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Honoring our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters domestic labor.

Commentary by Black Kos Editor Deoliver47.

I come from a long line of women who were domestic workers; both enslaved and free. They scrubbed floors, cooked, did laundry, cleaned, sewed and raised other folks children.  This labor was often unacknowledged, overlooked, viewed as demeaning, and was unprotected by law.

Recently, New York State became the first state to enact a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

Governor David Paterson signed the law into effect on last Tuesday.  

NY 1 covered the story (with video):
Paterson Signs Landmark Bill of Rights For Domestic Workers

Domestic workers in New York are now guaranteed more rights than anywhere in the nation. Governor David Paterson signed the Domestic Workers' Rights bill into law Tuesday morning.

It guarantees overtime pay, a minimum of one day off every seven days, three days of paid leave per year, and protections against sexual harassment and racial discrimination. The bill also mandates that a feasibility study be done to see if there is a possibility of these workers unionizing.

The law covers the estimated 270,000 domestic workers – including nannies, housekeepers and caregivers – employed statewide, and is being hailed as a civil rights victory since the majority of the workers are not only women, but also women of color. "They are the structure and function of our society," Paterson said. "They have been the skeleton and underpinning of our success. They are the wind beneath our wings. And we have totally disrespected them, until today."


NY Daily News columnist Albor Ruiz wrote:

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law finally grants protection for over 200,000 people

Today, most domestic workers in New York are immigrant women from the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Abusing them has been easy because, besides not being protected by labor laws, many of them cannot navigate our nation's complex legal system, or have trouble with the language of their new country. A study by Domestic Workers United found that 26% of domestic workers make less than minimum wage and live below the poverty line. Also, 33% say they have been abused verbally or physically, while another 67% reported receiving overtime pay only sometimes - if ever. Health insurance coverage from their employer is a rare luxury; only 10% get it.

And because 93% of domestic workers are women and 95% are people of color, the most marginalized New York communities are the ones most affected. The Bill of Rights should go a long way to remedy many of those injustices. It already has become a model for similar bills that could soon be introduced in other states such as California, where one is now in the works.

Kudos to Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Harlem)who introduced this legislation six years ago, but the real accolades must go to Domestic Workers United the organization that has been at the vanguard of this struggle that has taken centuries.


Founded in 2000, Domestic Workers United [DWU] is an organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in New York, organizing for power, respect, fair labor standards and to help build a movement to end exploitation and oppression for all

Here is their summary of the legislation:

The New NYS Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Summary

On July 1, the New York State Legislature passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (A1470B/S2311E).  Governor Paterson has stated publicly that he will sign the bill into law. The new law will go into effect 90 days later.
Work Hours
• establishes 8 hours as a legal day’s work
• overtime at the rate of 1 ½ of the regular rate of pay after 40 hours for live-out domestic workers and 44 for live-in domestic workers
Day of Rest
• one day of rest in each calendar week (should try to coincide with a worker’s day of worship)
• overtime pay if a worker agrees to work on her day of rest
Paid Days Off
• After one year of employment, entitled to 3 paid days off
Workplace Protection
• Protection against workplace discrimination based race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, marital status, and domestic violence victim status  

• Protection against sexual harassment by employer

• Protection against harassment based on gender, race, national origin, and religion

• Covers full-time and part-time domestic workers for temporary disability benefits

DOL Study
• Before 11/1/10, the Department of Labor will report to the Governor, the Assembly Speaker and the Temporary President of the Senate on the feasibility and practicality of domestic workers organizing for the purpose of collective bargaining.


Domestic Workers United poster


Rally of Domestic Workers in front of Harriet Tubman Statue in Harlem.

This labor movement is not just local to New York.  The National Domestic Workers Alliance is now organizing and fighting for domestic worker rights in other states, an connected to major initiatives in California.


Founded at the US Social Forum in 2007, the National Domestic Workers Alliance is a vehicle to build power nationally as a workforce. NDWA is organizing to improve the living and working conditions of domestic workers; win respect and justice from employers and government for exploited domestic workers; change the racism and sexism that has led to the persistent devaluing of this labor so that dignity of domestic work is honored; end the exclusion of domestic workers from recognition and protection; build a movement of migrant workers to fight the labor displacement and exploitation created by globalization; and continue a brave legacy of resistance by supporting movement-building among domestic workers and other communities and workers in struggle.

This is not a new struggle.  There is a large body of labor history that deals with efforts to organize domestics.

African-American Labor History: The National Domestic Workers Union

The National Domestic Workers Union (NDWU) was founded in Atlanta in 1968 by Dorothy Bolden, who wanted to set standards for salaries and benefits received by women who were employed as domestic workers.  Under the direction of Bolden, the NDWU began an employment service, a "Homemaking Skills" program, and a "maids Honor Day" to bring attention to the importance of work that was long seen as menial and unworthy of adequate pay and recognition.  Ms. Bolden also served as the president of NDWU.


Dorothy Bolden Thompson

Dorothy Bolden-Thompson, the organizer of the NDWU had a rich and multi-faceted history as a civil rights activist.

Mrs. Bolden Thompson worked as a Domestic Worker for forty-one years. In 1930 her first job was washing diapers after school for $1.25 per week. At the age twelve she cleaned house for $1.50 per week for a Jewish family. Over the years Mrs. Thompson also worked in a variety of jobs - Greyhound bus station; Linen Supply Company; Railroad Express, and Sears Roebuck. She would regularly quit these jobs after a brief tenure and do domestic work, then take on another job with a company in order to pay into Social Security. In 1968, using the knowledge of her years as a domestic worker, and her experiences as a community activist, Ms. Bolden Thompson organized the National Domestic Workers Union of America, Inc., which successfully improved the wages and working conditions of domestic workers in Atlanta, and served as an ongoing model for domestic workers in other cities; he developed a Job Counselor and Placement Service for household workers (maids) in Washington, D.C.; she developed and directed Training in Home Management Program in 1970-1971. She is also the developer and director of Homemaking Skills Program, from 1973-1974.

In the 1960s Mrs. Bolden Thompson was involved in the civil rights movement with her then neighbor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also encouraged her in her organizing efforts. In 1964, when the Atlanta School Board decided to move the eighth grade out of her community to a condemned school building, she organized a boycott and protest, demanding equal and quality education. As a result of these efforts, the board built a modem school in her neighborhood.
The organizing techniques, which Mrs. Bolden Thompson learned during the skirmish with the school board, prepared her well when she decided to organize Atlanta's maids. As a result of her community involvement, Ms. Bolden became well known to many Atlanta citizens. During bus rides with other maids, she heard their complaints about "no money, no respect, and long hours". As she became aware of the working conditions and problems facing fellow workers in private households, in 1964 Mrs. Thompson began plans for an organization that would work to improve the wages and working conditions of maids. The legal minimum wage set by the United States Government at the time was $1.25 per hour, but African American maids in Atlanta were earning $3.50 to $5.00 a day, for twelve to thirteen hours.

In 1968 Mrs. Thompson asked representatives of organized labor for support and direction. They advised her to assemble a meeting of at least ten women. Within a few months, after several hundred women gathered, the representatives responded and the group created a new union, the National Domestic Workers Union. In September of that year, Mrs. Thompson was elected president of that union. Under her charismatic leadership, the group received a charter, and membership increased. As a result of the group's efforts, wages increased and working conditions improved, and maids were receiving $13.50 to $15.00 per day plus carfare.

The roots of black women working as domestic labor here in the US go back to the founding of this nation and its cornerstone of enslavement.


We are all familiar with movie images like this one of Hattie McDaniel:


Collectors of slavery and reconstruction memorabilia pay high prices for images of black nannies and servants with their white charges.



Decades after reconstruction, little had changed in the employment outlook for black women.  I can remember as a child seeing women trudging home carrying shopping bags, late in the evenings, walking slowly, tired from a long day working for Miss Ann.

In the early years of television,  audiences were treated to a series "Beulah"
who solved problems for her white employers:

Ruby Dandridge and Hattie McDaniel

The Beulah Show

The sanitized for television fantasy bore little relationship to the day-to-day reality of those women, who raised other folks kids, in order to feed their own.


So, on the day following the Labor Day weekend, let us celebrate a victory for domestics/household workers who are organizing for a better future for themselves and their families.

This is an international issue as well.  WIEGO, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing has an informative fact sheet:

According to the International Labour Office (ILO) there are
"tens of millions" of domestic workers worldwide, the vast
majority being women from the poorer sections of society.
Domestic workers are employed in private homes by the
householder to carry out tasks such as cleaning, laundry,
cooking, shopping, gardening, childcare or care of the elderly.
Some live on the premises of their employer. Many work on a
part time basis, often for multiple employers. Many are
migrant workers from other countries, or from rural to urban
areas in the same country. Large numbers of children are in
domestic service and there are links between children in
domestic service and trafficking, both within and between
countries. Despite differences in their working and legal situation,
domestic workers worldwide share common characteristics,
most notably their isolation, invisibility and lack of recognition
and of worker rights.

Let us not forget that they are still underpaid and exploited, and we have battles yet to fight for them to receive what they deserve.

I honor the struggle of my grandmother the laundress, my grandmother the cook, my great grandmother the nanny, and all my sisters who still work, not in the fields, or factories but in the kitchens and laundry rooms of the world.

                      News by dopper0189

Low-income can also be environmentally friendly, with a little help. LA Times: Green revolution comes to urban neighborhoods

Kendrick Harris, a high school dropout who has been homeless and jobless, has had more pressing things to worry about than the environment.

But in the last year the 22-year-old South Los Angeles resident has planted community gardens, cleaned up abandoned industrial sites and learned how to install solar panels.

"Not knowing where I was going to sleep at night, the last thing in my head was going green," Harris said recently as he helped weatherize a 75-year-old stucco home near Lincoln Heights. "It was never something that was taught and it was never something that I did."

Harris is one of 200 local residents taking part in an innovative program designed to help bridge a green divide. Many residents of low-income neighborhoods say they've been left out of the environmental movement and that clean-tech businesses are avoiding urban neighborhoods while they pitch green advances elsewhere.

"There's a tendency to not seek out communities like these," said Jeffrey Richardson, chief executive of solar installer Imani Energy Inc., one of the few companies that have been actively working on projects in South Los Angeles. "There's the idea that people here don't get it, don't want to get it and can't get it when it comes to green."

That frustration has given rise to an "environmental justice" movement encouraging homegrown, grass-roots industry.

                              (Mariah Tauger, Los Angeles Times / July 28, 2010)

Regina King in her own words Huffington Post: The Emmys: As White As Ever

I have been going back and forth about whether or not I should compose this letter. I try hard in my daily life not to engage in uncomfortable situations regarding race. But sometimes it's very difficult to find other reasons that better explain why certain events play out the way they do. It is impossible for me to ignore the published statistics regarding the number of people of color mentioned, celebrated or honored in the history of the televised Emmys. Up to and including this year, there have been only 53 non-white actors nominated for Emmys out of nearly 1,000 possible nominations in the top four acting categories for drama and comedy.

I've worked in television nearly all of my professional life, and that statistic is quite sobering to me. And to add injury to my already sensitive nerve endings a picture of Rutina Wesley from True Blood, who attended this year's Emmys, had a caption that read: "Regina King enters the 62nd Emmys." No, I wasn't there. Mistakes happen, right? Well after a few "mistakes" of how people of color are portrayed in the Hollywood media, I decided it was important to say something about how things go down in Hollywood.

The initial pull on my heart strings was not seeing the veteran Sesame Street actress Alaina Reed Hall included in this year's memoriam. I know I am taking it somewhat personally because of the history I shared with her, but then I stopped to think about the fact that she was on Sesame Street for 12 years, a show that is an American institution. People of all ages and generations have seen and enjoyed this highly influential television show. You have to admit, to not recognize her contribution to television baffles the mind. I first wondered, maybe I had turned my head quickly and missed seeing Alaina's picture scroll past the screen or she was mentioned later. But no such luck.

I missed this great editorial last week. EbonyJet: Racism Inc.

Make no mistake about it, racism in America is big business.  Just ask Glenn Beck. Beck’s rally planned for the 28th in Washington D.C. is steeped in the politics’ of racial divide that have become increasing popular for his ilk.  While he denies race has anything to do with the rally and, it is instead about politics, make no mistake about it it’s not. To men like Glenn Beck, Barack Obama is not the President of the United States, but the black President of the United States.  Because he is the black President of the United States, to some, no matter what he did it would not be enough. It is against that backdrop that Glenn Beck has risen. It is also a dangerous backdrop to exploit.

When I entered the field of broadcasting, some three decades ago, we were told that the First Amendment allowed for freedom of speech, but not the freedom to enter into a crowded theater and yell fire. Since then, the only speech that is protected is the latter. Men like Glenn Beck make their living off of screaming fire and then watching others put out the flames. Beck, who is no dummy, knew that staging a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the more famous "March on Washington" would inflame racial tensions, so did his bosses as Fox.

It is just as controversial, if not more so, than the debate in New York as to whether a mosque should be built near ground zero.  Some view that ground as sacred. Many in the black community feel the same way about the Lincoln Memorial and while the memorial and the datedo not belong to the African American community, some sensitivity was in order.  The Glenn Beck’s of the world know it. The predominant image of that march on that day was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering the pivotal speech in American history on the subject of race.  It was a pivotal moment toward addressing the two Americas, one black one white.  Now the Glenn Beck’s of the world are doing their best to separate us once again.

I plan on going here when it opens. New York Times: African Art Museum Again Delays Opening of Site on Fifth Avenue.

Citing construction delays, the Museum for African Art said on Friday that it had pushed back the planned opening of its new Manhattan home by about six months, from April 2011 to September or October of that year.

The museum will occupy the lower floors of a 19-story condominium building, designed by Robert A. M. Stern, on Fifth Avenue between 109th and 110th Streets. The museum’s president, Elsie McCabe Thompson, said that the building’s developers, Brickman and Sidney Fetner Associates, had failed to complete the core and shell as expected several months ago, and that they were now planning to do so in the next few weeks.

In the meantime the museum’s construction consultants, engineers and architects decided that they could not finish the interior in time for a spring opening.

"It’s a complex situation — I don’t want to lay blame on any one entity," Mrs. Thompson said. "There’s a lot of factors," she continued, adding, "It’s quite common."

Roderick O’Connor, a principal of Brickman, however, said in a phone interview that there had not been any significant delays on its part.

Mrs. Thompson said fund-raising was not a factor in the delay. As of June, the museum had raised only $71 million of the $95 million it needed to pay for construction. Mrs. Thompson said she had since raised an additional $4.5 million. Asked if the museum was considering a phased opening, she said, "I promised a full building, and I’m going to move earth to make it happen."

We need some heavy fundraising on this issue. New York Times: H.I.V. Prevention Gel Hits Snag: Money

When scientists celebrated the announcement in July that a vaginal microbicide had finally been found that significantly reduced H.I.V. infections in women, there was still a prosaic — though essential — piece of the puzzle missing: money.

Donors have not committed enough money for even one of the two studies needed to confirm a promising South African trial of the microbicide and get it into women’s hands. Only about $58 million of the $100 million needed for follow-up research has been pledged, according to Unaids, the United Nations AIDS agency. Experts say shifting global health priorities and tight finances in the West are making it hard to raise the rest.

Advocates say any delay could be deadly. Most of the 22 million people infected with H.I.V. in sub-Saharan Africa are women, and about a million women on the continent are infected each year. If subsequent studies find the gel effective, women could use it to protect themselves even when men refuse to use condoms.

"We have to keep our eye on the prize," said Dr. Catherine Hankins, chief scientific adviser to Unaids. "It’s in reach. We have to close the funding gap and get the gel to women."

                            (Joao Silva for The New York Times)

As dusk falls on the ramshackle neighbourhood of Guediawaye, on the outskirts of Dakar, hundreds of young men and boys in loincloths and Nike shorts are being put through their paces by trainers brandishing whistles. BBC: Wrestling boom sweeps Senegal.

In their hundreds, the athletes drop to the ground and, seemingly effortlessly, run off dozens of push-ups while the trainer shouts encouragements from the sandy training ground.

Young kids sell peanuts around the edges of the patch of land, which is strewn with rocks and rubbish.

They watch eagerly as these bright young stars of the country's booming wrestling industry get ready to grapple with their opponents, hoping to throw them to the ground in an athletic display of strength, skill and style.

Only a few of the more than 200 men who belong to this school will make it on to the professional wrestling circuit.

For those that do, the stakes are high. The young men who make it up the ranks can look forward to winning up to 100 million West African CFA francs ($205,000) per game.

In one of the world's poorest countries, where the average annual income is $980 according to the World Bank's latest figures, this will make them part of the country's financial elite and national heroes to the millions of men and women who follow the game.

Senegalese wrestling began in the villages, when farmers who only worked during the fertile rainy season would pass the time with this traditional African sport that has been practised across the continent for hundreds of years.

Haitian diaspora New York Times: After Tough Year, New York’s Haitians Gather

The sun rose over the tireless Haitian rara musicians and the throng of ecstatic fans who followed them. A shimmying mother pushed a stroller. A man on roller skates danced into his seventh hour. Two police officers sipped coffee. The fans chanted, "The day is coming."

The musicians belong to a band based in Brooklyn called DJA-Rara, and some of them have been playing J’ouvert, the warm-up to the annual West Indian American Carnival, for years. The festival, which stretches for most of the night and into the wee hours of Labor Day, features steel drum bands and revelers with painted faces marching in a rollicking procession from the foot of Grand Army Plaza through Brooklyn’s Caribbean neighborhoods.

It is also a showcase for rara, a popular Haitian tradition that has made inroads in New York in recent decades, with regular performances in Central Park and Prospect Park. The musicians play drums, tin horns and an instrument made from bamboo or PVC tubing, producing a blend of sounds that causes crowds to move.

In Haiti and New York, the music has grown up around the revelry of carnivals, but has also emerged as a forum for social protest and popular expression.

The diaspora bands remain connected to the homeland, by sending songs and music videos for Haiti’s carnival, according to Jeremy Robins, who directed a film about DJA-Rara that will be broadcast on PBS in January.


The NAACP has joined with three websites to monitor racism coming from the Tea Party movement and the far right wing. Washington Post: Monitoring the Tea Party.

The civil rights group has partnered with three liberal media Web sites to form a "tea party tracker" intent on monitoring "racism and other forms of extremism" within the tea party movement.

The online project, which was developed and branded by the NAACP’s new media staff, has already drawn strong criticism from tea party supporters, who have said repeatedly that racism plays no role in their movement.



Voices and Soul


by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, though born a free woman in the time of slavery, was nonetheless, a fierce advocate for abolition and equal rights. She was part of the Free Produce Movement, a boycott of goods made with slave labor. "Free" meant, "not enlsaved" and "Produce" was any good or crop made or harvested by human effort. Some have argued how effective the movement was; given that slavery existed for almost a century from the movement's inception. But whether a boycott is against "Blood Diamonds", or "Sweat Shop Fabric", an individual stand, indeed, carries great power. It brings about irrevocable change; like waves wearing away rock along the coast line. When asked by the landed gentry of the times, why she would boycott goods made by her "people", she insisted that what she owned was Free; that it was manufactured by men and women of their own Free Will, who were paid an honest wage for an honest day's work. She insisted that what she owned was not extracted by the whip and the lash, by the tearing apart of families, flesh and the Soul. She insisted that what she owned was truly from:

Free Labor

I wear an easy garment,
O’er it no toiling slave
Wept tears of hopeless anguish,
In his passage to the grave.

And from its ample folds
Shall rise no cry to God,
Upon its warp and woof shall be
No stain of tears and blood.

Oh, lightly shall it press my form,
Unladen with a sigh,
I shall not ‘mid its rustling hear,
Some sad despairing cry.

This fabric is too light to bear
The weight of bondsmen’s tears,
I shall not in its texture trace
The agony of years.

Too light to bear a smother’d sigh,
From some lorn woman’s heart,
Whose only wreath of household love
Is rudely torn apart.

Then lightly shall it press my form,
Unburden’d by a sigh;
And from its seams and folds shall rise,
No voice to pierce the sky,

And witness at the throne of God,
In language deep and strong,
That I have nerv’d Oppression’s hand,
For deeds of guilt and wrong.

--  Frances Ellen Watkins Harper


The Front Porch is now open.  Grab a chair, get some food and drink, stay and chat with us for a while.

Originally posted to Black Kos on Tue Sep 07, 2010 at 01:00 PM PDT.

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