A Look at Domestic Slavery


So This is What Domestic Slavery Looks Like

Maria: My Reflection in the Mirror
By Mona Lunot Kuker

You’ll see their faces in the subway train, in shopping districts, in grocery stores, inside the bus, or in the park. I hear them talking in my native tongue (Tagalog), and every time I see them, I feel as if I am looking at my own reflection in the mirror.

Domestic workers are often women who leave the Philippines to pursue dreams for their family by working in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East. We work as nannies, cleaning ladies and caregivers around New York and across the globe.  These are jobs that are possible to hold without regard to immigration status; there is little enforcement of such arrangements, and fear among workers that they can be deported.  Each of us has an interesting story to tell—usually a  story that most likely, we would rather keep from our families and friends, not for reasons of pride, but because we don’t want our loved ones to worry.

We usually want to impress those at home with news of a better life abroad. After all, this was the reason why we left the country in the first place.  But there are trade-offs for many of us.

The balikbayan box, or package of goodies delivered door to door, that we fill and dollars that we send to our families are simple joys to shake off our sadness. The backbreaking work is better than having loved ones suffering from chronic want. It is better to face discrimination in our new country than fail to provide children with a college degree. We are better off even suffering isolation than seeing children suffer from unimaginable poverty.

We left because poverty in the Philippines for us was like a bubonic plague that could cause death and stunt growth of the majority of the people. We also experienced government incompetence and corruption that made things worse for ordinary people.  Thus, to many Filipina women like me, the solution was – and continues to be – to migrate. That decision has launched our interesting journeys oftentimes sad and perilous.
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Meet Maria (not her true name), who is one of the many persons whose life I have witnessed. Her experience made me think and touched my heart, perhaps explaining why many Filipinas feel they must suffer in exchange of a better life for family.  To make her eligible for emigration, a relative who worked as a Philippine diplomat to Canada agreed to sponsor her. For a couple of years, she worked as the all around domestic worker, then crossed the U.S. border to Ohio, to work for the ambassador’s daughter.  A high school graduate, she was in her early 40’s when she left the Philippines. Continue reading

Fight for $15 Protest–Manhattan

April 15, 2015
By Lisa Calcasola

The last time that the federal minimum wage was raised, from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour, was in July of 2009, the last of a three-step increase approved by Congress in 2007. Before 2007, however, the rate had been stuck at $5.15/hour for 10 years.

This April 15, 2015 was an important day for thousands of people across the United States and even worldwide. The Fight for 15 movement, whose mission statement is to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2015 and allow workers the right to unionize, made a statement as thousands of people in over 200 hundred cities and 35 countries gathered to protest. The Fight for 15 movements began in New York City, when 200 people, mostly fast food workers, went on strike after Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

As living expenses continue going up, it has become more and more important to watch over every dollar entering one’s bank account. Working long hours, some of which go undocumented (and thus where the slogan “overworked and underpaid” comes from in this year’s Manhattan protest) for years and years while not seeing a difference being made despite one’s efforts and reliability is discouraging to workers across the country and globe. Worse, since prices on daily
necessities are increasing and wages are not, workers often sacrifice time with their family and loved ones to work even longer hours just to keep that bubble of financial security.

The Fight for 15 demonstrations in Manhattan began at 4 p.m. with a stirring rally to prepare for the 6 p.m. march from 59th street at Central Park to 42nd street in Times Square. Workers from homecare, childcare, hotels, fast food restaurants and other fields held signs such as “Fight for 15 and Raise America”, “Worker’s Need, not Corporation Greed”, and “Invisible No More.”

Ms. Joy Watts was one of the many women marching in the crowd, wearing a purple “I’m a Proud 1199 Homecare Worker” sticker on her white scrubs. Ms. Watts has worked with the same patient for eight years and has not seen a change in wages in 10. Continue reading

Poetry by Domestic Workers

June 15 will bring a poetry workshop event for domestic workers to Governors’ Island, reports Mark Nowak, director of the MFA program atManhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. The event will be in collaboration with the  International Domestic Workers Federation, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Andolan, Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW), and other groups.
The program will include a live Skype session with J4DW from their protest rally in London at 11am, a workshop with domestic workers from noon-1pm, writing/painting poetry on the walls of a building from participants as well as poems coming in from domestic workers in Chile, Costa Rica, Lebanon, and  elsewhere from 1-3pm, and a looped screening of Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel’s documentary film Claiming Our Voice (on Andolan, an organization founded and led by South Asian immigrant low-wage workers) from noon-4pm.



Domestic workers talk about their lives

The International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN) was formed in 2006 to work for rights and protections for those who clean homes, care for the sick and look after the elderly and the young in homes around the globe. In 2011, this international coalition of domestic workers’ groups helped pass the first-ever International Labor Organization Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers which has since been ratified by 11 countries. The AFL-CIO presented its 2013 George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to the IDWN at the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, the first time a delegation of domestic workers had ever been invited to participate in the annual convention.