Domestic Workers Rising Up

In a piece for Z Magazine, Elizabeth Martinez relates the story the first National Domestic Workers Congress that took place over the summer:

Four days in June 2008 marked an unforgettable challenge to those conditions: the first National Domestic Workers Congress, held in New York City. Over 100 workers representing 17 organizations from 11 cities shared stories of abuse and struggle in various meetings and workshops. The women spoke 6 different languages and had emigrated from more than 15 different countries—primarily Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and India.

… Domestic workers had first come together in numbers across the U.S at the 2007 U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, forming the National Domestic Workers Alliance. It included Domestic Workers United in New York, Casa de Maryland, Damayan in Washington state, Filipino Workers Center and CHIRLA from Los Angeles, Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), POWER (People Organizing to Win Employment Rights), the Women’s Collective of the Day Labor Program at La Raza Centro Legal, and others in the Bay Area. Its goal: to build power as a workforce nationally. A work plan was adopted and a committee selected.

The June Congress demonstrated a new strength. Ai-jen Poo described the gathering: “It was great to have workers from new places­—Houston, Miami, San Antonio, Seattle, Denver. Some groups were just getting started. The first day was a lot of learning from each other and two tracks of political education: one on history, including slavery, and the second on gender and sexuality. The next day in a plenary we discussed different types of domestic worker organizing around the U.S. and then met with allies who want to organize around basic issues like war, global warming, the elections—it was important to connect our issues with larger issues.

“We had a march with 500 people to press for passage of the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. In November 2008 a Democratic majority was elected to Congress in New York for the first time in 40 years, which changed the landscape of the campaign, observers said, and hopefully promised change in that state. This summer, workers from Casa Maryland scored an important victory in Montgomery County with the passage of the Household Workers Bill of Rights. It requires written contracts that spell out wages and benefits for nannies, housekeepers, and cooks working at least 20 hours a week, standards for living quarters for live-in employees, and fines for employers who violate the law.”

Read the whole piece here.

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