Collectivizing cleaning and care labor: how migrant women can gain agency through worker cooperatives

Authors: Nora Komposch*, University of Bern
Topics: Social Geography, Gender, Migration
Keywords: labor geography, worker cooperatives, migrant women
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 38
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For many migrant women in New York City, structural discrimination and administrative hurdles complicate access to well-paid and safe labor. Worker cooperatives have been shown to reduce precariousness and economic exclusion of marginalized groups. However, while much is known about the worker cooperatives’ economic impact on workers’ lives, other social effects remain far less explored. The present research contributes to filling this gap by examining the change in the social position and agency of migrant women in their everyday lives after joining a worker cooperative. Combining an intersectional perspective with Bourdieu’s different forms of capital and the concept of self-empowerment, I analyze changes in everyday lives of migrant women who are members of nine different cleaning- or care-worker cooperatives in New York City. A participatory research approach gave access to data sources, including interviews, participant observations and a quantitative survey. The findings reveal that worker cooperatives have empowering effects on migrant women beyond the sphere of paid work. While the additional unpaid workload as co-owners of cooperatives represents an extra burden for many migrant women, they now have better wages, more flexibility and safer workplaces. Furthermore, they acquire different leadership skills, enlarge their social network beyond their ethnic communities and earn increased respect as co-owners of a business. Through worker-ownership, migrant women increase their economic, cultural, social and symbolic capital, which enables them to exercise more agency not only in their paid work life sphere, but also in their families and during leisure time.

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