Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and many women are participating (or not) in the #DayWithoutAWoman women’s strike (read our guide to that action here). The holiday is about honoring and fighting for women’s labor, hearkening all the way back to those female garment workers in New York City’s Lower East Side—women who banded together for workplace rights and dignity.
So who are today’s equivalents to those brave garment workers whom American Jews valorize for standing up for their rights 100 years ago? Well, there are two groups of low-wage, often female workers (often moms) who are currently under a lot of stress, and organizing for better treatment. One group is the fast food and service workers in the Fight for $15 movement, who have made huge strides in pushing for a fairer hourly wage. The other are the domestic workers who are pushing for Domestic Workers Bill of Rights at the state level, as well as joining coalitions for paid sick leave.
Personally, I’ve been haunted by several stories about these two groups of working moms: there are the many women who have been arrested for leaving their kids at food courts, playgrounds, or in cars while they interviewed or worked at low-wage jobs to support those very kids. And then there are the babysitters with young kids who struggle to find a way to take care of their own kids, and don’t get to spend time with them. This breaks my heart.
So, why are we as a society failing so many moms and how can we support them beyond tomorrow? I talked to journalist Sarah Jaffe whose book, “Necessary Trouble,” looks at some of the most recent protest movements in America, about the women in our communities we should be fighting alongside in honor of International Women’s Day.
How does the Fight for $15 movement connect to families, childcare and motherhood?
There are a lot of parents in the Fight for 15 movement. This goes back to the connection with welfare reform [under Bill Clinton]. Women with kids were pushed into these jobs because we decided in the ’90s that we were not going to support them taking care of their children anymore unless they got a crappy job. So first of all, we should understand that taking care of children is work.
After that, higher wages is the number one thing they need, because if you paid people more they could afford better childcare. Also, the question of scheduling is really important. Oftentimes in these jobs, people don’t know when they’re going to be working until a couple of days beforehand. Childcare programs are built around 9-5 or 10-6 job, they’re not built around people working a 4pm-10pm shift. Of course, now there are 24-hour daycares springing up, but how are those daycare workers being paid?
The big thing is that somebody needs to take care of children, and whoever that is need to be paid for that work. So… if we’re not going to pay parents to stay home in the early years, we’re going to have to find a way to provide payment for someone. And let me tell you, it is not going to be Donald Trump (and Ivanka)’s tax cuts, because the people who need childcare the most are themselves low-wage workers.
How can we support and draw attention to these workers?
The Fight for 15 has done such a good job of imposing themselves back on our imagination, so they’re far from forgotten. But on the local level, go walk the picket line with people! Here’s something too: when they’re being walked back in from their strike, you can accompany them back to work and tell the owner/manager that if they get fired, you’ll be there, you’ll be paying attention. It’s not an act of charity. You kind of have to show up.
How can we support the babysitters, nannies and others in our homes, or daycare centers, who are struggling for these enshrined rights?
First of all, pay well. If you employ somebody, don’t just assume that they love your kids so much that they’ll work for little. Secondly, you can support legislation for Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. A couple of states have them. If there isn’t one in your state you can support its creation, and if there is one you can push for it to be better. We have to understand that this isn’t a group of people who exist just to take care of other people’s kids. They often have their own kids, who may be suffering.
Sick leave and paid leave is also crucial: it’s often tempting to play off home-care workers against the people they’re providing for. But if you have someone who has to come to work sick, when they’re caring for your vulnerable parent or kid, that’s not good. Sick leave helps everyone.