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Commentary

Panel – Reflections on “Roma” from researchers who study domestic work


February 19, 2019

Spoiler alert: plot/character details and research-based social analysis ahead.

The film Roma, written and directed by Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuarón and chronicling a year in the life of a domestic worker and the family that employs her, was released in theaters and on Netflix in 2018. On the heels of several recent award wins (Golden Globe for Best Picture and Best Director; BAFTA for Best Film and Best Director; Directors Guild of America for Best Director), Roma is among the favorites to win big at the Oscars this month.

In addition to the critics’ adulation, Roma has inspired conversations among the public and has been strategically used by domestic worker organizations to heighten their visibility. But the voices of researchers who study domestic work in Latin America have been missing from these conversations.

As the founder and coordinator of a research network, RITHAL (Red de Investigaciones sobre el Trabajo del Hogar an América Latina – Network of Research on Domestic Work in Latin Amerca), I feel strongly that we can make valuable contributions to public discussions of the film.

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Commentary

Taboo affects and impossible motherhoods in an unequal Mexico


February 19, 2019
Marco Graf, Yalitza Aparicio, and Daniela Demesa in “Roma.” Image: Alfonso Cuarón via imdb.com.

Getting to see the film Roma on the big screen, before it was released on Netflix, was truly an odyssey. In Monterrey, Mexico, where I live, I had to buy a ticket a week in advance.

Monterrey is home to a prominent and privileged population, who usually contract live-in domestic workers from indigenous communities, like Cleo in the film. This was the site of the ethnographic research for my book Yo trabajo en casa, published in 2017, which discusses the naturalizing of gender, class, and racial inequalities in this stigmatized occupation.

It was worth the wait: the film is beautiful and the cinematography extraordinary. The story of Cleo and a bourgeois family that lives in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, during the presidency of Echeverría (1970-1976), is narrated from the point of view of the family’s youngest child. In the final scene, this little one sleeps in Cleo’s lap, while his sister leans on the shoulder of the worker, who just saved her from drowning in the sea.

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Commentary

Romanticizing “Roma”: For whom and for what?


February 19, 2019
Yalitza Aparicio and Verónica García in “Roma.” Image: Participant Media, Netflix via imdb.com.

As people who have historically occupied second-class status, domestic workers execute their jobs in private homes where the power — and their position — is utterly in the hands of their employers.  So, much like the battle for gender equality, the real change must start inside the homes where domestic workers perform their duties, where the day-to-day occurs. 

Change won’t happen until the terms of the relationship becomes one between equals — until the one who has been inferiorized can speak with a powerful voice; be heard in her terms; narrate in equal measure.  Until then, it is the boss’s voice telling the story of the one who is bossed. 

That is how I feel about Alfonso Cuarón’s critically acclaimed “Roma.”

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Commentary

The limits of fictitious kinship: “Roma” reveals the need to recognize domestic workers’ own care rights


February 19, 2019
Image: Sean O’Flaherty (CC BY-SA 2.5) Desaturated from original

“We don’t want to be adopted by our employers. We simply want our rights.” This was one of the statements made by Mexican domestic workers’ rights activist and union leader Marcelina Bautista, following the release of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

Through its portrayal of the inner life of a 1970s middle class Mexican household, Roma provides an intimate view of the construction of a prevalent myth: that paid domestic workers, and live-in domestic workers in particular, are “like part of the family” to their employers.

The struggles of main character Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) to meet her needs to both give and receive care as a live-in domestic worker confirm what scholars refer to as the “fictitious”  or “imaginary” nature of these kinship structures. Her pregnancy introduces an element of unpaid reproductive labor that does not serve her employers’ interests. 

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Commentary

No Love in “Roma”: Maids’ Representation as a Language of Class


February 19, 2019
Yalitza Aparicio in “Roma”

Expectations were piling up around Mexican film director Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma even before its release last December. Its reception immediately highlighted the many attributes of the film elevating it as a masterpiece of Mexican cinema.

A recent dossier on the website Mediatico with contributions from academics specialized in Mexican cinema leaves no doubts about the aesthetic attributes of the film. The black-and-white images, the large format framing, and the neorealist look make the character and story of Cleo, a live-in maid based on Cuarón’s own childhood nanny Libo, resonate emotionally with the audience in a unique way.

However, it might not be the film itself that needs closer attention, but rather its quick positive reception, a kind of urgency for approval that might be more related to a cultural industry that transcends national borders, and social class anxiety anchored in ethnic/gender/race identities. The film seems to respond to these anxieties, offering a visual and emotional soothing.

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Commentary

Feminism at Work: A Perspective from Management and Organization Studies

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February 11, 2019

Feminism provides a vital but surprisingly marginalised resource for researchers interested in the sociology of work, organizations, and management. We have come to this conclusion in part through our experiences of conducting feminist research on workplaces, and in part through guest editing a newly published special issue of the journal Human Relations that focuses on feminist analysis of social relations in organizations.

In addition to theoretical insights that enable us to make sense of, and challenge, gendered inequality, discrimination, violence, and oppression, feminism, in all its diverse forms, provokes thought on how to challenge and change all exploitative social formations. As Jacqueline Rose recently suggested in Women in Dark Times, feminism asks unique questions as a way of ‘seeing through what is already crazy about the world, notably the cruelty and injustice’ (Rose, 2014: x) of everyday lives. As Amanda Sinclair has also made clear in her recent embodied feminist memoir of an academic working life which concludes the Special Issue, feminism can also provide unique ways of responding to those questions, both theoretically and methodologically.

We find this marginality in our field of organization studies puzzling.

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Commentary

The merit of marshmallows


June 26, 2018

Let them eat marshmallows! It turns out the famous marshmallow test of willpower – the association between how long preschoolers can resist one marshmallow now for the promise of two later and higher test scores and earnings – did not replicate. Once the sample expanded beyond Stanford’s faculty daycare, and controls for parental social class and child characteristics were included, the effect of delayed gratification was much reduced.

But why did people take such psychological ideas so seriously in the first place?

At the outset, it is important to clarify that the recent replication failure does not tell us that willpower does not “matter.” It tells us specifically that willpower or delayed gratification measured in childhood doesn’t matter to academic attainment independently of parental social class and other factors. But it is the underappreciation of these other factors that led to a popular, yet misleading, narrative tying willpower to desert.

To understand how this began, let’s look at how Walter Mischel, the man behind the marshmallow test, got started in 1960s Stanford. Mischel set a model for today’s bestselling celebrity-psychologists, such as Angela Duckworth, by publishing popular books that combined simple summaries of their research with personal memoirs and how-to guides.

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Commentary

Panel – The Fight for $15 movement for low-wage workers


June 6, 2018

Workers and supporters celebrate a $15 minimum wage at Sea-Tac Airport.

Labor Studies Journal recently published a debate on the Fight for $15 labor movement. We are delighted to host a virtual panel including short summaries of the debate by each of the authors, all of whom are leading labor scholars and activists.

Steven Ashby praises The Fight for $15 as “one of the most vital, innovative, and militant struggles in recent US labor history.” He notes that the movement has “created the pressure to win 19 million low-wage workers a total of $61 billion in annual raises through state and local legislation raising the minimum wage, and employers pressured to raise their minimum pay.”

Ashby concludes that the American labor movement must build on the momentum of the Fight for $15 and coalesce around a movement to organize low-wage workers nationwide.

Jonathan Rosenblum points out that although the Fight for $15 movement has been successful in winning pay increases for more than 19 million low-wage workers, in the years since SEIU leaders launched the Fight for a Fair Economy, private sector union density has continued to decline – down from 7% to 6.5%.

Rosenblum asks whether the Fight for $15 movement can channel the energy of the walkouts into the construction of a more durable organizational basis for increased workers’ power.

Tom Juravich agrees that the Fight for $15 has been successful – both in increasing wages and in changing how Americans think about low-wage work. But its gains have largely been in the form of symbolic power. He questions whether the movement can expand beyond the “low-hanging fruit on both coasts?”

Juravich concludes that for the movement to succeed, it needs to find a way to move beyond symbolic power and gain “real structural (economic) leverage,” perhaps by focusing resources on organizing a specific “union city” rather than running “low level campaigns across the country.”

Commentary

In defense of the stunning Fight for Fifteen movement


June 6, 2018

The Fight for Fifteen movement, launched in New York City in late 2012, is one of the most vital, innovative, and militant struggles in recent US labor history.  As one Fight for Fifteen organizer put it, now many young workers “are looking at the union movement, not as something that’s stodgy, old, and past its prime, but as something that’s exciting and new and the way forward for hope in our lives…Fight for Fifteen is making the union movement cool again.”

Fight for Fifteen has won unprecedented victories.  The National Employment Law Project reports that in its first four years Fight for Fifteen created the pressure to win 19 million low-wage workers a total of $61 billion in annual raises through state and local legislation raising the minimum wage, and employers pressured to raise their minimum pay.

Yet the movement has been the subject of exaggerated, often snarky and dismissive, critical comments from a number of left writers.

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Commentary

The Fight for $15 campaign of fast food workers: A good start, but not nearly enough


June 6, 2018

Hit “pause” for a moment on the latest Trump outrage and recall the political landscape following the Wall Street-induced train wreck of nine years ago. The Obama administration bailed out the financiers, businesses fired 8.7 million workers, banks foreclosed on more than 14 million homeowners, and unions lost 1 million members.

Labor law reform died in spite of Democratic congressional supermajorities. The Affordable Care Act, stripped of universal coverage and the public option, barely limped across the finish line. Democrats lost control of the political narrative and got crushed in the November 2010 elections.

One in every six American workers was seeking work, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker launched his union-busting plan, and an ascendant Tea Party–driven national discourse – setting the stage for today’s mess – blamed the economic crisis not on corporate greed but on the federal government, immigrants, and unions.

Amid this deepening crisis, in early 2011 the leadership of SEIU, the union I worked for at the time, experienced an organizational epiphany. To stop the slide into irrelevancy, SEIU swung the union’s resources into a massive, $60 million grassroots campaign in 17 cities, deploying 1,500 organizers to reclaim the high ground in the economic debate and to organize workers into unions on a massive scale.

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