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The Scholar & Feminist Online is a webjournal published three times a year by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
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Issue: 8.1: Fall 2009
Guest Edited by Gisela Fosado and Janet R. Jakobsen
Valuing Domestic Work

"Tell Dem Slavery Done": Domestic Workers United and Transnational Feminism

Premilla Nadasen

Article notes[1]

The cavernous church was packed. All the chairs were occupied and people had begun to line up along the outer wall. The commotion of children playing in the next room, in combination with the low murmur of translators and the architecture of the old building, made it difficult to hear the speaker with the microphone at the front of the room. Despite the imperfect acoustics, the message came across loud and clear: more than one hundred fifty poor women of color had gathered in Brooklyn to discuss a domestic-workers' bill of rights that was being debated before the New York State legislature.

This was the monthly membership meeting of Domestic Workers United (DWU), a coalition of domestic-workers' rights groups in New York City. The women here crossed racial, ethnic, and cultural lines, and they were old and young, outspoken and reticent. Some held infant babies only a few weeks old. Others brought their teenage children or were minding their grandchildren. As with every meeting, this one started with a round of greetings in which members stood up and introduced themselves. This month, facilitators asked members to name their favorite holiday. When Ai-jen Poo, the lead organizer of DWU, said that the third Saturday of every month—when DWU meets—is her favorite holiday, she was met by an enthusiastic round of applause and wild cheers.

Formed in the late 1990s, DWU is one of the organizations at the forefront of a global movement to organize private household workers. Led by women of color, it has modeled a coalition politics that has brought together African American, South Asian, Filipina, Caribbean, Indonesian, African, Central American, and Mexican women, among others. Through their political work they have forged a transnational, antiracist, feminist politics premised on their experiences as workers of color in a globalized economy. They are acutely aware of the way in which race, class, and gender operate simultaneously to structure their work and their lives. Despite their cultural, linguistic, and ethnic differences they are all experiencing something similar: exploitation as domestic workers—one of the least protected categories of U.S. labor.

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© 2009 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 8.1: Fall 2009 - Valuing Domestic Work