Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work: Volume 35

Cover of Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work

Table of contents

(9 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xii
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Abstract

Gender is a defining feature of informal/precarious work in the twenty-first century, yet studies rarely adopt a gendered lens when examining collective efforts to challenge informality and precarity. This chapter foregrounds the gendered dimensions of informal/precarious workers’ struggles as a crucial starting point for re-theorizing the future of global labor movements. Drawing upon the findings of the volume’s six chapters spanning five countries (the United States, Canada, South Korea, Mexico, and India) and two gender-typed sectors (domestic work and construction), this chapter explores how gender is intertwined into informal/precarious workers’ movements, why gender is addressed, and to what end. Across countries and sectors, informal/precarious worker organizations are on the front lines of challenging the multiple forms of gendered inequalities that shape contemporary practices of accumulation and labor regulation. They expose the forgotten reality that class structures not only represent classification struggles around work, but also around social identities, such as gender, race, and migration status. However, these organizing efforts are not fighting to transform the gendered division of labor or embarking on revolutionary struggles to overturn private ownership and liberalized markets. Nonetheless, these struggles are making major transformations in terms of increasing women’s leadership and membership in labor movements and exposing how gender interacts with other ascriptive identities to shape work. They are also radicalizing hegemonic scripts of capitalist accumulation, development, and even gender to attain recognition for female-dominated occupations and reproductive needs for the first time ever. These outcomes are crucial as sources of emancipatory transformations at a time when state and public support for labor and social protection is facing a deep assault stemming from the pressures of transnational production and globalizing markets.

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This chapter examines how gender interacts with informal workers’ collective action strategies in the context of contemporary development scripts around economic growth. Specifically, it engages the theoretical debates on the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism as the systems of domination that organize gender and class. Drawing from a comparative analysis of informal workers’ movements in India’s domestic work and construction sectors, I find the relationship between gender and class and between patriarchy and capitalism is being reconceptualized from below and differs by occupational structures and organization histories. For domestic workers, movements assert what I call a “unitary” model of exploitation. Because domestic workers’ organizations entered the productive sphere through a focus on social reproduction, their struggles conflate gender and class to reverse the shame attached to domestic work and increase the recognized worth of women’s labor. Because construction workers’ organizations mobilize male and female workers and began as class-based organizations focusing on productive work, they articulate what I term “a dual systems” approach to patriarchy and capitalism that exposes inequalities between men and women within the sector, such as unequal pay, glass ceilings, and issues of embodiment. In both cases, global development scripts have not only shaped movement approaches, but also enabled movements to articulate gendered labor subjects in innovative ways. While domestic workers’ unitary model has had more success in increasing women workers’ dignity and leadership, construction workers’ dualist model has attained more successes in attaining material benefits in the reproductive sphere. These findings suggest that debates on unitary versus dual-systems models of exploitation present a false dichotomy and veil the reality that both are necessary for feminist theory, development models, and women workers’ struggles on the ground.

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This chapter compares and contrasts organizing and advocacy among US domestic workers and day laborers. These two occupations share many features: both are ill-suited to conventional unionism; immigrants, many of them unauthorized, have long dominated the workforce in both; both are entry-level jobs at the bottom of the labor market (although both are also internally stratified); and both have been the focus of advocacy and organizing at both the local and national level in recent decades. Yet, there are also significant contrasts between the two. First and foremost, women are the vast majority of domestic workers while men predominate among day laborers. Another striking difference is that while domestic labor is hidden from public view inside private households, day laborers are regularly on display on street corners and other public spaces. This chapter explores the effects of such similarities and differences on the collective action repertoires of day laborers and domestic workers. In both cases, many workers have individualistic, entrepreneurial ambitions, a formidable organizing challenge; yet, orientation does not necessarily impede and sometimes even facilitates collective action. Day laborers’ demands are largely economic, and these (predominantly male) workers often hope to return to their countries of origin; domestic workers (overwhelmingly female) are more interested in improved opportunities within the US. Although women are overrepresented in the leadership of both domestic workers’ and day laborers’ organizations, male day laborers and female domestic workers have distinct experiences and aspirations, and put forward different types of demands, generating gendered collective action repertoires.

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My research builds upon masculinity studies as well as migration and gender theory to evaluate emerging strategies of gendered labor control at work sites within temporary worker programs. In particular, my multisite ethnography consisting of 97 interviews with US guest workers, oil industry employers, and Indian labor brokers shifts focus to the recruitment of male workers into the US oil industry. The study evaluated a multi-country recruitment chain from India to the Middle East and into the US Guest Worker Program. Findings identified a relationship between the construction of masculinities and employer strategies for labor control. The article addresses the following question: how is hegemonic masculinity used as a strategy for labor control? The study identifies the double bind of hegemonic masculinity within contingent employment relationships as a means of labor control for curbing male migrant dissent.

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We contextualize contemporary domestic worker organizing in Vancouver within a history of domestic worker organizing in Canada and then build the argument that their organizing has been structured by the gendered geographies of: international migration; the location of the work in the private home; and the prevalence of stepwise migration of Filipina domestic workers to Canada. These gendered geographies have led to a distinctive mode of organizing: in the community around a wide range of issues that enfold social reproduction into workplace issues to engage the entirety of individuals’ and families’ lives across the life course. Domestic workers’ organizing is grounded in the spatialities and materialities of their lives, and seemingly familiar gender scripts take on an active force in the domestic workers’ mobilization. Confronting the contradictions of organizing domestic workers and organizing to revalue domestic work points to the enduring undervaluation of feminized workers and their work, as well as the potential for intersectional solidarities along with the need for multisectoral strategies.

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Recent research begins to explore how organizations of informal workers function, and succeed or fail. Using cases of domestic-worker movements in Mexico and the United States, we seek to extend this research by adding historical analysis of the movements’ evolution through a cross-national analysis of movement differences. We draw on concepts from the social movement and intersectionality literature. Historically, the two movements have been propelled by multiple streams of activism corresponding to shifting salient intersectional identities and frames, always including gender but incorporating other elements as well. Comparatively, the US domestic-worker movement recently has had greater success due to superior financial resources and more facilitative political opportunities – advantages due in part precisely to intersectional identities resonant with potential allies. However, this relative advantage was not always present and may not persist. Social movement concepts and intersectional analysis thus help understand both historical changes and cross-national contrasts in informal-worker organizing.

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In this chapter, we examine the multifaceted challenges that feminist labor organizations face in decommodifying the lives and labor of poor and working-class women. Using an in-depth case study of domestic worker organizing in South Korea, we find that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the National House Managers Cooperative and the Korean Women Workers Association became entangled in hegemonic state projects that linked support for women’s basic livelihoods to the proliferation of part-time, informal domestic work in the context of widespread crises. To challenge the discriminatory and market-driven logics of state-driven social protection efforts, these NGOs have advanced an emancipatory agenda to improve the working conditions, labor rights, and social dignity of domestic workers through consciousness-raising grassroots organizing methods and contentious policy advocacy campaigns. Their social movement transformation goals, however, have been constrained by the relative organizational isolation and limited organizational capacity of feminist labor NGOs in a broader context of neoliberal precaritization and gender-stratified labor markets. The myriad dilemmas facing domestic worker organizing in an era of global hegemonic market rule highlight the need to develop new political imaginaries to contest gender and economic injustice.

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Index

Pages 169-177
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Cover of Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work
DOI
10.1108/S0198-8719201835
Publication date
2018-12-10
Book series
Political Power and Social Theory
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78769-368-5
Book series ISSN
0198-8719