the proposals put forward by the FIT to address violence against women.
The PTS goes further to discuss women’s issues in relation to all aspects of the program. For example, in the most recent midterm elections, the PTS proposes a campaign for a 6 hour work day and a liveable minimum wage. One of the ways we discuss this campaign is in relation to women’s issues and the societal imposition of a double shift for women— one at home and one in the workplace. This is a political ad for Myriam Bregman, who was previously the vice presidential candidate.
Socialist Feminism and the Working Class
Sometimes when people in the United States hear about dynamic left movements in other countries, we think it’s both amazing and impossible to do the US. People think it is impossible because the union bureaucrats are too entrenched, because the working class is too defeated, because the state is too strong, because socialists are so weak and so on. All of that is true. Organizing in the US is no easy task.
However, there is nothing magically left about Latin America or any other region of the world. There were work stoppages on March 8th in Argentina because of the patient organizing of the left within the working class. Pan y Rosas started out at 40 people and now, has grown to 4,000 at the last Encuentro de Mujeres. It used to be 40, but now it fights in workplaces around the country for the work stoppages, for women’s rights and for the rights of workers. We must take up those lessons in the United States— that organizing independent of the capitalist state and of capitalist parties is the only way forward.