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All of the members of the MJB that I interviewed were extremely excited to be at the US Social Forum and they felt their experience exceeded their expectations. One important benefit that it gave them a sense of diversity of struggles that are all in some way connected to global capitalism and U.S. imperialism. They felt they the conference provided them an educational opportunity they would not have otherwise had. Also, perhaps more importantly, they met with members of Zapatista inspired organizations from the West Coast such as the Eastside Café, and the Autonomous People’s Collective in Los Angeles. They told me that they were unaware that these organizations even existed and now discussions among these organizations are underway to potentially form a national network of Zapatista community based organizations in the U.S.

Domestic Workers United (DWU) and the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW)
One of the most moving workshops I attended was sponsored by Domestic Workers United, a New York based coalition of organizations working for the human rights of domestic workers. Members of DWU included: Coalition for Against Anti Asian Violence (CAAAV), Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Andolan (organization for South Asian Immigrant workers), Unity Housecleaners of Long Island, Damayan, (Filipino Migrant Workers Association). They represent thousands of Caribbean, Latina, and African nannies, housekeepers and elderly care-workers and sponsored a panel at the US Social Forum with Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW, a farmworker organization in Southwest Florida of Mexican, Mexican indigenous and Haitian Farm-workers, recently gained national notoriety in their campaign against Taco Bell for using exploitative subcontractors in Florida’s tomato fields. The purpose of the panel was the critically analyze the situation of farm-workers and domestic workers and how their histories and social conditions intertwined. It was by far the most theoretically sophisticated panel I attended. Activists from the each of the organizations presented an analysis of how both the exploitation in domestic workers and agricultural workers are essential to global capitalism.

The panel was shared with a host of other organizations including, the Beloved Community Center of North Carolina, Black Workers for Justice, North Carolina, the Filipino Workers Center, Los Angeles, People to Win Economic Rights (POWER) San Francisco, San Francisco Day Labor Women’s Collective, the Mississippi Worker’s Center, and Coaliton for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). Also present was UC Santa Barbara Professor Grace Chang, author of Disposable Domestics.

The workshop opened up with members of DWU singing a calypso song about their organizing in the domestic industry. Some of the lyrics included “We love the Mexican, Up with the Mexican!” People became teary eyed. Then, Joyce Johnson from the Beloved Community Center launched into a history of slavery in relation to domestic workers and agricultural workers. She spoke about how current labor laws do not apply to agricultural and domestic workers. Joyce Johnson stated “The fate of farm-workers and black workers in the south is intimately tied to the fate of domestic workers. Our histories are very intertwined. We want to build long term partnerships with each other. That is the one way to win.” Next was a woman from the Filipino Worker’s Center spoke. She stated that: Domestic Workers are still living in the shadow of slavery but the only difference is that our new master is global capitalism led by the US. The new slavery is managed by IMF World Bank and WTO…. Control the economies of our home countries. So we don’t have economies that provide employment leading to forced migration for unemployed and underemployed. Women are hardest hit. Unemployment is 11.3 percent. Domestic work and agriculture work were performed by slaves in the US historically. Now there are third world immigrants who perform work that US middle class does not want to do. They want us to stay illegal and undocumented so that we can’t organize and cant demand better treatment. Domestic workers and agricultural workers are excluded from the national labor relations act. We are creating workers’ centers and workers organizations. We are excluded from the minimum wage law. No employment insurance or health care (Field Notes 2007).

Julia Perkins, an organizer with the CIW in Florida discussed the situation of farm-workers in the U.S. and described the struggles that the CIW has faced and what their organization has accomplished.

Low wages, exploitation and abuse are the stuff of daily life in agricultural work. We have prosecuted six cases of modern day slavery. Farm-workers were beaten by overseers in front of other workers. We had cases of indentured servitude where the supervisors paid farm-workers with drugs instead of money. This happened this year in 2007. Yes these are extreme cases but they are happening in the industry and that’s what we are fighting for dignity and respect in the workplace. It gives us great pleasure to see that the domestic workers are organizing because for so long your voices have not been heard and your situation is very much like ours. People don’t think about how a house gets so clean or who cleans the house. People need to be made aware of this. United farm-workers and domestic workers, we are going to become a force that no one can stop (Fieldnotes 2007).

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