The struggle of domestic workers to access unemployment: "We were alone and that suited many"

They shared a lot, but they were alone, isolated. Each one in the houses where they cleaned, in the privacy of the homes of others, Rafaela Pimentel, Marga, Marcela Bahamón, Mariana Urkuyo and many other domestic workers rebelled against a labor framework that led them to precariousness and defenselessness from the very BOE. Spanish law excluded domestic workers from unemployment and allowed free dismissal without cause, among other exceptions with respect to the rest of the workers. "We started talking to each other and we saw that this could not be the case. We decided that we had to take the stories out of the houses, lift the rugs," explains Rafaela Pimentel, a long-time activist from Territorio Doméstico, about the beginnings of the association's mobilizations. .

The Recognition of the right to unemployment for domestic workers this week, approved by the Government after the European justice concluded that the Spanish system was discriminatory, has been a "great joy" for many groups of workers who have spent decades fighting against the legislation. "It is a step, but there are still many others. We want the conditions to be fair in their entirety," warns Mariana Urkuyo, a domestic worker and member of Non-Domesticated Workers, based in Euskadi.

Several workers and activists share diagnosis. Access to unemployment is an important victory for them. "End a historical injustice", they emphasize, claimed for years, which they believe would have been difficult to achieve without the mobilization of the employees themselves.

And, specifically, without the court fight of one of them. A domestic worker in Galicia, Mariana, who denounced the Administration with the support of her employer and a lawyer, Javier de Cominges, who filed a strategic litigation to end the matter in the EU. The coalition government had already promised to approve the collective strike in this legislature, but several activists recall that in the past the measure had remained in the inkwell despite the promises. "Without her (Mariana), I don't know if we would be celebrating today," says a domestic worker.

Rafaela Pimentel underlines the importance of mobilization to make situations of illegality and lack of protection visible to society as a whole and so that the domestic workers themselves are aware of the abuses. "They tell you that you do not have the right to pay, that you do not have the right to days off, to vacations... and you end up believing that you are not a subject of rights. Until you see the light with other colleagues," agrees Mariana Urkuyo.

Pimentel, who came to Spain from the Dominican Republic, explains how they began the mobilization in the Domestic Territory in 2006. "The key was to start finding each other. Listening to us women who were alone, many alone with their children like me, far from our families and what we were doing facing everything without any network, isolated. We started talking and there was a very, very great connection between us," she says.

There began the task of reaching out to other compañeras. The migrant collectives were a fundamental channel for sharing information and sowing the seeds for activism for many workers. Sometimes, the strategies had to be more proactive, due to the isolation of this type of work and the precarious conditions, which leave little free time to interact with the employees. "Especially to the inmates. We went to the interchanges, to the subways, to the supermarkets, to the doors of the churches... Not having a home, when they had some free time they had nowhere to go and many were wandering in these places Pimentel explains.

Marcela Bahamón, a former domestic worker and activist for the rights of the collective in the Valencian Community, received one of the actions on the radio. "In 2016, I heard Graciela Gallego from Sedoac saying that they were going to hold a Home and Care Employment Congress in Madrid. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I said to myself: 'I have to be there,'" he tells this medium. . Finally, she attended the first convention of its kind to be held in Spain. "On the way back home, we said there is no other way: we are going to create an association if we want to make our realities visible," she recalls.

The ways of demonstrating also had to adapt to the difficult schedules of the employees and innovate to overcome their great vulnerability. "Preparing the first demonstration we did, several colleagues said they couldn't participate for fear of being identified by their employers. So we started wearing wigs, boas, glasses...", recalls the Domestic Territory activist, elements that were incorporated also to its "catwalks" and other mobilizations, characterized by humor and a festive atmosphere. "We set up batucadas, we dancedwe made songs to tell what was happening to us, adapting lyrics from popular songs," continues Pimentel.

"It was very important to also share with women from the feminist movement," warn Pimentel and Urkuyo, with whom the domestic workers forged alliances and a shared analysis. Many of their experiences were crossed by the fact of being women. "In a capitalist, racist and patriarchal system, it was convenient for many that we were single women doing cheap work or for the love of art," underlines Rafaela Pimentel.

Marcela Bahamón also highlights the importance of knowing the testimonies of Spanish women "from the provinces" who had been her predecessors in domestic employment in the homes of wealthier families. "I realized that the exploitation we suffered was not so much because we were migrants, but because we were impoverished women," she reflects.

The rise of the feminist movement in recent years was also a boost for the collective's struggle and for it to acquire a broader consciousness, the employees reflect. "It was hard for many of us to see that what we did, care, was an important job. Life management, as I also like to call it. Initially we just wanted to improve our working conditions, but little by little we also expanded the discourse and we demand a public system of quality care", explains Pimentel.

The activists contacted agree that the extension of rights approved by the Government is good news, but they insist that more must come. "It is a step, we are very happy, but we must continue," they insist.

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