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Justice in the Home: Domestic Workers Re-define the Labor Movement

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Domestic workers march for their rights. Photo by Flickr user Nuevo Anden.

Largely working isolated in people’s private homes, the exploitation of domestic workers has been well documented throughout history. But with the passage of New York’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010, the tide is beginning to turn. Workers are now organizing in California and other states to win basic rights and protections long denied to this labor force. Along the way, they have had to come up with creative solutions to systemic challenges.

Special thanks to Georgia State University Library’s Southern Labor Archives, Special Collections and Archives Department. Interview conducted by Chris Lutz with Dorothy Bolden on August 31, 1995 in Atlanta, GA.

Featuring:
Ai-Jen Poo
, National Alliance for Domestic Workers director; Priscilla Gonzalez, Domestic Workers United director; Premilla Nadasen, associate professor of history, Queens College; Dorothy Bolden, former domestic worker; Jill Shenker, National Domestic Worker Alliance field director; Jessica Lehman, Hand in Hand organizer; Rachel McCullough Jews for Radical and Economic Justice organizer; Katie Joaquin, Filipino Advocates for Justice organizer; Mario de Mira, Filipino Community Center organizer.

—WEB SEGMENTS—

History of domestic worker organizing
While the Oscar-winning film “The Help”, set in 1960s Mississippi, put domestic workers in the national spotlight, workers have been fighting for basic rights and living wages in their workplace for more than a century.

Filipino caregivers in California
There’s an estimated 2.5 million domestic workers nationally, almost 5 percent of whom are Filipino. A majority of them live in California and work as private caregivers to the elderly and the sick. Just like housecleaners and nannies, caregivers have also been
subject to abusive work conditions. But some caregivers have started organizing to demand the rights they’ve lacked. Making Contact’s Lisa Bartfai has more on this story. A note to our listeners: the names of the caregivers you’ll hear from have been changed to protect them from possible retaliation.

 

Domestic workers create new models of organizing
As in the past, today’s “help” works mostly isolated in other people’s homes. They have historically been left out of the labor movement and many have seen them as unorganizable. And with all the challenges domestic workers face, they’ve had to look outside the traditional ways of organizing. On the way, they’ve formed some unlikely alliances.

For More Information:
National Domestic Worker Alliance
Domestic Workers United
Urban Justice
Department of Labor NY State
California Labor and Workforce Development Agency
International Labor Organization
Mujeres Unidas y Activas
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Filipino Community Center
Filipino Advocates for Justice

Articles:
Behind Closed Doors: Working Conditions of California Household Workers
A Boon for Nannies, if Only They Knew
Domestic Workers Organize!
Who Profits from the Brain Drain? The Philippine Labor Export Policy
OFWs will be Philippines’ biggest export in 2010
The Decision to Exclude Agricultural and Domestic Workers from the 1935 Social Security Act

Books:
Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy

MUSIC:
Anak by Freddie Aguilar
Making Pies by Patti Griffin
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round by Sweet Honey in the Rock
Working Class Hero by Greenday
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize by Mavis Staples
Crazy With the blues by Peetie Wheatstraw

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