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Accepted Paper:

Unionizing Otherwise - Essential worker’s feminist decolonial reformulation of wage-centered labor organizing  
Swantje Höft (Central European University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes how two grassroots unions of female migrant workers in Barcelona reconfigure wage-centered labor struggles as care work. It argues that the rise of feminist-syndicalism stems from the feminist strike movement and the acknowledgment of care work as essential during the pandemic.

Paper long abstract:

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed once more how crisis-prone capitalist arrangements are. This paper explores the efforts of reconfiguring wage-centered labor struggles around reproductive work through two grassroots unions in post-pandemic Barcelona. Using feminist ethnography, it analyzes the entanglements between emotional empowerment and political activism in the union of household workers’ Sindihogar and the hotel cleaner’s union Las Kellys Unión. These unions operate on the basis of a politics of mutual affection (Fulladosa Leal 2015:83). This politics is central to their unionizing, as not only the bodies but also the vital energy of precarious workers is exploited (Filigrana 2021). The worker’s daily exposure to existential insecurities results in exhaustion, reinforces the reduction of their life opportunities, and turns vital energies into a socially unequally distributed resource that undermines the practical ability to shape their future. In contrast, the politics of reciprocal care provides a safe space for exchanging experiences of oppression and experimenting with new political subjectivities and horizons of possibility (Fulladosa Leal 2015:76).

The paper argues that the rise of feminist-syndicalist organizing efforts in Spain was shaped by a confluence between two major events, which contributed to positioning female migrant workers as the revolutionary subjects of neoliberal capitalism (Segato 2019). Initially, the influential feminist strike movement politized the devaluation of care work, fostering renewed alliances between feminist and trade unionist activists (Gago und Cavallero 2022). Secondly, the feminist politicization of the care crisis gained momentum during the global pandemic, particularly with the acknowledgement of care workers as essential workers.

Panel P035
Feminist perspectives on mobile essential workers: the pandemic as turning point? [Medical Anthropology Europe (MAE) & Anthropology and Mobility (AnthroMob)]
  Session 1