From grassroots to global activism, the untold story of the world's first domestic workers' movement.
Domestic workers exist on the margins of the world labor market. Maids, nannies, housekeepers, au pairs, and other care workers are most often ‘off the books,’ working for long hours and low pay. They are not afforded legal protections or benefits such as union membership, health care, vacation days, and retirement plans. Many women who perform these jobs are migrants, and are oftentimes dependent upon their employers for room and board as well as their immigration status, creating an extremely vulnerable category of workers in the growing informal global economy.
Drawing on over a decade’s worth of research, plus interviews with a number of key movement leaders and domestic workers, Jennifer N. Fish presents the compelling stories of the pioneering women who, while struggling to fight for rights in their own countries, mobilized transnationally to enact change. The book takes us to Geneva, where domestic workers organized, negotiated, and successfully received the first-ever granting of international standards for care work protections by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization. This landmark victory not only legitimizes the importance of these household laborers’ demands for respect and recognition, but also signals the need to consider human rights as a central component of workers’ rights.
Domestic Workers of the World Unite! chronicles how a group with so few resources could organize and act within the world’s most powerful international structures and give voice to the wider global plight of migrants, women, and informal workers. For anyone with a stake in international human and workers’ rights, this is a critical and inspiring model of civil society organizing.
About the Author
Jennifer N. Fish is a sociologist and Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies at Old Dominion University. She has worked with domestic labor movements for over fifteen years, as a researcher, ally, and policy activist. Her publications include Domestic Democracy: At Home in South Africa and Women's Activism in South Africa: Working Across Divides.
What People Are Saying
"Domestic Workers of the World Unite!documents a significant moment in labor history. It provides an invaluable behind-the-scenes account of how domestic workers successfully lobbied governments and employers to do what seemed to be an insurmountable task, that is, the formal recognition of domestic work as labor and the implementation of global employment standards. It is a must read for scholars and activist who are interested in learning about the rights of and labor organizing strategies for vulnerable workers." American Journal of Sociology
"Fish humanizes her “subjects” immediately, and they use their voices to shape their own destinies in ways that are inspiring and astounding given their structural constraints and realities. Fish is not the central figure in the text; rather, she performs the role of progressive ethnographic sociologist who clearly cares deeply about social justice. Throughout, she documents the domestic workers’ lives — their struggles, voices, stories, and triumphs — and makes it clear that they can speak for themselves…. This book about social change and justice is well organized, engaging, and inclusive, and it convincingly captures the realities of domestic workers’ lives. Hearing personal stories is much more interesting and powerful than hearing from policy wonks or academic experts. Anyone interested in organizing, migrant and domestic work, precarious work, women’s labor, or global human rights/global activism will find something of value here. The book is not so academic as to exclude folks outside of academia — a lovely discovery for this reader. It also offers a great dose of hope, much needed during a time when precarious employment and vulnerability around issues of work are “normal,” especially for poor women. Domestic workers of the world unite, indeed." Resources for Gender and Women's Studies
"A beautifully written ethnography chronicling the international struggle for domestic workers! Jennifer Fish brings the unionization alive by weaving workers and organizers stories into the political, economic and legal background that frames the journey of these women who organize locally, nationally and internationally. This is a must read for scholars and activists concerned about the rights of precarious women workers and the strategies for organizing vulnerable workers." Mary Romero,author of The Maid’s Daughter: Living Inside and Outside the American Dream
"Jennifer Fish's book is a rare account of the development of a global social movement, from growing deep local roots and developing the leadership of the least visible among us, to shaping international labor standards. This is a book for anyone looking to understand global movement building in the 21st Century, or for anyone simply looking to feel inspired by our human capacity to change the world." Ai-jen Poo,Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance