The Reality of Movements: Some Voices Heard, Others Forgotten

This week we read about labor unions in the book “Organizing Where We Live and Work.” The author would constantly stress the idea that worker’s home lives should be considered just as much as their work lives when forming unions or movements. The book also mentioned that most poor worker’s unions were successful because people from the same class and race would come together and fight for similar issues. This observation made me wonder whether any movement would ever be able to incorporate all groups and the issues they are most concerned with.  It seems as though large groups will ultimately split into smaller factions consisting of people who can identify the most with one another. The women’s movement is an example of how women have a hard time deciding which issues are the most important.  During our reflection session, it was mentioned that it is difficult to imagine oneself in another’s shoes (ex. a middle-class woman understanding the concerns of low income women). It is our instinct to fight for the issues that are most relevant to us and our current situation. Another example of a movement that has split into several factions is the Occupy Wall Street Movement that now includes the women’s caucus and disability caucus. These groups and several others that have formed because they feel as though the movement does not address the issues that are most important to them. It almost seems as though movements and unions that split are more likely to be successful because everyone within those groups are fighting for the same issues. Until we are willing to compromise and put ourselves in the shoes of others, not much will be accomplished by a single movement; some voices will be heard while others will be ignored and forgotten.

We went to visit the National Domestic Worker’s alliance where we spoke to a woman who had been working as a domestic worker for many years. She spoke about the mistreatment of domestic workers by their employers. We learned about a domestic worker’s bill of rights that has been passed in New York and will soon be passed in other states.  But the feeling of optimism soon changed during our group discussion when we spoke about the unfair treatment of sweatshop workers. We then admitted that we were aware that we buy affordable clothes made in sweat shops.  It was mentioned that if we were to stop purchasing these clothes then we would decrease the demand for clothes made in sweatshop working conditions. However, not much of the group was willing to give up buying these clothes because they are good quality and cheap.  I soon realized that even if we were to stop buying these clothes, the stores would not suffer a major blow to sales. There are millions of people who would still buy the clothes and several others who cannot afford to buy more expensive clothes.  In my opinion the people who can really make the difference are the domestic workers who organize unions and groups to advocate for better pay and working conditions. If these workers refused to work under certain conditions, there wouldn’t be an option to buy quality clothes at affordable prices. But, we also must consider the fact that these workers probably cannot afford to strike or stop working, and others may fear that they will end up unemployed if they complain about their jobs. There is no one solution to this complicated issue but I do think that domestic workers may be able to form successful unions where everyone who works a certain job could fight for the same rights. I remain skeptical about the success of a movement or union that tries to incorporate all domestic workers because these workers like women have different experiences and pressing concerns.

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