Andolan: Organizing South Asian Workers was founded in 1998, by Nahar Alam, a Bangladeshi immigrant that fled from an abusive marriage to the United States, where she encountered a different type of abuse, as a domestic worker in the homes of her employers. Her own experiences, and connecting with other South Asian women with similar experiences, inspired her to learn English and become active in fighting for the attainment of basic privileges for herself and her peers. Andolan aims to provide support and resources to workers through workshops, individual assistance, and facilitating the exchange of information among workers; bring lawsuits against abusive employers; and organizing and educating workers through campaigns.
THE PLAY - Sukh aur Dukh ki Kahani (Stories of Joy and Sorrow)
In 2007, members of Andolan, a Queens-based organization founded and led by female South Asian immigrant low-wage workers as a means to support each other and collectively organize against exploitative work conditions, embarked on a 10-month process of creating a theater project based on their lives, Sukh aur Dukh ki Kahani (Stories of Joy and Sorrow). Claiming our Voice documents their stories, process and culminating performances.
As of 2012, there are 1.8 million home-care workers that comprise the fastest growing part of the U.S. economy. Of these home-care workers 99% are foreign born, and 93% are women (United Workers Congress, 2012; DWU Survey, 2010). A domestic worker may be defined as a person who works within an employer's household. Domestic workers perform a variety of household services for an individual or a family, including childcare, cleaning, and/or housekeeping. Some domestic workers live within the house where they work. As many within this population are immigrant women, entering the United States with little access to their personal liberties, limited English language skills and communities for support, many face an environment where violence and exploitation flourish, and their power is suppressed.
Since most domestic work takes place in the private sphere of the home, it has constantly been denigrated to the invisible realm of society, establishing a lack of accountability and breeding the attitude that what domestic workers do is far from employment but a situation where they are functioning “just like family.” The familial aspect of the work allows families to often take advantage of their domestic employees, using the assumed informality to justify unclear boundaries between work and life, lack of a written contract, unregulated hours and pay, deferred payment back to the family, insufficient living quarters and/or sleeping conditions, limited privacy, lack of freedom outside of home, or identification being held by the employer to prevent mobility of the employee.
Under most current state labor laws, the work of domestic workers is not acknowledged, nor addressed. This prompted a movement advocating for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that New York State passed in 2010, guaranteeing basic rights and protections for domestic workers, including establishing an 8-hour workday, overtime pay, protection from violence and sexual harassment, as well as worker’s compensation insurance. Since 2010, other states are have begun filing similar petitions.
National and local organizations have emerged to combat the exploitation and oppression of domestic workers in the United States, most prominently Domestic Workers United and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. These organizations are comprised of members of the community that participate in advocacy, community organizing, and campaigns to advocate for the rights and protection of domestic workers. They provide resources and legal aid to members of their community, as well as providing an example of large-scale, national impact in the labor movement.