Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Best Friday Night Ever

Friday night at about 9:30 p.m., my roommates and I were relaxing in the living room watching Indiana Jones, and my phone rang. It was Pancho, my awesome Marxist popular education expert coworker, calling to say that he and Laura (another awesome coworker) were with a big group of workers that hadn't been paid, and a lot of them didn't have a place to sleep. He was calling to see if a roommate with a car and I would drive to Casa Juan Diego, the Houston Catholic Worker house, to pick up a bunch of food, and then take it to the Salvation Army shelter where they were going to take the workers.

My very cool roommate Vicky, who has her car here, said she would drive, and another awesome roommate Katie asked if she could come along too. We drove to the house with the food, which was Casa Juan Diego's men's residence, where the door was answered by a young man who no doubt wondered why on earth there were three gringa girls asking for food in broken Spanish. We waited a bit for him to get someone else, and an older man came to the door who knew what was going on. We loaded up 75 small boxes of food in the car, and I called Pancho to confirm where to deliver the food. He said there was a change of plans, and the shelter said it would be best if the workers ate before they arrived, so we took the food to our office. We could have gone home at that point, but I think we all wanted to stick around for the workers to arrive. We started chatting, and pretty soon a guy named Bryan from TEJAS, an environmental justice organization, and his girlfriend showed up. They do some cool media work, and they had been out there with the workers taking some photos and video. A few minutes later, Pancho and Laura showed up with about 15 workers. We gave them food, and as Pancho was describing our organization, the topic of religion came up (since we're an interfaith organization, at least in theory). Pancho started talking about Jesus. Who did Jesus spend his time with while he was on earth? The poor, the exploited. Who would Jesus be spending his time with if he were on earth right now? "Nosotros" (us), they answered. Yes, Pancho said. Jesus is walking with you. He's walking with us. As we organize and and work for justice, we know that Jesus is walking with us. As we try to get stolen wages back, we know that Jesus is walking with us. Even if we can't get the money, Jesus will still be walking with us. (If Pancho had a church, I would definitely go.) As we were talking about how interfaith our organization is, a debate arose about what is the largest religion/denomination in the U.S. One man said the Catholic church was the biggest, and another said the evangelical church. Pancho then noted that capitalism is actually the largest religion in the country. Just look at the size of their temples, he said. A little later, he began to talk about the labor movement and how the rights that we have now are the result of the struggles of many people who came before us. We got these rights because people organized and fought very hard for them. He pointed out to the workers that their efforts to get their money isn't just about them - it's about trying to bring about a more just society for the people who come after them. One man started talking about how terrible his working conditions used to be in El Salvador, and the conversation among the workers turned to structural economic injustices, and how there are so many forces working against them. One man started a rant on neoliberalism.

It was a perfect Friday night.

On Saturday we had an action outside the company office where the workers gathered waiting for their checks. A lot of media came, which was great. I took some photos, which you can see here, and you can see a TV news report here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Stories from a backward country, from a shameful time

Domestic Workers Organize to End an ‘Atmosphere of Violence’ on the Job
Published: June 9, 2008

The women’s stories seemed to come from a backward country, or from a shameful time in the United States that many would sooner forget.

Sharing stories from the workplace: Violet Anthony, top, was slammed against a wall and subjected to beatings after she arrived from India; Georgia Danan, middle, was paid just $70 for working a 24-hour shift; and Araceli Herrera, bottom, says employers searched her bags before they would allow her to leave for the day.

One woman, too scared to give her name, told of being struck by her employer in Bethesda, Md., as she scrubbed her hands raw polishing the floor. Another woman, Violet Anthony, who is 29 and from Mumbai, said her face became marbled with bruises after her employer in Queens slammed her into a wall and slapped her. Araceli Herrera said some of her employers inspected her bags before she left their homes and refused to drive her to or from the bus stop, a half-hour’s walk away. One employer, she said, fired her after she had a gallbladder operation and needed a month’s rest.

“With each job, I was exploited more. The thing is, the more you suffer, the harder it is to defend yourself,” said Ms. Herrera, 48, who trained to be an optometrist in her native Mexico and now works as a housekeeper in San Antonio. “We come from an atmosphere of violence, of blows, and we think we have to tolerate that.”

All three women were in Manhattan over the weekend for the first National Domestic Workers Congress, four days of workshops, meetings and a rally to demand rights for a work force that organizers describe as splintered, almost invisible, and staggeringly difficult to organize.

read more

Monday, October 6, 2008

Domestic Worker Organizing

This morning I had a conversation with a very cool domestic worker organizer from CASA de Maryland.

You can hear her talking about her work and the formation of a National Domestic Worker Alliance here:

(Thanks to the Internet Archive!)