Unplanned Work-Life Balance 4: Organize! Unionize!

While I was at work on this whole work-life balance stuff, a raging conversation sprung up on the WMST-L listserv about domestic workers and whether feminist women should or should not hire someone to clean their houses and help take care of their kids. (The discussion is still going on.) Some of the more interesting points have to do with questioning why this work has to be called women's work, and why it just can't be called work proper, and given some respect, and along with that some decent wages and benefits.

Meryl Altman, a professor at DePauw, posted a link to a short video, "Women and Work: Feminists in Solidarity with Domestic Workers," which is on the Barnard Center for Research on Women website. I strongly urge you to view this video and think about its messages, among them: the home as a worksite; domestic work as actual labor, not "women's work" that we just somehow need the men to help out with a little more; the need to support domestic workers in the struggle to unite, organize, and unionize for living wages, decent working hours, and real benefits; and the visual reminder that feminist women with jobs/careers who employ workers in their homes are not all white.

Of course, the video is full of a bunch of women talking about feminist shit, so probably it is completely bogus.

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I have no patience with anyone who thinks that housework is somehow not work in the sense that other types of work is. And at this point nothing would get me to dump a guy faster than some kind of hinting that housework is unimportant or trivial. It's not -- it's the very bedrock of life. Sounds pretty damn important to me.

Some weeks ago I was fantasizing about a world in which all housework is paid. All.

By Helen Huntingdon (not verified) on 24 Jun 2010 #permalink

One possibility for domestic workers to gain some control over their work conditions and pay is to organize co-op networks, such as Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES - website is wagescooperativesDOTorg) in San Francisco. They're a group of worker-owned cleaning businesses who use "eco-friendly" methods and share profits; most participants are Latina immigrants. I'm not in the Bay Area, and I do my own housecleaning, but I know about the group because a grad school friend of mine is an environmental consultant for them - one of the many ways in which women in STEM fields can address the issues described above by Zuska.

When Mr.SM and I were trying to figure out childcare options, many individuals recommended the live-in foreign help (mostly Filipino women who leave their children behind) because it was cheaper than daycare. It was only cheaper if I was willing to pay them less than minimum wage (which is >$8.00 here in Canada) for taking care of my heart and soul, while doing other housework. Needless to say, neither of was willing to cheap out on childcare and it was not cheaper to have a well qualified nanny if I wanted to pay a fair wage.

Needless to say, after watching the video, I am thankful I live up here in Communist Canada, where all workers get healthcare (its universal)and minimum wage is higher. We're not perfect, but the grass is definitely greener. But then what do I know, as the last time I was in the USA I was reminded that we don't have freedom up here.

I've been saying this forever. Heck, women don't even get paid living wages for raising children- and that is a job that hurts everyone when done poorly. Domestic work is part of the same issue, it is just unpaid because we all put up with it basically. Imagine a nation wide woman strike- the world would halt. Especially if all the moms dropped kids off at their dudes work. haha. If I was a better fiction writer, I would feel a short story coming on right about now...

Even more, a global woman strike would mean the world would starve, since women grow most of the food.

By Helen Huntingdon (not verified) on 24 Jun 2010 #permalink

My favourite example of this related to brewing... (Most of my favourite things are.)

Back in the day when brewing was just a normal part of everybody's domestic economy, it was "woman's work", that no self-respecting man would sully himself with. When it became a craft you could earn money at, it became "man's work", and part of the guild system. (Actually, both of these existed simultaneously - in the informal domestic economy, it was "women's work", whilst in the formal cash economy, it was "man's work"). Nowadays it's either an industrial process ("man's work") or a time-consuming (and potentially expensive) hobby which is almost exclusively done by men...

Great example Dunc--I'll be using it!

In the event of a woman-strike, I wonder how many of us would survive the violent state-supported backlash against women. (I'm not saying it wouldn't work; I'm just wondering what the human cost would be for us.)

Woman-strike? I like that idea. Rendezvous on Themyscira, anyone?

It isn't women's work in my book.

Our day care center has male teachers. Our cleaning service has one male cleaner (that I know of- maybe there are more).

I pay more for both cleaning and child care than absolutely necessary, because I refuse to use any service that doesn't pay a living wage and provide benefits. I wonder if these wages and benefits are part of the reason there are men working for those companies? It would be an interesting question for a social scientist....

That said, it is a difficult problem. Sure, I can stake out some sort of high ground on the wages and benefits issue- I can afford to pay up. But I want every working family to have the same peace of mind, particularly about day care. If you use a center that pays a living wage, then it is expensive. So a lot of working families can't afford it. Or they decide that it "isn't worth it" for the woman (and it does always seem to be the woman) to work.

I think we need recognize the reality that something like 70% of mothers work and come up with some way to subsidize day care. On a sliding scale would be fine.

But we can't even talk about that policy option, because anytime we get close, a whole bunch of people start shouting about how we're undermining the traditional family, where traditional = what it was like in the 50s.

We're in a sorry state.

Do you happen to have a description or transcript of that video handy? I'm a disabled female grad student who wants to stay into academia so the question of hiring domestic help (I can't even manage the housework now!) without exploiting poor women or immigrant women or women of colour is one I've been thinking about. I'd really like to know what's in that video!

But we can't even talk about that policy option, because anytime we get close, a whole bunch of people start shouting about how we're undermining the traditional family

...or that it's Communist.