When Women Stop - Everything Stops

A huge crowd of women taking part in a general strike in Iceland

Report on the women's general strike on October 24th 1974 in Iceland.

Submitted by Fozzie on June 4, 2024

On 24 October 1975 the women of Iceland stood together and proved a point to the whole world. For 24 hours they withdrew their labour, took a "day off"—to show everyone how important, how fundamental their work was in the home, on the farm, in factories and offices and schools. They showed how nothing could work unless they worked. They proved that when women stop, everything stops.

The choice of the date (UN Day of International Women's Year) was not so important as the fact that a date was chosen. Once it was set, the work of the strike committee, formed at the Women's Congress in June, was to make sure that every woman knew about the date. This they did through a circular letter entitled "Why a Day Off for Women?"—see opposite [below] (they sent out 47,000 copies to an adult female population of 60,000); through the sale of 25,000 stick-on labels and 5,000 posters; through announcements in news-papers, on the radio and on television.

Once the word was spread, the response of women was almost unanimous - 90% took the day off in Reykjavik, the capital, and 99% in towns and villages. Schools and shops were closed because the majority of workers in these places are women. Operator-assisted telephone calls were impossible. Airline schedules were disrupted. Newspapers were not printed because most typesetters are women. (One report says that some typesetters did work early in the morning to set the news of the strike — and then they left to join it.) Theatres closed—among others, actresses joined the strike. Banks and businesses were crippled because not only were the women absent, but men had to mind little children either at home or in the office. Most farm and factory work had to stop.

The women of Iceland disproved something that all the "experts" on labour struggles are fond of saying: that housewives cannot strike or that if they did they wouldn't hurt anyone but themselves and their "loved ones". For Iceland—and elsewhere—that notion was destroyed. Industry and business were hurt. Women and children were not, and men didn't suffer by not going to work!

October is a cold month in that northern country, but on the 24th 25,000 women gathered in a central square in Reykjavik. It was the biggest meeting Iceland had ever seen. In Akureyri, the largest town in the north, 1,000 women met in a hall for a day of songs, speeches, stories and talk. Other towns and villages had similar events.

In Reykjavik they marched into the square behind an all-women band playing an old suffragette song. Women who have been in smaller demonstrations can imagine how thrilling this one must have been. Not only was it large—it was unanimous. It was not a matter of some women demonstrating and others watching alongide men, but of nearly the whole female population on the move.

After the two-hour programme in the square, the women could not just go home. They stayed out, some with babies at breast and many with their elder daughters (what daughter could forgive her mother's leaving her out of such an experience?). They went to Open Houses and ate together, sang and talked for the rest of the day. Feminist materials from other countries were on display. A network of stewardesses and other female staff who work for Icelandic Airlines had brought them for the Day Off.

A general strike is the crest of a strike wave. This general strike didn't come from nowhere. The strike call was loud, but it was only taken up because it was heard by women who'd been fighting every day. Fighting for better pay and for nurseries, fighting to get men to help in the house, fighting for money, for more power over their lives.

Some of these struggles involved actions that are known publicly as strikes. Other struggles by individual women withdrawing their labour in individual homes are like local strikes, though they may not be "recognised" as such. These strikes, we all know, go on everywhere—in every country. It is precisely because of these constant struggles that a general strike is possible.

Iceland was the first time we know of when women refused all aspects of their job, childminding, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and the outside job, all at once. In other countries some women who heard about the strike said, "It couldn't happen here." But they were saying the same thing in Iceland before it did happen.

Never before had there been so general a general strike. It included the woman from the fish canneries and the full-time housewife whose husband was in business; the farmer's wife and the telephone operator. So-called general strikes of the past have ignored the woman who goes on working in the kitchen. Not only have they not seen her work, but the success of the strike has depended on her working even harder. But in Iceland women left their kitchens and this action showed what a general strike really is.

Only when women stop does everything stop.

OCTOBER 24th 1975


The Women's Congress, held in Reykjavik, June 20 and 21 1975, urges women to take a day off on October 24, the United Nations Day, in order to demonstrate the importance of their work.

Why was a motion like that put forward and carried at a congress where women of all ages and political parties were assembled?

The reasons are many and here are but a few:

  • Because when someone is needed for a badly paid low-status job the advertisement specifies a woman.

  • Because average wages of women in trade and commerce are only 75% of the average wages of men doing the same jobs.
  • Because the principal negotiating body of the Icelandic Trades Union Congress has no woman representative.
  • Because the difference between the average monthly earnings of women and men labourers is Iceland kr.30,000 (approx. £100 or $200).
  • Because farmers' wives are not accepted as full members of the Farmers Union.
  • Because it is commonly said about a house-wife "she isn't working—just keeping house".
  • Because there are men in authority unable or unwilling to understand that day nurseries are a necessary part of modern society.
  • Because the work contribution of farmers' wives on the farms is not valued at more than Iceland kr.175,000 (approx. £500 or $1,100) a year.
  • Because whether an applicant for a job is male or female is often considered more important than education and competence.
  • Because the work experience of a housewife is not considered of any value on the labour market.

The general conclusion is that women's contribution to the community is underestimated.

Let us demonstrate to ourselves and to others the importance of our role in society by stopping work on October 24th. Let us unite in making the day a memorable one under the theme of the International Women's Year:


Executive Committee for Women's Day Off.