By ERWIN FREED
Early in the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 30, Argentina’s Senate passed the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Bill in a 38 to 29 vote, with one abstention. President Alberto Fernández has stated he will sign this bill into law, legalizing abortion for the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The legislative victory is a concretization of the massive, decades-long struggle for reproductive justice and women’s rights in Argentina, represented in movements such as the Campaña por Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito—which has worked since 2005 for the right to legal, safe, and free abortion—and Ni Una Menos, begun in 2015. There are currently only three other Latin American countries with legalized abortion.
Women workers lead movement in Argentina
Capitalism everywhere enforces gender-based hierarchies through mechanisms that include sexist attitudes, violence, and reproductive control. Fights against “special” oppression are central areas of class struggle and can furnish the spark that lights even wider flames of an organized fightback. In Argentina, working-class women have taken their historic place at the head of the struggles against these conditions. While Argentine feminists have fought against the stranglehold of the Catholic Church and other paradigms of reaction for decades, the last five years have seen a massive upswell in proletarian participation, tactics, and internationalism.
The Latin American women’s movement was shaken awake by an ongoing wave of femicides in 2015, epitomized by the murder of 14-year-old Chiara Paez. Paez was killed by her boyfriend and his mom after becoming pregnant. Some 200,000 people, mostly women, demonstrated in Buenos Aires alone amidst region-wide protests that summer. The nascent mass movement found an independent organizational form in the Ni Una Menos collectives—coalitions of parties, organizations, and activists governed through open assemblies.
The modus operandi of the movement has been mass demonstrations, often convoking the language and reality of the feminist strike. In October 2016 a nationwide work stoppage was convened in protest of the killing of 16-year-old Lucía Pérez, the first of its kind in the country. According to the Buenos Aires Herald, the strike received immediate support from over 50 social organizations, such as the CTA, CGT, Ctera, Sipreba, Ademis, ATE, Sitraju and UTE trade unions. On March 8 of the next year, Argentina was home to one of the largest mobilizations in a collection of International Women’s Strike demonstrations that saw millions in the streets in the Spanish State and all around the world.
Democratic assemblies, theoretical sharpness, and mass participation of youth have given the Argentine feminist movement a fighting inclusiveness that is important to recognize. Along with demands for abortion rights and against gender-based violence, the movement has adopted a broad range of social demands. These are exemplified by Ni Una Menos’ program — which calls for separation of church and state, anti-carceral feminism, and trans rights.
A high level of consciousness and organized fights on the job and in the streets led to the government’s being forced to start an open discussion and vote on abortion legalization in 2018. The road to that vote was paved through hundreds of thousands of conversations, mobilizations, and, significantly, propaganda from revolutionary parties. In 2015, for example, the Workers’ Left Front (FIT), an electoral coalition of Trotskyist parties, garnered 732,851 votes on a program that included the demands of the feminist movement as well as demands such as nationalizing basic industry under workers’ control.
The 2018 legalization bill did not pass, but it did represent an essential moment in the accelerating struggle for reproductive justice in Argentia. The Pandora’s box of discussion about the real possibility of accessible abortion was opened. Tens of thousands had demonstrated during the legislative proceedings armed with green bandanas as opposed to a relatively minor showing of anti-abortion opposition. Bourgeois politicians, especially those of the ostensible “left-wing,” needed to appear friendly to the movement in order to retain “progressive” credentials.
That tension manifested in the presidential candidacy of Alberto Fernández. Fernández ran on formal support of abortion rights while his running mate, Christina Kirchner, had quashed multiple attempts to legalize abortion during her own time as president. Amidst a series of anti-worker actions and bills, Fernández is using the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy as a type of political maneuver to save face among his more left constituency. Within that legislation, there are a number of loopholes that allow “conscientious objector” exceptions, which empower anti-abortion health-care professionals and facilities to refuse to offer abortion procedures. Likewise, the legislation keeps abortions performed after 14 weeks, a truly arbitrary cut-off date, illegal.
Lessons of the victory for the global working class
While the specific legislation is distorted through the bourgeois channels within which it was created, abortion legalization in Argentina is a massive victory for all workers everywhere in the world. In the United States, where abortion is formally legal but often inaccessible to working people, the win shows that rights are won not through elections but through mass mobilizations of workers and the oppressed.
The rapid spread of green handkerchiefs (which has spread across Latin America as a symbol of the fight for women’s rights) and Ni Una Menos collectives, along with the powerful international women’s strikes, are both symptoms and cause of the new global conjuncture. In every corner of the world, the working class is beginning to rediscover its power and is testing its strength. From the massive mobilizations in Iraq to the Fuera Piñera movement in Chile and India’s largest strike in history, there is a definite uptick in class struggle. All of these fights have been shaped by the participation of women and other oppressed groups; the need to directly fight all manners of capitalist abuse will become sharper as the class struggle itself deepens.
Lessons from the most independent, powerful, and working-class-based social movements need to be understood by activists who are serious in their commitment to creating social change. The recent Argentine experience shows the centrality of independent working-class organizations capable of mobilizing people to fight the bosses and their state. Along with this is the method of the united front, which brings together coalitions of action on a common basis through democratic discussion. Last is the international dimension of capitalism and the fights against it. Now is the time, with only years left before climate collapse, to internalize these lessons and to build the fighting organizations that can defeat capital, its state, and the repressive societies that they produce.
Illustration by General Strike Graphics