At the 2009 Summit of the Americas, Hugo Chavez gave Barack Obama a copy of Galeano's book Open Veins of Latin America which details the United State's military aggression, economic exploitation and political coups or "regime changes" in Latin America.
In the 2012 Summit of the Americas, Obama's reception by Latin American nations was noticeably cool - primarily because the United States refused to end its 50 year boycott of Cuba.
So at the 2015 Summit of the Americas, Obama walked in with a smile on his face and a proposal for a rapprochement with Cuba in one hand, and, in the other, his newly minted Executive Order 2015 which placed sanctions for human rights abuses on several Venezuelan military leaders and government officials. Under his emergency powers, Obama declared Venezuela a "threat to the United State's national security."
What was Obama thinking? Did he think people wouldn't notice the bait and switch as he tried to appease Cuba and the Latin American nations while at the same time he applied the same old cold war tactics to isolate Venezuela as the more recent example of a Latin American country standing up to US imperialism? (To make matters worse, these particular military officers and judicial officials are those that many Bolivarians see as the most active in preventing a highly publicized attempt to destabilize the Venezuela government in February 2014 to set it up for another coup.)
The unanimous demand from the Latin American nations to repeal the sanctions against Venezuela show how disconnected Obama and the United States government are from changes in the balance of power in the Americas in the last decade. This includes the failure of the United States to maintain its neoliberal hegemony and the rise of a left liberal block of nations (i.e., Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil among others).
Admittedly, much of the loss of US hegemony in Latin America is due to the United States over-extending itself in brutal and unsuccessful oil wars in the Middle East and Asia, but much of the impetus of this new left leaning block is due to the influence of the Bolivarian "21st century socialist revolution" of Venezuela. Beginning with the election of Hugo Chavez in the late 1990s and the drafting of a "socialist" constitution, Venezuela has been instrumental in establishing several inter-regional support groups such as ALBA, UNISUR and CELAC which exclude the United States. The new left liberal block of nations has also benefited by Venezuela's generous sharing of its oil wealth with its neighbors.
So even though most will scoff at the idea that Venezuela is a real military threat to the United States (given the size and nuclear capability and the fact that Venezuela recently reduced its military by an unheard of 34%), the spread of an ideology that challenges the United States' right to exploit and impoverish its southern neighbors could be sufficient reason to consider Venezuela a "threat" to United States' ideology of imperialism; thus causing the US to resort to its age old practice of "regime change."
Seems Like We've Heard This Tune Before
For the past 150 years, the United States has treated Latin American as its own personal backyard to exploit. Most of the exploitation has been accomplished through economic dominance and the support of right-wing dictatorships. However, if we look at those countries that experienced actual "regime changes" involving military coups, we can count, just since World War II, a minimum of 11 countries (and I'm sure I've missed some) where the United States was either directly or indirectly involved with military regime changes in the Americas-- either to protect specific multinational corporate interests or change regimes that promoted an ideology that was more generally in conflict with Capitalist interests (communism/socialism, nationalism, liberation theology): Guatemala -1954, Cuba-1959, The Dominican Republic - 1961, Brazil - 1964, Chile - 1970-73, Argentina - 1976, Nicaragua - 1981-90, Panama -1989, Venezuela -2002, Haiti - 2004, and Honduras - 2009.
To learn some more about a recently published secret report that documents the United States plans for achieving regime change in Venezuela follow the discussion below ...
Tonight's piece is a co-production of NY Brit Expat and Geminijen. What we decided we wanted to do was to allow women to speak for themselves, so we reproduced some quotes from these women. We wanted to discuss not only women that were known as leaders or that were heralded during their times; we also want to remind people of the voices of those who fought on the shop-floors, those that became “leaders” due to circumstance. Their actions and speeches inspired and moved others and they are still relevant. However, since its inception in the early 1900s, it has inspired many other actions and women around the world from Africa to China to Latin America and Europe. In the United States it was repressed for much of the 20th century, except in small radical communities, due to the strong anti-socialist bias. It was revived under the second wave of feminism in the 1970s and continues among progressives today.
What we'd like to ask our readers to do is to use the comments section to suggest some of the other women in the world that we might include in an "updated" version of our history and why you wish to include them (with a little history or anecdote if you can). Then we'll include them in an updated version for next year!
International Women's Day (8 March) was originally a socialist holiday established in 1911 by the Socialist International and is celebrated by women's groups around the world. In many countries, it is a national holiday and has recently been officially recognized by the United Nations.
However, up until the 1970's, with the advent of a new women's movement, the radical working class roots of IWD had been practically forgotten. Due to its socialist leaning, it was excised from the United States memory, much as Labor Day replaced May Day, except in small immigrant enclaves or radical union groups. In Europe and the rest of the world, it continued to be widely celebrated, but tended to honour women in name only, mostly with flowers or by simply putting a woman's face on a male agenda. IWD, in fact, was the culmination of a century of women working in the labour, feminist, socialist, and anti-slavery and segregation movements to bring together the common interests of the working class and women's rights advocates.
Four major trends led to the establishment of IWD.
The first was a revolutionary fervour in Europe and the United States toward socialism, democratization and the vote. In Europe it was exemplified by a movement for working class men without property seeking the vote to further a socialist government, paralleled by a movement for middle class women to get the vote. This situation was mirrored in the United States by the struggle to gain the vote for black men and white women. The contradictions between these two types of suffrage movements were evident (should we fight for the non-propertied or black men to get the vote, even if women were excluded?). The solution, of course, was to get the vote for both groups. Clara Zetkin was among the early socialists to see working class women as the driving force towards universal suffrage (everyone gets the vote independent of property qualifications to which it had been historically tied) since they bridged the divide, yet retain the principle of a revolutionary socialist agenda.
It was Clara Zetkin who advocated for the merging of the working class socialist movement and women's movement through the establishment of International Women's Day as a way to forward the goals of both labour and women. The first clear victories in which the leadership of working class women following the establishment of IWD were the organization of the textile workers and women's suffrage in the United States and the Russian Revolution in 1917 which began with a massive strike by women textile workers in Petrograde (St. Petersburg) on International Women's Day against both the orders of the Unions and left-wing political parties. The strikes lit the match of a country on the verge; they doubled in size to 200,000 workers and over the next few days, 66,000 men of the local army garrison joined forces with the strikers. The February Russian revolution began and the Tsar was forced to abdicate.
The second important factor was the increased numbers of women in the labour movement, particularly in the textile industry, as more and more women were pulled into factories and out of homes with the rise of industrial capitalism. Their struggle to free themselves from the patriarchal home and obtain decent work conditions in the marketplace instead of being viewed as cheap labour is exemplified in the call for both "bread and roses." The textile strikes beginning in 1857 and the massive strikes between 1908 and 1915 were the activist expression of women's struggle for power. This was especially true after the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory strike where mostly women workers, but also children and a few men were killed in a horrific sweatshop fire soon after a strike of textile workers (The Uprising of the 20,000) in New York city demanding trade union recognition, better wages, working conditions and health and safety measures.
While initially the feminist movement focused on human rights issues for women such as suffrage, many of the women felt allied to working class struggles for decent wages and rights and took up the call that freedom and equality for one group meant freedom and equality for all.
While the anti-slavery movement seems distinct, the end of slavery pushed all workers, black and white into the same labour struggle as wage labourers. Once this occurred, it was up to anti-racist groups to fight for equality within the labour movement. This, of course, always raised the question of equality for the other major group excluded from equality in the labour force -- women.
These movements, occurring in a short period between the end of the civil war and the end of WW1, provided the activist and theoretical base to try to unite diverse groups into the revolutionary struggle. The formation of IWD was an explicit effort to unite the interests and theories of women and male labour (including workers of colour that was implied in the socialist agenda) under a Revolutionary Socialist agenda in support of universal suffrage and economic equality.
The following excerpts (which we hope you will read, view, sing-along- with, explore and enjoy) are just a sampling of some of the actions and words of some prominent working women and movements.
Finally saw the movie Selma last week, right after the MLK Day march. Found it to be an exhilarating fictionalized rendition of one of the more important moments in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It is, above all else, a reminder that this struggle is primarily of, by and for black folks. And yet, most of the press, even prior to the movie opening, was about how it was historically inaccurate and, more importantly to these critics, misrepresented and denigrated (I chose my words carefully here) the role of Lyndon Baines Johnson who was president at the time of the struggle.
In Politico's "What Selma Gets Wrong," (12/22/14), LBJ Presidential Library director Mark Updegrove charged that the fictional film's depiction of the epic voting-rights battle in the Alabama town portrayed the relationship between [Martin Luther] King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson as "contentious." This served, Updegrove scolded, to "bastardize one of the most hallowed chapters in the civil rights movement by suggesting that the president himself stood in the way of progress." Johnson adviser Joseph Califano struck next in the Washington Post (12/26/14)suggesting that in fact, Selma was LBJ's idea." Califano asks of the filmmakers: Did "they" [quotes are mine] feel no obligation to check the facts? You even had Post columnist Richard Cohen (1/5/15) lamenting that Selma is a lie that tarnishes Johnson's legacy to exalt King's.
Without getting too much into the details of the controversy and who gets to determine "facts", the accusation here is that the black female director Ava Devernay (and by implication the black community)was willing to distort the history of the white role in the civil rights movement to promote black biases of black importance in the struggle. In other words, the black community doesn't care about accuracy, about truth and "justice," but only about "just us" (i.e.the black community promoting its own importance in history).
There is, in fact, evidence to support DeVernay's representation of LBJ and I would submit that it is the white supremist myth of white people bringing justice to the poor downtrodden blacks that is the bias that DuVernay is challenging and has caused all the criticism of the film. That the "us" in "just us" is really white folks angered that it is the myth of white moral superiority that is being challenged and that DeVarnay's film provides a healthy corrective.
It is important to note why the fight about Selma The Movie is so important now. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlight the increase in police violence in low income nonwhite communities or perhaps it has just increased the exposure of police brutality due to the new technologies of cell phones and social media. Either way, it has increased racial tensions. At the same time, the Supreme Court's recent ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 combined with efforts to roll back voting rights with new voter suppression laws in many states, has also contributed to increased awareness of racial inequality. In volatile times, society and the dominant culture are especially interested in how they can control the "story" to maintain the status quo.
Outrage in the Miami suburb of North Miami Beach!! North NMB cops used photos of exclusively Black men for target practice! Angry protestors rallied at a city council meeting, then signed in to speak at the Council meeting. Attending was the mother of one of the men in the target! She saw his face in the photos.and logically feared for his life!. The Board hastily prepared a resolution pledging to never let human targets be used again..
While there are many documentaries which present an excellent and accurate record of the civil rights struggle (notably in my mind, "Eyes on the Prize") this is more about how popular cultural representations shape a society's perspective. I would venture to say that most Americans' deepest emotional beliefs about their identity and place in history and the world are formed at least in part, if not wholly, through the cultural representations around them rather than through academic research and factual reasoning. In this context it appears that most white Americans still believe that white people are innately superior to black people by virtue of our role in helping black people escape their oppression and poverty (the cause of which is conveniently vague --oh yeah, there was slavery, but I wasn't alive then so its not my fault, besides we were the good guys in WW!! saving the Jews from the Nazis--which gets two weeks in most American high school curricula while slavery gets one day).
Of course these days popular and social media far outweigh what you learn in school as the social arbiters so I would like to take a moment here to put Selma in the context of the factual history vs. the other fictionalized media accounts of racial struggle and racial advancement in the last few years.
This has been a busy weekend -- dividing time somewhat schizophrenically between participating in one or the other of the many actions sparked by the decision in Ferguson not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown -- while at the same time planning an annual Thanksgiving meal. Being a "conscious" political and multi-racial "family", on past Thanksgivings we often commemorated the day by attending a local American Indian event. As the years past, we reverted to a somewhat more traditional community potluck dinner with friends with turfu, organic dishes, etc. Still later, as biological families divided into nuclear subdivisions with children, somewhat smaller gatherings were held where we would prepare the traditional feast with a nod to and solemn commemoration of the genocidal history behind the holiday and watch a socially conscious movie.
This year, someone suggested that we Watch Do the Right Thing. (In full disclosure, we did not end up watching Do the Right Thing because one young black guest who happens to be gay felt that he had been bullied by his peers in the neighborhood as he was growing up and it would be a painful reminder (he still lives in central Harlem about a block from the National Action Headquarters) and another young black woman felt that she needed a break from the intensity of the explosion of feelings and responses that the Ferguson decision brought on. Life is often more full of contradictions and ambiguities than our political struggle for justice would suggest.
Still, the reminder of the controversial movie, first released to great criticism as to whether it was promoting violence or showing how destroying property was better than killing human beings, reminds us how a cultural representation can help people understand the emotions behind our struggle in a way that facts and figures can't.
First released in 1989, Do the Right Thing, one of Spike Lee's earliest movies, tells the story of the racial tensions in the black community in a Brooklyn neighborhood which culminates in tragedy when a young black man is killed by police. The young man's death results in a night of rebellion in which the people in the community burn down local businesses including the local pizzeria.
The movie was released long after the racial tensions and the riots of the 1960s which it was meant to portray, and before the Rodney King beating in 1991 resulted in the rebellion in Los Angeles. Long before 41 bullets felled Amadu Diallo, the African immigrant shot at his front door by police in the Bronx, or the brutal torture of Abner Louima who was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick by police after he was arrested outside a Brooklyn nightclub. (Sidenote: Neither of these later incidents resulted in riots, but in organized nonviolent civil disobedience and, eventually in sort of very limited conviction of some of the perpetrators. It is interesting to note, however, the Louima case only came to light after a nurse reported the incident when he was brought to the hospital. She was the only one of 28 people who had witnessed parts of the incident the night he was arrested. The other 27 people threatened her for speaking out.)
In Do the Right Thing, Lee sets out the many cultural signifiers of the community's racial tensions that lead to the violence of both police brutality and the violence of enraged communities of color -- in other words, the very American history of the culture of oppression in the black community:
Mookie, played by Spike Lee, is the young man who, as the pizza delivery man, is viewed by a frustrated Tina, his girlfriend and mother of his child, as unambitious and unable or unwilling to live up to the model of the father and family man that is portrayed on TV, reflecting the tensions between the sexes in a community held down by racism.
Sal, the pizzeria's Italian American owner, has been in the neighborhood for 25 years. His older son is openly racist while his younger son is friendly with Mookie. Sal sees himself as part of the neighborhood, but when asked by Smiley, a mentally disturbed young man who is always carrying around pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and "Bugging Out" (described by his name)to put up pictures of Malcolm and Martin on his "Wall of Fame", along with the Italian Americans such as Sinatra, he refuses because, as he says, he owns the restaurant.
There are many other signifiers -- "Da Mayor," an old alcoholic man who signifies street wisdom and compassion (but who is not respected by the younger generation in the neighborhood), the young men who hang on the corner, the Asian store owner who signifies new cultures moving into the neighborhood and the conflict that brings (but who can hold her own in a swearing match in a confrontation with her black American neighbors).
But most significant is Radio Raheem, a big young black man who supported Smiley and Buggin Out's demand to post Malcolm and Martin's pictures in the pizza parlor. Raheem is well meaning, but is always getting into trouble for playing his radio too loud.
When Sal and Radio Raheem get into a fight over turning down the radio and Sal calls him a "nigger," a fight breaks out that spills into the street and draws a crowd and Sal calls the police. When the police come, they arrest "Buggin Out" and put Raheem in a chokehold which kills him. Once the cops realize he is dead, they beat up "Buggin Out" and leave the scene, leaving Sal and his sons exposed to the crowd's rath. When the Mayor tries to calm the crowd down, the crowd turns on him. Mookie then picks up a trash can and throws it through the window of the pizzeria and a race riot begins. In the melee, the Mayor saves Sal and his sons.
While this is not a very good or complete synopsis of the movie, you get the picture -Radio Raheem could be Michael Brown -- or Earl Gardner, another "big" black man who was selling "loosies" on the street in Staten Island who was killed shortly after Michael Brown by NYPD officers in a chokehold, which was also witnesses by several citiznes (This raised new critiques about the appointment of William Bratton as the new New York City police chief since he has a known history of going after nonviolent offenders for small street "crimes" as well as a bad track record of chokehold deaths under his command)-- or Anthony Baez (my neighbor in the Bronx) who was playing football with his nephew when the ball bounced and struck a police car and the policeman (who had already been moved from neighborhood to neighborhood to hide his history of excessive force) put 17 year old Baez into the chokehold and killed him -- or 17 year old Jordan Davis who was killed in a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida for playing loud music because a 47 year old software engineer who was a known racist felt that Davis' refusal to turn the music down "threatened" him and that he was entitled to shoot Davis and would not be held accountable by the police or courts. He was in fact convicted of murder, but 17 year old Davis is still dead.
The fact is, we all have our own memories of the cases that most specifically affected us and there are many other cases across the country and across the years-- far far too many to recount here and they seem to be increasing. Which is why it is important to raise the question that Lee asks in Do the Right Thing.What must the black community do to finally overcome, once and for all, the virulent racism that is so endemic in the United. (For an analysis of the importance of the movie and the Ferguson situation to questions of violence, issues of the "Rule of Law" or why it is important not to conflate race and class, read below the fold.)
Last Tuesday, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Israel added a new power to the "Axis of Evil". According to Netanyahu, "Militant Islamists" (including not only ISIS in Iraq and Syria but Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Al Qaeda groups in Africa and the Middle East)", want to dominate the world like the Nazis; only unlike the Nazis, they believe in a "Master faith" instead of a "Master Race"
Obama, in his speech four days earlier announcing that he would begin Air Strikes in Syria, also discussed "extreme fundamentalism" in the Middle East. Although he did not specify Islamists as the only fundamentalists, he emphasized the necessity of eliminating these groups and, using a combination of the idea of "American Exceptionalism" and a retread of the colonial playbook where the civilized countries (read mostly white, western) have to quell the extreme militant fundamentalists (read "savages") in the Middle East. This was of course, his justification for invading Syria and bombing ISIS.
The "Axis of Evil", originally inspired by the Nazis in World War II, was recreated by George W. Bush in 2002 and initially included three Nation States --Iraq, Iran and North Korea --and became Bush's excuse to invade Iraq. Under his administration, this concept was later expanded to include Cuba, Libya and Syria. The American president offered no evidence to support what we now know was slander and had much more to do with protecting US oil interests than protecting the American people, not to mention the lives of other peoples of the world.
Of the original six members, Cuba and North Korea are effectively quarantined by Western-imposed embargoes, isolated from balanced international relations and development. Of the other four, Iraq and Libya, were invaded by US-led forces in the name of fighting Islamic terrorism, and have been destroyed and realigned to serve Western interests.
It is no accident that Obama is targeting one of the two remaining members, Syria, while changing the stakes from targeting a specific country to the concept of "extreme (read Islamic) fundamentalism" which is much broader and not hampered by nation state boundaries blurring the lines of what is legal and illegal under international law as well as increasing the threat of endless war since it is unclear what nation state you would negotiate with to end the war.
In analyzing the current crisis with ISIS, an historical analysis provides some perspective. Since the 1970's, capitalist interests have morphed into a toxic combination of religious fundamentalism and extreme militarism to achieve their economic goals -– whether that is the reawakening of the Christian-based KKK and the rise of the Patriots and Tea Party in the United States; the Evangelicals, military dictators and death squads in Latin America; the Orthodox Zionist Jews and the concept of a Greater Israel in the Palestinian conflict; or extreme Islamic fundamentalism in the larger Middle East.
It is unclear why this fundamentalism has such appeal these days – maybe it's because the world is scarier as we globalize and people want to retreat to the “good old days”, to concepts they believe will not change. Maybe it’s because fundamentalism is unquestioning and based on faith rather than reason and it makes it easier for the 1% to manipulate the rest of us. Maybe it is because religious fundamentalism is not restricted by national borders and makes it easier to rationalize the new global paradigm. Maybe it is a combination of all of these.
Whatever the reason, the drums of war are rumbling again, and we are hoping that the drum beats will be loud enough to drown out the voice of reason by finding a new enemy. An enemy who can be the bad guy -- pure evil that must be squelched mercilessly which we can only do with war. We, of course, are the “good guys” and wear the white hat because, as always, “God (and a white supremacist morality) is on our side.”
But I would suggest it is not Islamic extremists, terrorists, drug lords, rogue states, corrupt regimes, authoritarian superpowers or Eastern Block" (the "Red Menace sans Communism)who are “the enemy.” It is the multinational oil interests, the military industrial complex and the American government and its allies who are the real “axis of evil.” It is the system of capitalist corruption, exploitation and enrichment that has put the world into poverty, conflict and on the brink of yet another major war.
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat. 'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.” (Alice in Wonderland)
The past month or two I have been running from one demonstration and issue to another in support of various causes. I have attended several of the various demonstrations in support of Palestinian rights as Israel, with the backing of the United States, once again, exercises it’s barely hidden genocidal agenda. The past week and a half, Israel has been pounding Gaza with a massive bombing campaign and an aggressive ground war. The Palestinian people have already been devastated from a seven year siege. Many people aren’t aware that Israel, which puts forward the myth that Gaza is an independent entity, still controls most of the power, water and goods going in and out of Gaza – Gazans currently get about four hours of electricity a day and three hours of water once every three days. In the week and a half since the “war” began over 1,000 Gazans have been killed (a majority women and children), millions of dollars of infrastructure have been destroyed. At last tally, 45 Israeli soldiers and three Islaeli civilians have died in the conflict and Israel gained controlled of approximately 1/3 of the remaining land in Gaza which they now call a “buffer zone.”
This is the third such incursion since 2008. The other two bombing operations resulted in thousands of additional deaths and demolished neighborhoods and the ongoing blockade prevented Palestinians from rebuilding. People often forget that the destruction of the infrastructure, once the bombing stops, is often more dangerous to the people’s health when they cannot have drinkable water (95% of Gazans don’t), adequate power and shelter.
For the first time, Palestinian voices are being heard, even by the mainstream -- if only because the devastation is so great they cannot be ignored. Demonstrations in Europe reached over 100,000 in England and France. There is clearly a movement that is stronger today than in the past. Many of the demonstrations I attended were sizable –between one and two thousand people. In New York City, a stronghold of Zionism, that is no small number and shows the changing landscape in regard to the Palestinian issue –even here in the belly of the beast. And yet, today, as I write, there is no cease fire and the people of Palestine are still under attack.
I could go on about Gaza, but there are so many other issues. Like the 57,000 undocumented children coming across the Mexican border, fleeing from dictatorial states like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that the United States supported. Most recently the USA supported the coup in Honduras which ousted President Zelaya after he made two fatal mistakes – he doubled the minimum wage and he planned to join ALBA, a group of seven Latin American countries which have formed a coalition to fight the United States neoliberal agenda in the South. President Obama was the only leader in the western world who did not condemn the coup and gave immediate recognition to the new government. The United States government plans to send the majority of the fleeing children back to these states for their “safety” which is the reason that they fled and made the dangerous trek to the United States in the first place.
And then there are the other “domestic issues.” Thousands of poor, elderly and disabled people in Detroit are being denied water because they can’t pay their water bill, often after the state cut off their pension due to the Detroit bankruptcy. A young man brought my attention to another black man, Eric Garner, killed in Brooklyn due to excessive police force. .(The young man who told me was unaware of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict).I also just learned, today, that there was yet another incident yesterday in which the NYPD stomped on another black man's head - also captured in a video. Oh, and there was newspaper headline about the "open carry (guns) advocates who stood on the grassy knoll (where Kennedy was killed) and criticized Obama. Guess what man - you're still black.
Finally, there is the civil war in the Ukraine which recently resulted in the deaths of 298 civilians in an air crash (many of them AIDS researchers) when the Russian backed rebels shot the plane down by mistake. Many of the US backed forces, which recently took the Ukraine over in a coup are real old fashioned fascists (which feels a lot worse in Europe than it does here given the fact that Fascists have actually held power in Europe and we experienced the results).These new Ukrainian leaders are pressuring Europe to put more and more sanctions on Russia. I’m old enough to remember the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States and this certainly feels like Déjà vu.
But I digress. There is a big demonstration planned in Washington for August 2nd for Palestinian rights. Kerry is negotiating right now for a short cease fire that does not actually change any of the conditions in the siege on Gaza. Hamas (and it seems like most of the Gazan people including those who don’t back Hamas) say the cease fire must include the ending of the Siege on Gaza (what have they got to lose? They are already being slowly killed anyway with no drinkable water and half their land destroyed). Israel is unlikely to comply (Why should they ? They have our backing and the Seige meets their long term goals for a greater Israel just fine).
IN THE MEANTIME THE DEMONSTRATION IN WASHINGTON, D.C. IS STILL 7 DAYS AWAY – HOW MANY MORE PEOPLE CAN THEY KILL AND HOW MUCH MORE INFRASTRUCTURE CAN THEY DESTROY IN 7 DAYS? Of course, this is just an infinitely small fraction of the devastation we have visited on the rest of the world in just the 20th and 21st century. (Pick a region)
Have you signed your 150th petition today? Have you written your congress person or Obama? Have you gone on a demonstration? Do you feel good about doing your civic duty? I was watching TV the other night and the ad with the dog with sad eyes and the sentimental music came on soliciting donations so that the dog and other dogs could live without abuse. There is a similar ad with a small clearly starving child in Africa. As Bill Clinton would say “I feel your pain.” Synthetic, televised pain is not enough.
The definition of insanity someone said is to keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results. With the advent of the internet and globalization, the world is turning faster now, and the contradictions are heightening. “We do what we can” we say. We “keep the faith, “we keep hope alive.” But as Mao would say, just “tolling the bell” (doing the usual level of political work or doing the usual rant as I am doing now) is not enough. We need to give ourselves a wake-up call.
The firing of New York Times CEO Jill Abramson for filing a law suit against the Times for gender based pay discrimination has been one of the main stories on twitter the last couple of weeks.
It is plain that the abrupt departure of executive editor Jill Abramson, the first woman ever to hold that position, was related to the fact that she protested that she was paid less than her male predecessor in one job and her male successor and subordinates in another. According to the New Yorker and the Daily Beast, her starting salary as executive editor was more than $100,000 lower than the salary of the man before her—and precisely $100,000 lower when she had earlier become Washington bureau chief.
The New York Times, however, with a straight face, stated that her firing was not related to any such issue but due to the fact that her leadership style was "inappropriate," that she was too "difficult and demanding".
Sex, Race and Class Dynamics Among the 1%.
As the Daily Beast noted, there have been similar complaints for years about powerful women like Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski and Hillary Clinton. Qualities that earn praise for men in office—being tough, holding subordinates and colleagues alike to high standards—invite blame for women in a culture that believes that even those professionals who manage to break the glass ceiling should nonetheless know their place (what's an extra $100,000 a year?) Could it actually be that such women have managed to be so successful precisely because they are assertive and demanding? The Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes during Abramson's brief and successful tenure.
Fuel was added to the twitter fire when it turned out that the narrative included an added tidbit of gossip about squabbling among two token groups --white women and black men. Apparently there was some dispute when Abramson tried to bring in a second managing editor. Dan Baquet, an African American male, who was at that time the sole managing editor objected and, following the firing of Abramson, became her successor and the first African American to be elevated to the CEO position.
Sex, Race and Class Dynamics Among the Rest of Us.
While we all seem to enjoy a little voyeurism into the lives of the rich and famous, we are now going to turn to another pay discrimination case occurring in the same time frame which received much less media attention, but which we maintain is potentially much more important.
In New York City you may have seen protests outside of City Hall recently supporting the 5,000 school safety agents who have signed on to a class action lawsuit accusing the city of violating the federal Equal Pay Act by paying them less than the special security officers who perform similar work at homeless shelters and hospitals.
Approximately 70 percent of school safety agents are female, but they make about 20 percent less than special security officers, who are predominantly male. A special officer’s top salary is about $42,000 a year, compared to about $35,000 for a safety agent, the article reports.
School safety agents are responsible for patrolling buildings, intervening in altercations between students and ensuring that visitors are authorized. They confiscate knives and witness gang activity as well. They act as peace officers under New York state law, so they – as well as the special officers – carry handcuffs, make arrests and use deadly force, if necessary, to perform their jobs.
Safety agents are hired and trained by the police department; special officers work for the Health and Hospital Corporation, as well as six mayoral agencies including the Department of Homeless Services, the Human Resources Administration and the Administration of Children’s Services.
During Mayor de Blasio's campaign for Mayor he promised to address this issue.
While the city’s law depart confirms that it is evaluating the case, the DOE refused to comment at this time and the city's lawyers are currently in the courts trying to delay this case while de Blasio finishes his budget negotiations with city workers.
One reason why de Blasio might want a delay would be that if the lawsuit wins, de Blasio will have to budget up to $35 million dollars more per year just to bring this one group of workers up to pay equity-- and there are millions of similar pay discrepancies around the country and the world, especially when the criteria is that the work must be the same in skills and qualifications (comparable worth)but not necessarily the same exact job. To rectify Abramson's pay discrepancy, on the other hand, will only cost the New York Times $100,000 a year plus back pay and perhaps similar adjustments for the small percentage of workers in the rarified 1%). If the safety agents win, it will, bring hundreds, perhaps thousands of women workers out of poverty.If all workers who were underpaid in comparable jobs it would increase wages as a whole by 13.5%. So the stakes are pretty high.
One area where progress in raising women's wages is being made is in the fast food industry where 2/3 of the workers are women, many with children, many making minimum wage. Beginning in November 2012, a series of almost spontaneous one day strikes began culminating on May 15, 2014 in simultaneous strikes in 158 cities and solidarity actions in 93 international cities across 36 countries, demanding that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour. This past week 101 workers got arrested outside the McDonald's shareholders meeting. This vibrant movement has recently been supported by the SEIU Union.
A number of cities and states have already responded and raised their minimum wages (Hawaii, Sante Fe, Minnesota plus at least 12 others)and it looks like other states will follow. President Obama now supports a $10.10 federal minimum wage. It is interesting, however, that this struggle has not been based specifically on gender pay inequity but raising workers as a whole out of poverty.
What Do We Need to Do to End Sex Discrimination in the Workplace?
According to the Equal Pay Act of 1963:
No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section [section 206 of title 29 of the United States Code] shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs[,] the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex [ . . . . ] 
The Equal Pay Act seemed so simple when it was passed in 1963. If there is sex discrimination in jobs, we should just legislate that all workers should get the same pay for the same work, if discrimination was the only reason there was a discrepancy.
The most commonly used indicator to determine discrimination against women in the workplace is the male-female income difference known as the "gender wage gap."It is a very narrow, yet general statistic based on the ratio of female to male median yearly earnings among full-time, year-round workers in the marketplace. This statistic is gathered by the US Census bureau and used by government agencies and economists. In 2010 the median income of FTYR workers was $42,800 for men, compared to $34,700 for women.
As it turns out, accordfing to the gender wage gap, 50 years later women still only make 77% of every dollar earned by men and progress in closing the wage gap has stalled in recent years. The issue, like most others, is a lot more complicated than it appears at first glance.
Last week the decision in Ohio broadening the scope of gay marriage put one more nail in the coffin of homophobic culture and was a win for equal rights-- or was it? Don't get me wrong. I am in full support of gay marriage and everyone having the same civil rights. The trouble with fighting for a civil reform is that we are fighting for the right to be included in the existing system and that doesn't take into account the fact that we are basically fighting for the right to be as f**ked up as everybody else.
The movement for gay marriage came out of the gay movement which came out of the male gay culture. The agenda of this movement for social change has always focused on reform demands for the same civil rights (i.e., gay marriage) that the heterosexual community already has.
Then along came the lesbian feminist movement calling, not for the right to assimilate into traditional gender roles, but the elimination of those roles altogether; eliminating the assumptions that women should be submissive and challenging the basis of marriage entirely since it had originated as an institution in which men literally bought and owned women, their labor and their children.
Although the majority of states that have weighed in still ban gay marriage, there are 17-19 states (depending on how you are counting) that have now legalized gay marriage. The most common way has been through the courts, though a couple of states have been through legislative votes and in recent years all the decisions and votes have been going in the right direction (for legalizing gay marriage).
The dominant liberal media has been strongly behind the LGBT community on this issue. None of the problems or oppressive social structures that have been associated with the nuclear family seem to make it into the media as we watch the two little old ladies who have lived together for 50 years finally gain social respectability and generous tax breaks as they take their vows, or the two gorgeous young men who just put out $500,000 for a fabulous destination wedding. Most recently, the media has been touting "statistics" that show that gay marriages have less divorces than straight marriages.
In fact many young heterosexual people are waiting longer and longer periods to marry, if they choose to marry at all, and the number of divorces for heterosexual marriages hovers around 50%. And the data that is currently being aggressively promoted by the media to show that homosexual and lesbian marriages are more stable is laughable given the lack of statistics or very small samples over very small periods of time that are available.
Today’s diary, a co-production of NY Brit Expat and myself, reposts the historical documents we used last year quoting the words and actions of the “founding mothers” of International Women’s Day. Normally, such a historical tour de force on the anniversary of IWD is presented as a nostalgic commemoration of the struggles working class women waged to achieve the gains we have today. But it can also be used as a cautionary note for our current struggles in the renewed “war on women” and efforts to dismantle the social welfare state (austerity programs). For “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
Yesterday, millions of women marched in the streets from China to Mexico, to celebrate International Women’s Day. If you live in the United States, however, you may have never heard of IWD. IWD officially began in 1911. It was started by European Socialists in the Second International honoring the striking women textile workers in New York City. Due to its socialist origin , however, it was excised from the United States memory, much as Labor Day replaced May Day, except in small immigrant enclaves or radical union groups.
While in Europe and the of rest of the world it continues to be widely celebrated, it has been watered down over the years and tends to honour women in name only, by putting a woman's face on a male socialist agenda or taking the radical roots out of the holiday by turning it into a facile celebration giving women flowers (yellow roses to symbolize women’s demand for “Bread and Roses” in the early textile strikes - only they’ve eliminated the demand for bread).
During the women’s movement in the United States in the 1970s and 80s, women resurrected the holiday and in 1975 it was given the blessing of the United Nations. When the women’s movement re-appropriated the holiday in the States, it focused on specific women’s rights (i.e., reproductive rights such as abortion) but often at the expense of focusing on issues that would traditionally be the domain of working class women or women of color (i.e., racism, women in sweatshops, etc). They were criticized rightly for being bourgeois.
This week in New York alone, there are any number of IWD events and acknowledgements, including three specifically designated IWD Marches organized by the radical left and socialist movements: the flyer for one mentions a laundry list of different anti-capitalist issues, a couple of women’s issues but does not mention abortion; the second focuses on Abortion on Demand and Pornography; the third focuses on violence against women ranging from domestic abuse to violence in the prison system (my favorite). Didn't see one slogan re childcare. So the struggle continues.
IWD, in fact, was the culmination of a century of women working in the labor, feminist, socialist, and anti-slavery and segregation movements to bring together the common interests of the working class and women's rights advocates. Four major trends led to the establishment of IWD:
The first was a revolutionary fervour in Europe and the United States toward socialism, democracy and the vote. In Europe it was exemplified by a movement for working class men without property seeking the vote to further a socialist government. This was paralleled by a movement for middle class women to get the vote. This situation was mirrored in the United States by the struggle to gain the vote for black men and white women. The contradictions between these two types of suffrage movements were evident (should we fight for non-propertied or black men to get the vote, even if women were excluded? Should we fight for women to get the vote even if this excludes people of color or persons who did not own property?). The solution, of course, was to get the vote for both groups. Clara Zetkin was among the early socialists to see working class women as the driving force towards universal suffrage (everyone gets the vote independent of property qualifications to which it had been historically tied) since they bridged the divide, yet retain the principle of a revolutionary socialist agenda.
It was Clara Zetkin who advocated for the merging of the working class socialist movement and women's movement through the establishment of International Women's Day as a way to forward the goals of both labour and women. The first clear victories in which the leadership of working class women following the establishment of IWD were the organization of the textile workers and women's suffrage in the United States and the Russian Revolution in 1917 which began with a massive strike by women textile workers in Petrograde (St. Petersburg) on International Women's Day against both the orders of the Unions and left-wing political parties. The strikes lit the match of a country on the verge; they doubled in size to 200,000 workers and over the next few days, 66,000 men of the local army garrison joined forces with the strikers. The February Russian revolution began and the Tsar was forced to abdicate (http://www.marxists.org/...).
The second important factor was the increased numbers of women in the labour movement, particularly in the textile industry, as more and more women were pulled into factories and out of homes with the rise of industrial capitalism. Their struggle to free themselves from the patriarchal home as Alexandra Kollantai noted in 1902 was critical:
"Among the numerous problems raised by contemporary reality there is probably none more important for mankind, none more vital and urgent than the problem of motherhood created by the large-scale capitalist economic system. The problem of protecting and providing for the mother and young child is one that faces social politicians, knocks relentlessly at the door of the statesman, engages the health and hygiene specialists, concerns the social statistician, haunts the representative of the working class and weighs down on the shoulders of tens of millions of mothers compelled to earn their own living [...] The demand that the social collective (the community) provide maternity insurance and child protection was born of the immediate and vital needs of the class of hired workers. Of all the strata of society, this class is the one which most requires that a solution be found to the painful conflict between compulsory professional labour by women and their duties as representatives of their sex, as mothers. Following a powerful class instinct rather than a clearly understood idea, the working class strove to find a way of resolving this conflict (Society and Motherhood, 1915)."
Women's struggle to obtain decent work conditions in the marketplace, instead of being viewed as cheap labour, is exemplified in the call for both "bread and roses." The textile strikes beginning in 1857 and the massive strikes between 1908 and 1915 were the activist expression of women's struggle for power. This was especially true after the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory strike where mostly women workers, but also children and a few men were killed in a sweatshop fire.
While initially the feminist movement focused on human rights issues for women such as suffrage, many of the women felt allied to working class struggles for decent wages and rights and took up the call that freedom and equality for one group meant freedom and equality for all although there were and continue to be disputes as to whether equality means equality or equal opportunity and upward mobility in the capitalist system.
While the anti-slavery movement seems distinct, the end of slavery pushed all workers, black and white into the same labor struggle as wage laborers. Once this occurred, it was up to anti-racist groups to fight for equality within the labour movement. This, of course, always raised the question of equality for the other major group excluded from equality in the labor force -- women.
These movements, occurring in a short period between the end of the civil war and the end of WWI, provided the activist and theoretical base to try to unite diverse groups into the revolutionary struggle. The formation of IWD was an explicit effort to unite the interests and theories of women and male labor (including workers of color that was implied in the socialist agenda) under a Revolutionary Socialist agenda in support of universal suffrage and economic equality.
The socialist women during this period who led the fight for dignity for women's new role in the workforce and the socialization of women’s unpaid labor in the home achieved many social gains in Europe and the United States including free public education, public healthcare and childcare in some places, regulation of working hours, wages and safety conditions and pensions for the elderly. Moreover, women’s struggle for universal suffrage helped achieve gains not only for women but for the working class as a whole, including gains for people of color in the United States.
Unfortunately, many of these struggles were ultimately couched in terms of individual reforms instead of a total change of the capitalist system. At least some of this was due, as becomes clear in the historical documents, to the white supremacy and male chauvinism in the socialist movement and the classism and white supremacy in the women's movement. As capitalism continues to devour everything in its path – leading first to a Eurocentric Imperialism and finally to Global domination, we have seen these gains receding.
As the textile and garment industry is outsourced to third world countries, it is a bitter irony that the textile and garment workers of Haiti, Cambodia and Bangladesh live in almost the exact same conditions as the women textile workers did here one hundred years ago: 14 hour work days, 7 days a week, unsafe conditions. Only this time the repetition of the horror of the Triangle shirtwaist factory has increased in scale as can be seen in the 1,134 deaths in the collapse of the garment factory at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh.
Because of the mobility of capital under global capitalism, companies facing the threat of strikes can quickly relocate to other locations, leaving workers without a source of survival. For workers, this constant threat of replacement makes fighting for higher standards risky. The call of workers in almost all these countries, including the United States, has shifted from demands for full-time stable well paid union jobs, fought for factory by factory, to political demands that the nation states provide a minimum wage to all workers. There is currently a call for a global minimum wage.
In the United States, with the flight of the textile industry, women workers are now concentrated in the food service industry (another transfer of women’s work from home to the market) where jobs cannot be outsourced. Kollantai’s prediction of the demise of the patriarchal nuclear family under capitalism is coming true. Almost 50% of marriages end in divorce and many younger people are not marrying (marriage was always lower among the working class since there was little wealth to protect or inherit). However, since the socialized safety net protections that women fought for to replace the nuclear family and provide a modicum of protection are under attack through the imposition of austerity programs, there is an increase in the feminization of poverty and single mothers. Since the problem is that there is not enough work, women are working part-time in two or three jobs in addition to taking care of their children without benefit of social supports from either the institution of marriage or of the state. Two thirds of the workers in the fast food industry are single women of color, many of them mothers, living below the poverty lines.
Yet the struggle continues. Impoverished women garment workers in Haiti, Cambodia Bangladesh have gone on strike, fought pitched street battles with police and burned factories, demanding better wages and better working conditions. And there is the beginning of a vibrant movement among low waged workers at Walmart in in the fast food industry in the United States.
The following excerpts (which we hope you will read, view, sing-along- with, explore and enjoy) are just a sampling of some of the actions and words of some prominent working women and movements during the period leading up to International Women's Day. As we celebrate IWD today,however, let's keep in mind how our current struggles are the same, how they have changed and what we can learn from our fore-mothers.
STILL AIN'T SATISFIED
By the Red Star Singers (If you want to get the tune and sing along, hit the link: https://myspace.com/...)
They got women on TV, but I still ain’t satisfied
Cause cooptation’s all I see and I still ain’t satisfied
They call me Ms., they sell me blue jeans
Call it Women’s Lib, make it sound obscene
Oh they lied, Oh they lied, Oh they lied and I still ain’t satisfied
They got women prison guards, but I still ain’t satisfied
With so many behind bars, I still ain’t satisfied
I won’t plead guilt, I don’t want no bum deal
I don’t want crumbs, I want the whole meal
Chorus: Oh they lied, Oh they lied, Oh they lied and I still ain’t satisfied
They legalized abortion, but I still ain’t satisfied
Cause it still costs a fortune and I still ain’t satisfied
I’m singing about control of my own womb
And no reform is gonna change my tune
Chorus: Oh they lied, oh they lied, oh they lied and I still ain’t satisfied
They give out pennies here and there but I still ain’t satisfied
To set up centers for childcare but I still ain’t satisfied
And while we work everyday at slave wages,
They brainwash our kids at tender ages
Oh they lied, oh they lied, oh they lied and I still ain’t satisfied
I got some pride, I won’t be lied to
I did decide that halfway won’t do
Chorus: oh they lied, oh they lied, oh they lied and I still ain’t satisfied
No one should be surprised these days when yet another company goes belly-up in these difficult financial times, especially in devastated economies such as Spain. Yet the bankruptcy of Fagor, the flagship cooperative in the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) has shaken many anti-capitalists around the world as akin to witnessing the ending of Camelot. The fact that at least two of the other largest cooperatives in the Mondragon network, Caja Laboral (the bank and financial center of the corporation) and Eroski (a chain of retail stores throughout Europe) are in dire financial straits has only added to the ominous threat.
Fagor, with its 5,600 workers, is a relatively small part of the whole. Even so, Trevino (Fagor's CEO) warns that its fall “will have an uncontrollable domino effect on the rest of the group with major social implications.” He believes Fagor’s liquidation would create a €480m hole at Mondragon, including inter-group loans and payments the group’s insurance arm would have to make on Fagor workers’ unemployment policies.
Mondragon has promised to find new jobs or offer early-retirement terms for as many as it can of Fagor’s Spanish workers, but this is a tall order in a country with 27% unemployment. Besides their jobs, workers stand to lose the money they had invested in the co-op if it is liquidated.
Demystifying the Mondragon Myth
For the last 50 some years, the growth of what is now the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation has given many anarchists, socialists and other progressives in the cooperative movement the hope that yes, Virginia, there really is a viable alternative to Capitalism or, at the very least, an economic system that could provide a transition to socialism. Moreover, although many socialists won’t easily admit it, there is often the underlying hope that somehow this transition could occur “peacefully”, without a real class struggle ending in state ownership; that somehow, within the belly of the beast of capitalism, the cooperative model could “out compete” the capitalist multinationals at their own game and become the dominant economic paradigm.
Yet, as one blogger commented in Alternatives to Capitalism,
“There is no escaping the need to challenge Wall Street and the other big financial centers across the world for political and economic power which requires a well-organized and intense class struggle [...] something the promoters of these cooperative schemes try to evade as they try to convince workers there are ways around bringing mines, mills and factories under public ownership which is going to require the nationalization of entire industries.”
“We are the Workers, the Mighty, Mighty Workers
Everywhere We Go,
The People Want to Know
Who We Are, So We Tell Them….”
As I walked toward the demo of the Fast Food Workers in Union Square, I heard the words and sounds of this song and couldn't help but grin. We were back! The workers that is – not the “middle class,” not the “deserving poor”, not “the 99%.” As a working class kid from a union factory family, I got it. Not only because you can’t really go around shouting “Middle Class of the World Unite” or “We are the Mighty Mighty Middle Class” – let’s face, it, it just doesn't resonate – but because the very concept of “worker” which this movement seems to grasp intuitively changes the very nature of the struggle.
“The Middle Class,” “the poor” and even “the 99%” define us in terms of how much wealth we have or do not have, regardless of how we got it, in the upwardly mobile mantra of Capitalism. As workers we are defined, instead, by what we do, how we appropriate the materials and provide the services necessary for the survival and comfort of the human species. And that is a pretty important difference.
Obama’s “middle class” framing of all that is good and important in society (and god know we all want a better lifestyle) is no more than the standard capitalist divide and conquer, the promise of individual upward mobility for the few at the expense of the many. You too can be one of the chosen. And we often buy into it. We want to see ourselves as “better” because we have been able to buy our own home, or send our children to “private” or “charter” schools. And we rationalize that it is because we deserve it – we’re smarter, more industrious, stronger, our skills are more necessary--not due to the whim of the time and place we were born into or that our skills and success are built on the back of the skills and hard work of others.
All of us have known an aunt who raised kids, worked outside the home all her life, carried on intelligent conversations about the world’s problems, worked for the community and has ended up relatively destitute. What is her value? Is she poor because she deserved it? How about many of our young people today who bought the American Dream, worked hard, even went to college if they could afford it and now, through the vagaries of capitalism are jobless or working in low paying jobs that will not allow them to get that middle class dream (unless they can still inherit it from their parents)?
The term “workers” reunites the labor movement by removing the distinction between the mostly white, working middle class (who usually got their middle class lifestyle through union benefits that their grandfathers fought for) and the less affluent workers who are often people of color, single mothers, immigrants, and increasingly young college educated workers who missed out on the brass ring due to the recent failing economy. As one worker put it:
"I don't care if you're blue collar, white, collar, pink collar or no collar -- all of us have value. Have you ever stopped to think how hard people work? The people who cook for you, the bus driver who drives you to work in the morning? The people who clean your house and your clothes? Have you ever stopped to say 'thank you'? If you don't know how to do that job, or if you don't want to do that job, the best way to say thank you, no matter how much you make, is to stand in solidarity with us and RAISE THE MINIMUM wage!"
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.
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.
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.
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