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Today we are fortunate to have a diary describing the current condition of domestic workers in Mexico. This is an issue which has received increasing attention in the last three years. A long-time activist in the Domestic Worker Movement, Irene Ortiz Rosen,  is the Co-Founder  and Director of Collectivo Atabal,  an organization of activists and  feminists formed to defend the rights, dignity and demands of domestic workers in Mexico City. She is also the Co-Author of “Así es, Pues” a socio-economic study of domestic workers in Cuernavaca. A recent emigrant from Mexico, she approaches the subject from a global perspective which emphasizes the class and anti-imperialist aspects of the struggle as well as its patriarchal nature.
 
In the world of labor, a large group of women whose work is the maintenance of the homes of others is largely ignored—domestic workers. According to the ILO, there are more than 52 million domestic workers in the world.

In almost all countries, domestic workers share the following characteristics:  1) invisibility; 2) migration; 3) low levels of education; 4) gender, ethnic and racial discrimination; and 5) the informality of their labor. These are all products of poverty.
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Domestic workers make up an invisible workforce because their work is carried out in the private sphere, that is, the homes of their employers. Their contract is verbal, their work is isolated, and their mobility is common.

Generally they are migrants, usually, within their own countries. This is the case for indigenous women  and women who come from rural areas in Latin America.  And as the gap in inequality grows throughout the world, in the poorest countries the phenomenon of migration (usually without papers) is growing beyond borders.  That is how they arrive to United States and Canada, by informally working as House Cleaning Personnel, Nannies and Home Attendants. In New York alone, we are talking about more than 200 thousand people who are working under disadvantaged conditions due to their Undocumented status.

Their discrimination is shared with nearly all women, and its logic corresponds to the subordination of women in a patriarchal culture. Within the patriarchal view of the traditional role of women, their work is an extension of the reproductive role, which is considered natural for their gender.  

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We should not forget that women in general, as housewives and mothers, perform domestic work without any pay whatever. Consequently, their work is not considered part of the national economy despite the fact that it makes up about 20% of the GDP. If a woman looks for waged work, she enters the labor market in a disadvantaged way; forty-five percent of women domestic workers receive salaries that are 10% lower than salaries received by men for the same work.

Global economic policies that have impoverished the majority of the world´s population have brought women in all countries into  the public sphere. The women working in the public sphere then need to hire a domestic worker to care for their children and home. However, because they, themselves, are not paid well, they are unable to pay a fair  wage, even if they value the services being performed by domestic help.

Out of an employed population of 42.6 million in Mexico, there are 1.58 million domestic workers. They make up the fifth-largest group of informal workers.
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The Mexican Federal Labor Law (LFT), in a brief chapter, only refers to domestic workers who live in the homes of their employers, "live-in workers,” and specifies two rights: the wage and the working day.  In Article 334, it says, “the pay should be 50% in kind (food and a room).” And in Article 333 it says, “they have the right to have necessary time to eat and to rest at night.” In practice this means that the wage is minimal and that the working day is 12 to 15 hours.
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In the case of “external” workers," their employers are typically members of the middle class and look upon this work as a “service of help,” sporadic and temporary.  The law does not specify  their labor rights.  Their only power is to negotiate their wages according to the current state of supply and demand in the labor market.  Occasionally, those who are valued on their jobs because they have been doing it for so long and those who are part of a union (some are unionized) do achieve better work conditions.

From my experience of 20 years as an organizer of this workforce in my country, I see similarities not only in the conditions of the work, but in the efforts and organizing strategies as well, in Latin America, in California, New York, Chicago and Canada.  

Labor union organization, as it is well known,  is almost impossible because domestic workers don´t work for a single employer. The attempts to organize the unions in Latin America, are almost symbolic, without recognition or force when facing the employers. They are more like social organizations.

Nonetheless, over the past 40 years, there have been organizations, each with its own character in each country. The principal demand is to stop “live in” which is the most exploited type of work.  There have also been addition demands, like regularizing the working day, receiving full pay for holidays and other benefits like the year-end bonus, vacation time and health insurance.
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The strategies implemented and agreed upon are based on  the sociopolitical and historical context of each country. In my work, emphasis is on the following strategies: 1) the search for alliance; 2) integrating oneself in social movements; 3) searching for solidarity and actively seeking the company of activists and advisers.  This includes, accepting and looking for donations, creating campaigns, editing publications, reaching the media, lobbying political actors, and most importantly,  educating workers about their rights.
In Mexico, the initiative began when activists pushed workers to unionize. There are also the personal goals of the workers affiliated with unions such as educating them about their rights, the acknowledgment of dignity in their industry, the improvement of their working conditions and their legal defense in abuse cases.
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Of collective achievements, I would like to point out the best known ones: The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights recently won after ten years of struggle in New York State; a federal deputy of indigenous origin in Bolivia who had been the leader of a domestic workers organization; in Brazil, a representative of a domestic workers organization to parliament, along with labor law reform and the recognition of a domestic workers union; In Uruguay, the syndicate achieved health coverage legislation, along with severance pay and a bonus on retirement. In Mexico, 20 years after activists began promoting the organization, an indigenous leader, is continuing the process of organizing in Mexico City.
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The most significant achievement is the adoption of Convention 189 by the ILO on June 16, 2011, which advocates for the dignity of work for domestic workers, along with the adoption of Recommendation 201, which sets the goal of guaranteeing dignified pay and working conditions for domestic workers around the world. At this point, however, only six countries have ratified the convention: The Philippines, Mauritius, Italy, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.

I want to conclude by emphasizing that with every achievement, the workers face new challenges that motivates them to keep on fighting. The Bill of Rights, in New York, now has the task of informing each worker of it's content and it's right to be followed. No more, no less.  It's a process that some must begin and others must continue in hopes that tomorrow things will be better for everyone.  

Originally posted to Anti-Capitalist Meetup on Sat Oct 05, 2013 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Hellraisers Journal, Sexism and Patriarchy, Invisible People, In Support of Labor and Unions, Anti-Capitalist Chat, and Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I wonder why the United States hasn't (6+ / 0-)

    ratified Convention 189.

    So many books--so little time. Economic Left/Right -7.88 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian -6.97

    by Louisiana 1976 on Sat Oct 05, 2013 at 03:26:30 PM PDT

    •  Good question. If you notice, the US is often ve (4+ / 0-)

      conservative on a number of pro-worker resolutions in the international arena. We don't want employers to be held accountable, especially when it comes to our undocumented workers.
      I'm sorry Irene could not be here to answer this question more thoroughly, but she is on a flight to Mexico tonite.

  •  and of course statistically, such work is excluded (5+ / 0-)

    as always from GDP increasing its invisibility and subordinating its value as "informal"

    We should not forget that women in general, as housewives and mothers, perform domestic work without any pay whatever. Consequently, their work is not considered part of the national economy despite the fact that it makes up about 20% of the GDP. If a woman looks for waged work, she enters the labor market in a disadvantaged way; forty-five percent of women domestic workers receive salaries that are 10% lower than salaries received by men for the same work.
    Measuring GDP
    GDP measures the monetary value of final goods and services—that is, those that are bought by the final user—produced in a country in a given period of time (say a quarter or a year). It counts all of the output generated within the borders of a country. GDP is composed of goods and services produced for sale in the market and also includes some nonmarket production, such as defense or education services provided by the government. An alternative concept, gross national product, or GNP, counts all the output of the residents of a country. So if a German-owned company has a factory in the United States, the output of this factory would be included in U.S. GDP, but in German GNP.
    Not all productive activity is included in GDP. For example, unpaid work (such as that performed in the home or by volunteers) and black-market activities are not included because they are difficult to measure and value accurately. That means, for example, that a baker who produces a loaf of bread for a customer would contribute to GDP, but would not contribute to GDP if he baked the same loaf for his family (although the ingredients he purchased would be counted).

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Sat Oct 05, 2013 at 03:31:04 PM PDT

  •  Got confused when I saw this. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annieli, NY brit expat

    Thot it was Sunday for a minute!

    Tip rec & repub X5

    labor tag added

    Great diary!!

    God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

    by JayRaye on Sat Oct 05, 2013 at 05:41:25 PM PDT

    •  Why did this appear yesterday? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JayRaye, annieli, Geminijen

      I had it set for Sunday!! We will need to meet again. This is absurd! Don't forget to come back Sunday at 6pm eastern!!

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 01:39:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Will be there Sunday as usual. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annieli, NY brit expat, northsylvania

        (P.S.- I'm innocent! Discovered it already posted!)

        God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

        by JayRaye on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 07:56:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm sure I somehow messed it up when (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          annieli, JayRaye

          I added the date to queue and added the pictures ... silly wabbit!!

          "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

          by NY brit expat on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 02:41:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Was wondering why there were so many posts when (4+ / 0-)

        I signed on tonite.  Oh well. Hope we get more people from our usual crowd tonite.

        •  It is a really good piece and hopefully (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JayRaye, annieli, northsylvania

          others will come as it raises very important issues on a number of issues that need to be discussed seriously.

          "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

          by NY brit expat on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 03:17:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  agreed, studies of the informal economy are (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NY brit expat, JayRaye, northsylvania

            few and far between, for example non-governmental studies of the global drug trade or grey/black markets have problematic measurements under a capitalism where surplus accumulation is harder to measure than one thinks

            Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

            by annieli on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 04:02:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Unfortunately, (0+ / 0-)

          this part of the crowd showed up very late.
          Excellent diary. Work is work no matter whether it's domestic work, academic work, or auto repair. All workers deserve a sense of human dignity and self-respect.
          In the UK, I have met quite a few people who have lived in the developing world for extended periods, either as part of the diplomatic corps or commercial ventures. One thing that often comes up in conversation is how easy life is when you have multiple servants who are 'loyal to a fault', 'scrupulously clean', and 'expect very little'. Most of these ladies were instructed not to 'spoil the help' when they arrived. Somehow I feel that someone else doing the work that you would otherwise be doing deserves the same amount of respect and reward that you would for labour performed. More power to the people in Mexico and elsewhere who are recognising their own value to society and to themselves.

          “The universe implodes. No matter.” -Liam Williams

          by northsylvania on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 03:23:08 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The Anti-Capitalist Meetup has been reposted to: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayRaye, annieli, northsylvania

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 02:57:10 PM PDT

  •  ACM schedule: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayRaye, annieli, northsylvania

    October

    13th: JayRaye
    20th: Geminijen
    27th: EK Hornbeck?

    November

    3rd:
    10th:
    NY Brit Expat
    17th:
    24th
    : Annieli

    Comrades, the cupboard is a bit less bare thanks to people volunteering last week! We need some more volunteers to fill up the schedule (specifically the 3rd and 17th of November).  So, please, if you can and want to, step forward. Reply to this comment, send NY brit expat a private message here, send the ACM a message on dkos or write to our group email: dkanticapitalistgroup@gmail.com

    In solidarity,
    NY Brit Expat

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 03:03:55 PM PDT

  •  This is a wonderful piece. (4+ / 0-)

    I repub'd it everywhere that I could think of.

    At this point, however, only six countries have ratified the convention: The Philippines, Mauritius, Italy, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.
    Why am I not surprised that the USA is not on that list?

    God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

    by JayRaye on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 03:29:14 PM PDT

    •  As Irene points out it is particularly difficult (4+ / 0-)

      to enforce laws in the informal, sector especially when they are in the home and out of sight. Even when there are unions for domestic workers (as in Mexico) they cannot easily enforce any standards on the employers. It is interesting to note that in Brazil they have had much more general success adopting some regular labor standards such as health care and paid sick days. I wonder how much having a progressive government in power has made this possible and whether or not, as Irene suggests, general movement and political organizing is a more effective route to go with this type of work. Wonder what the regs are in Venezuela? Think I'll google it to find out.

      •  A lot of the difficulty also (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annieli, Geminijen, JayRaye, northsylvania

        derives from the fact that in the US many are undocumented workers which of course makes it difficult to organise; but that could be surmounted. An additional problem as you point out is that it is difficult to enforce; however if there are laws and the person is legal or documented they can appeal to the law. Italy is not a progressive country with a progressive gov't; the absence of a coherent social welfare state means that much caring for the elderly is done at home by domestic labour. The women that took care of my husband's grandmother were from the Dominican Republic. This is common for most domestic workers as Irene points out: 1) migrants often undocumented; 2) low skills or what is socially considered to be low skills (obviously anyone who says that has never cared for an elderly or ill person); 3) low pay; 4) difficulty organising due to the fact that they serve in the informal sector and hence the labor is precarious.

        Socialisation of care will enable these workers to get open recognition as workers (not servants) with guaranteed pay and conditions of work. This is something that we need to be pushing for strongly ...

        "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

        by NY brit expat on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 03:54:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Looks like we're talking to ourselves tonite but (4+ / 0-)

    there is one more point that I want to point out that I think is significant in how we look the problem internationally:

    Generally they are migrants, usually, within their own countries. This is the case for indigenous women  and women who come from rural areas in Latin America.  And as the gap in inequality grows throughout the world, in the poorest countries the phenomenon of migration (usually without papers) is growing beyond borders
    .

    I think too often in the United States, we view domestic workers as "other" and emphasize the race and anti-imperialist difference,  so we think of all Mexicans and third world people as poor, and as victims and this enables us to conflate race and anti=imperialism to the point where we forget the class differences internally in a culture and this leads to all kinds of false analyses Ii.e whether or not we should support bracero programs in the immigration bill,etc).

    •  Often migrants from other countries (0+ / 0-)

      are highly trained in some field they cannot practice when they move. A friend of mine taught university level French in Vietnam, but when her family moved to the States, her certification was not recognised, so she ended up working on the line at Texas Instruments. She was one of the lucky ones in the Vietnamese expat community.

      “The universe implodes. No matter.” -Liam Williams

      by northsylvania on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 03:27:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Another young woman who has written for us (0+ / 0-)

        told how her Mom was a teacher in her own country but spent thirty years here as a domestic because she did not have papers. Since most employers don't know much about the personal lives of their employees (and don't want to) I wonder how her employers viewed her. As an uneducated simple rural woman?

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