Care Work and Class

Care Work and Class: Domestic Workers' Struggle for Equal Rights in Latin America

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Care Work and Class
    Book Description:

    Despite constitutions that enshrine equality, until recently every state in Latin America permitted longer working hours (in some cases more than double the hours) and lower benefits for domestic workers than other workers. This has, in effect, subsidized a cheap labor force for middle- and upper-class families and enabled well-to-do women to enter professional labor markets without having to negotiate household and care work with their male partners. While elite resistance to reform has been widespread, during the past fifteen years a handful of countries have instituted equal rights. In Care Work and Class, Merike Blofield examines how domestic workers’ mobilization, strategic alliances, and political windows of opportunity, mostly linked to left-wing executive and legislative allies, can lead to improved rights even in a region as unequal as Latin America. Blofield also examines the conditions that lead to better enforcement of rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05554-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book is about how class and gender interact with the state. It is about whether and how a group that is multiply disadvantaged gets political attention and recognition in a context of high socioeconomic inequalities. Often colloquially referred to as nannies, maids, and housekeepers—or in Spanish asmuchachas,nanas, andempleadas—domestic workers come from poorer backgrounds and work in wealthier households. Often also from ethnic or visible minorities, they make up over 15 percent of the economically active female population in Latin America, or twelve million in absolute numbers, and their services enable the well-off to work...

    (pp. 9-38)

    Paid domestic work is one component within the broader context of care work and gender relations. I compare the politics of care work in advanced industrialized countries with those in Latin America, highlighting the distinct dynamics that deep socioeconomic inequalities have produced. Within this context, paid domestic work as an occupation has specific characteristics related to both the nature of the work and its setting that render it vulnerable to exploitation. I then move on to a discussion of the history of domestic service in Latin America and describe domestic service in the region today. I discuss the prevalence and...

    (pp. 39-67)

    Demands for equal rights in Latin America today take place in a formally democratic political context and a broadly neoliberal, or market-oriented, economic context (aside from Cuba). On the one hand, democratization has allowed marginalized groups such as women’s and indigenous movements to organize and demand more rights.¹ Indeed, the last two decades have seen impressive gains in women’s and indigenous rights, especially on the legal level, even if proactive enforcement has been slower to come. On the other hand, as discussed in chapter 1, structural economic changes and neoliberal policies have changed the composition of the labor force. The...

    (pp. 68-82)

    For equal rights, legal equality is necessary but not sufficient. The enforcement of laws is just as critical as the laws themselves. Many of the legal rights granted to domestic workers—full or partial—are not respected in practice. Hence, we can identify a double discrimination against domestic workers across the region: first, explicit legal discrimination, and second, weak enforcement of the rights that do exist. This directs our attention to the enforcement mechanisms of the state. Governments can take proactive measures to implement new laws or better enforce extant laws. Below, I discuss two indicators of the effectiveness of...

  10. 4 BOLIVIA AND COSTA RICA: Social Mobilization and Reform from the Bottom Up
    (pp. 83-105)

    Bolivia and Costa Rica are in many ways opposites. The former is poor, heterogenenous, and highly unequal, and it has a history of political instability and exclusion. The latter is more developed and more homogeneous, with lower inequalities and a long history of democratic stability and higher respect for human rights. Both countries, however, achieved equal rights reform—in contrast to almost all of their regional counterparts—and did so through years of organizing, through legislative initiatives, and without executive support. In both cases, strong leadership by representatives of domestic workers played an important role, and leaders were able to...

  11. 5 URUGUAY AND CHILE: Basic Universalism Versus Top-Down Incrementalism
    (pp. 106-129)

    Uruguay and Chile are similar in several ways. They have higher levels of economic and human development from a regional perspective. Both have had stable democratic politics since their transitions to democracy (Uruguay in 1985, Chile in 1990), and both have had recent left-wing or center-left governments. They also have stronger state capacity, reflected in higher social security rates for workers in general and domestic workers in particular. Within this context, Uruguay has succeeded in equalizing domestic workers’ rights, and Chile has instituted piecemeal reforms but maintains unequal work hours. These differences are reflective of more general differences in the...

    (pp. 130-142)

    While most states in the region have made significant strides in eliminating discriminatory statutes on women’s rights and human and labor rights in general, equal rights for domestic workers have lagged despite constitutions that enshrine equality. Until recently, all states maintained discriminatory statutes toward this sector, mandating longer work hours and lower benefits with the assumption that the servant should basically always be available to serve her employers. The private lives and needs of domestic workers did not factor into these laws, exemplifying the social distance between elites—economic and political—and the lower classes. This has, in effect, subsidized...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 143-156)
  14. References
    (pp. 157-170)
  15. Index
    (pp. 171-185)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 186-186)