Caring about Care Workers: Organising in the Female Shadow of Globalisation

Shireen Ally
University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa


Over the past decade, studies of globalization have insightfully exposed the global re-organization of production. But much less has been said about it’s “intimate ‘Other’ ”, the global re-organisation of reproduction (Truong, 1996: 47). In this “female underside of globalization” (Ehrenreich, 2002: 3), women of color from the global South increasingly labour as reproductive care workers for families in the North. With this gendered and racialized international division of caring labour, globalization has crafted a “new world domestic order” (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001). Yet, in the mainstream scholarship on globalization, the female sphere of reproduction is marginalized, and care workers are taken to be “truants from globalised economic webs” (Pratt and Yeoh, 2003: 160).

Far from marginal to globalisation, however, care work is essential for the reproduction of global capitalism. Amongst the most important of these caring jobs is paid domestic work, which remains iconic of the low-wage service jobs that are proliferating in globalised economies (Chang, 2000). Subject to notoriously exploitative pay, abusive working conditions, and debilitating racism and sexism, these “servants of globalization” ( Parreñas , 2001) are beginning to challenge the logic that the sector is ‘unorganised’. In a recent proliferation of global organising around the plight of domestic workers, one of globalisation’s most hidden dimensions is gaining visibility, and some of its most vulnerable workers are gaining a voice.

This article analyses this resurgence of domestic worker organising globally to understand the emerging structure of resistance in globalisation’s female shadow. I argue that domestic worker organising is marked by a bipolar structure of representation. On the one hand, an ‘association model’ recognises and utilises transnationalism’s reformulation of the calculus of race and gender, and has pursued a new politics of identity around migrancy. On the other hand, a ‘union model’ has attempted to recover the traditional mobilising identity of class, reconfigured to recognise the significance to the labour movement of gendered care work under globalisation. In this bifurcated landscape, new efforts at ‘organising the unorganised’ have challenged the union-based labour movement, and force a reconsideration of the relationship between ‘organising’ and ‘unionising’.

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Global Union Networks, Feminism, and Transnational Labor Solidarity

Mary Margaret Fonow, Arizona State University
Suzanne Franzway, University of South Australia

Our purpose in this paper is to explain how feminists in organized labor forge international solidarity and use the networks and alliances of their unions to create political spaces for mobilizing women’s participation in transnational campaigns for labor rights and economic justice. Union feminists with structural ties to organized labor and to the women’s movement, are in a unique position to mobilize both movements to respond to the issues and concerns that rapid economic globalization raises for working class women.

Globalization plays a significant role in shaping local, regional, and transnational political mobilization.  Although the imbalances of political and economic power between different types of workers within a country and between workers in different countries are exacerbated by globalization, these same processes create continuities that can become the grounds for mobilizing across asymmetrical differences. Giugni (2002) contends that, because of globalization, social movements in different countries take on similar characteristics and that these similarities can be an advantage in mobilizing across national boundaries. The diffusion of information and ideas about collective action across borders presents different movements with the opportunity to adopt similar discourses, strategies, and tactics. The transnational ties and networks of social movement organizations supply the circuits for this diffusion and help to bridge the cultural and spatial divide between activists in different countries.

Feminists and theorists of social movements caution us not to overlook the power imbalances between actors and organizations within transnational networks. As researchers we need an empirical understanding of power relations and flows within networks and not however, make assumptions about how power differences are negotiated. “The social movement sector does not simply mimic world-system power disparities; but rather, in seeking to transform global inequalities, activists self-consciously act to change how power relations between states impinge on internal SMO [social movement organizations] relations “(Giugni, p. 6). Networks can serve as actors in politics and as a way to mobilize and structure the actions of movement participants. The existence of networks in and of themselves does not produce collective action; networks have to be framed by movements as useful circuits for mobilization. Because networks bring together activists within and across national boundaries in a very uneven way, all exchanges are fraught with power differences and this must be taken into account if genuine alliances and coalitions are to flourish.

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A Place to Speak Our Minds: Locating Women’s Activism Where North Meets South

Mary E. Frederickson
Miami University of Ohio


Eighty years ago a sizeable cohort of activists, scholars and labor organizers argued that the future of the North American labor movement depended on the successful organization of women workers in the U.S. South. In 2005, activists, scholars and labor organizers make markedly similar arguments about the important role being played by young women entering maquiladora factories and sweatshops in the Global South. Divided by time and place, these two groups of workers share the legacy of paying the human costs of industrialization and globalization. In both groups, a significant minority of women responded to the economic and social changes confronting them by turning to activism and fighting back. Collective organization, workers’ education and feminist cooperation were hallmarks of women’s activism for social and economic justice in the U.S. South in the mid-twentieth century. The success of these efforts depended on women locating places where they could develop historical consciousness, find their voices and openly “speak their minds”. The experiences of women workers in the U.S. South of the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940′s, provide concrete models for women in the Global South today.

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ELITE STALEMATE AND WORKERS’ CONTROL: Applying the Experiences of Nicaragua and Cuba to Argentina

Sean Herlihy
Texas Southern University, U.S.A.


In Nicaragua , Cuba , and Argentina working people won more workers’ control when opposing elites deadlocked. Fieldwork in these countries involved 160 interviews, and 54 worksite observations over a period of 22 over months between 1990 and 2005. Workers’ control movements offer self-sufficient, popular, internally democratic challenges to neo-liberal privatization. They exploit spaces between bureaucratic and capitalist elites to win concessions from leftist and democratic governments. During the Triumph of Nicaraguan Revolution, a gap in authority between fleeing Somocista and incoming Sandinista administrators left workers and peasants to carry on production by themselves for several months. Sandinista leaders, although sympathetic to worker participation, wanted to centralize agriculture, but peasants and Contras pressured them to distribute land to individuals and cooperatives. With the fall of the Sandinistas, country people again used the hiatus between governments – this time outgoing Sandinista and incoming pro-capitalist Chamorro administrations – to occupy land. Chamorro’s government tried to privatize industries to capitalists, but, workers took over some of the privatized enterprises themselves. In Cuba , crises after the Soviet collapse produced conflicting tendencies within the state apparatus. When state farms left lands uncultivated, rural people took them over, both by wheedling and by force. The government relinquished titles to 50,000 individuals and established cooperatives with more workers control. In Argentina eighteen years of neoliberal restructuring collapsed in 2001. Peronist legislators, and union leaders, paralyzed the Radical Party presidency of Fernando De la Rúa. The economic collapse, enterprise failures, and deadlocked elites provided an opening for a popular uprising and 10,000 workers taking over or “recuperated” almost 200 enterprises. Capitalists and bureaucrats are usually stronger than working people, but workers have opportunities to win more control of production when conflicting elites balance each other, with the weaker party usually being working peoples’ best ally.

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Indian Call Centers: The Outsourcing of “Good Jobs” for Women

Doreen J. Mattingly
San Diego State University, U.S.

For the eight months since she has graduated from college, Preethi has worked nights in a New Delhi call center helping customers in California sort out problems their telephone bills. Her average workday begins at 4 pm when the company van picks her up at her house. By 5 pm she is at her desk getting her equipment and computer files ready, and at 5:30 pm, 7 am in California, the computer begins sending call to her workstation. The first hour is usually slow but by 6:30 she is on the phone constantly, a new call sent to her as soon as she finishes the last one. Preethi works hard and fast trying to perform each task perfectly; she can earn extra pay if she meets all of her targets. To do so is difficult; she must take at least 50 calls resolving the concerns of all the callers without errors, fallow all protocol on each call, and meet standards for average call length and time spent off the phone. During the shift she’ll have three breaks, two 15 minute breaks and one for thirty minutes — just enough time to run to canteen for tea and a bite with her friends. She is careful to be back at her terminal on time – each second she is late reduces her chance to earn bonus pay. At 3:30 am she logs off, completes her paper work, attends a team meeting, and then gets on the van for the ride home. By 5 am she is in bed, hoping to fall asleep before the noise of her family’s morning routines awakens her.

Only 21, Preethi is the breadwinner in her household, providing the majority of the money to support her parents, grandparents, and sister; her father is out of work and her mother has never had a job. When she is not working, Preethi is studying for her MBA. She is an ambitious young woman. “I want a very high post,” she says. “I couldn’t have reached my goals on my parents’ income, but now I see possibilities.” Although Preethi found work in a call centre four days after graduating from college, her parents were not please with her decision. “People’s perception is that the job is easy money but bad because you work at night, smoke and drink. My parents said I shouldn’t do it but my friends said it’s not that bad…. Just after college my parents tried to marry me off. They were under pressure from relatives. They used to push me to get married but now see me as an asset. Now they see the virtue in my waiting to marry. Now they say that marriage is my decision.”

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National and Transnational logics in the Yakima borderlands

Maurer, Serena
University of Washington, U.S

Abstract: In the internal borderlands of Washington State ’s Yakima Valley in the United States , flexible national logics appearing in debates over immigration as represented by letters to the editor in the local newspaper both reproduce and question hegemonic liberal and neo-liberal constructions of nationality and difference. These logics simultaneously enable and challenge the transnational capitalist deployment of flexibility in the search for profit that shapes material conditions in the Yakima borderlands. While Mexican migrant women living in the Valley question these logics by exposing the materiality of their migration and representing themselves as transnational or even borderless subjects, they, too, both draw on and challenge the liberal and neo-liberal cultural and material narratives that shape their transnational lives.

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SIMONE WEIL ON LABOR: Her Insights Applied to Current Sweatshop Labor

Presbey, Gail
University of Detroit Mercy

Simone Weil’s analysis of what is good and bad about laboring is a unique approach and differs dramatically from the Marxist critique with which many of us are much more familiar. Perhaps due to its uniqueness, it is rarely used to analyze contemporary crises in globalization and under-development. This paper hopes to introduce a wider audience to Weil’s concepts and then use her ideas and experiences (especially her critique of machines and workplace organization, and her account of the spiritual aspect of labor) to analyze aspects of the contemporary sweatshop labor as well as anti-globalization activism.

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The Worker-Recovered Enterprises in Argentina: The Political and Socioeconomic Challenges of Self-Management

Andrés Ruggeri
University of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Translated by Marcelo Vieta

The worker-recovered enterprises (empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores, or ERT), defined as productive business unities abandoned or emptied by their owners and put into operation once again by their workers under self-management, are a relatively new phenomenon in Argentina and, on the whole, in Latin America. As such, they have attracted much world attention, especially after the Argentine crisis of December 2001. Nevertheless, the ERTs represent much more than a series of labour conflicts that culminate with the taking of factories and enterprises by workers. It is important to understand this process within the context of the almost total destruction of the nation’s productive apparatus and the sentencing of millions of workers to unemployment and structural marginality. Putting ERTs back into production signifies much for the almost 10,000 ERT workers that have engaged in these important and novel struggles, both from an economic as well as from a political and cultural point of view. In support of these workers, a research project out of the University of Buenos Aires has been developed to explore the historical, social, and economic contexts of the issues leading to the ERT movement and their particular characteristics and challenges. This research includes not only quantitative and qualitative data (detailed in the book The Recovered Enterprises in Argentina (Buenos Aires: Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires, 20051) but also a conceptual analysis pivoting on the concept of social innovation rooted in self-management. Fundamentally, we have come to understand this social innovation to include the strategies and methods destined to generate forms of productive unities outside of the paths dictated by the capitalist form of economic organization.

We present these ideas as a contribution to the panel on recovered factories and enterprises in Argentina.

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A cooperative model of social development: Using the workplace for social and individual growth

Dana Silverman
MSW student at Monmouth University, International and Community Development
Please send comments to Dana at

Principles & Illustrations

This August 2004, at the Workshop on AlterGlobalizations in San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, we were talking about topics on alternatives to capitalistic accumulation as well as issues surrounding social and distributive injustice. This paper explores the concepts that can serve as a stepping-stone for grassroots community economic development. With it, I intend to bridge the gap between profit and non-for-profit cultures.

This paper plants ideas in our heads, from which to build cooperative social enterprises. It should be a bridge not just of economic opportunity to those who are marginalized, but a conduit to the social services that foster sustained opportunity. After a grassroots, strengths based need assessment is done, those who are marginalized can capitalize on the gaps that are revealed. Due to the ambiguity in the word cooperative, I will use the term community enterprise interchangeably with cooperative. Community enterprises revitalize communities through progressive personal and systemic collaboration. It is one alternative to the secluded individual enterprise or the large-scale, absentee-owner corporation propagated by the trickle down theory economic growth model. (Midgley, 1997)

It should use both its internal, participatory structure as well as external resources for true micro (intra & interpersonal) and macro (systemic) change. The basis in which I propose the cooperative businesses as a community/social enterprise for social development, in the USA and elsewhere, is because:

  • Successful job retention for low and very low-income community residents often required the involvement of supportive services. Community enterprises can collectively decide what services the surplus profit is used toward.
  • These services should be utilized as enterprise opportunities by those who most understand its need.
  • The project may be able to claim federal grant moneys as certain projects funded with government sources are legally bound to support economic development for low-income residents. (The Enterprise Foundation, 2003; Saul, 2001)

Current trends of governmental welfare, in the United States, stresses a consumption, minimalist, remedial emergency based intervention system. (Midgley, 1997) Midgley (1997) points out that an alternative, more holistic and sustainable approach to social intervention is social development, a model that incorporates social and economic disciplines for the well being of all. There are certain attributes of the cooperative (worker-owner) business model that contribute to this model of social development.

Below is a brief outline of concepts and its application showing how the cooperative business model is valid for filling individual psychological needs (there is a need for academic research regarding this) and providing a path out of economic and communal poverty. The components below are part of a puzzle that when put together may equate to equitable, sustainable holistic social development and community revitalization.

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The Global Food Chain: Farmworkers and Fast Food

Stacy Tessier
University of South Florida

It is May 1, 2001. I pull into a Taco Bell on Colonial Drive in Orlando, Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) decided that today is the day to kick off the nation-wide boycott of Taco Bell to protest the wages of the workers that pick the majority of the tomatoes for the corporation. I have been preparing for this for weeks by learning radical cheers and educating myself about the situation of the farmworkers. I am not prepared for how I feel when the Immokalee workers themselves arrive at the fast-food restaurant. This is my first time at a protest with the people that are actually being affected by unfair labor practices. “One penny more!” The spirit that the farmworkers demonstrated was enough to make me commit to active involvement in the boycott.

It is March 1, 2003. I am on the fifth day of a hunger strike outside of Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, California. For the past week, both farmworkers and allies have been spending the day marching along the sidewalk and sleeping both on the sidewalk and at a local church, refusing food as a protest against the meager wages the farmworkers receive for picking tomatoes. Today is the big rally, so the protesters spill onto the street in front of a small portable stage. The stage is graced by speakers, including farmworkers, hunger-strikers, church and community leaders and activists, authors and other writers, and musicians. There is street theatre, music, dancing, and chanting. “I’d rather starve than eat Taco Bell!” But the Taco Bell representatives stay inside of the tall mirrored building.

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