Date of Degree

10-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor(s)

Leith Mulllings

Subject Categories

Labor Economics | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Studies

Keywords

Class relations, Domestic Worker, Labor Movement, Transnationalism, Worker Organizing

Abstract

This dissertation tells the story of Domestic Workers United (DWU), an organization of Latina and Caribbean nannies, housecleaners and elder care providers based in New York City. I trace DWU's efforts from its campaign to win basic employment protections for domestic workers in New York State through its efforts to enforce those new rights and to raise working standards above the minimum.

The driving motivation behind this work is the search for new paradigms for worker organizing that respond to the political and economic challenges of our times. I argue that domestic workers and other low-wage workers of color are the paradigmatic workers of the 21st century. The dynamics of the domestic work industry are an extreme expression of broader trends towards decentralization, informalization, low-wage work and commodified reproductive labor. DWU is part of a national movement of domestic workers' organizations that are developing new organizing models that can help workers in other industries navigate these trends.

Domestic Workers United's work highlights the constraining and stratified models of economic citizenship that shaped labor politics in the last century, suggesting a more expansive, integrative and dynamic approach to worker organizing. Their work provides an example of an "intersectional" approach in which the incorporation of work to address race and gender oppression expands the terrain of "class struggle," rather than narrowing it. DWU's model also points towards the need to re-imagine economic citizenship and to conceptualize a new social contract. Their work indicates that, in order to respond to the dynamics of our times, we need to radically expand the realm of state protections, and it also suggests that we need to transform the framework of collective bargaining in the United States in order to enable effective negotiations between workers and employers. DWU's implicit vision for a new social contract also offers a space for contestation over the social organization of reproductive labor. Finally, DWU's demonstrates the need for more complex and dynamic approaches to understanding class relations and workers' struggles that works through the racialized and classed differences between working people rather than focusing only on their shared experiences.

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