Collective organising and the limits of unionisation
in Home economics
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This chapter examines the varied ways in which domestic workers in Lusaka and other southern African cities have pursued collective organising, from efforts to establish formal associations and trade unions to participation in informal relations of solidarity. In the Zambian case, despite the efforts of successive groups of domestic workers and labour activists from the 1930s onwards, formal organisations have failed to secure broad support amongst the labour force or achieve significant improvements in domestic workers’ rights. This resulted from the limited financial and organisational capacity of such organisations, the government’s dismissive attitude towards the sector, and the failure of workers’ organisations to tailor their interventions to reflect the breadth of domestic service practices. Formal worker organisations in Lusaka and across the region’s urban centres were dominated by adults engaged in wage labour, with no efforts to organise working children and limited engagement with kin-based domestic workers, most of whom were female and, often, young. The formal labour movement model was also unsuccessful because male and female domestic workers of all ages could pursue alternative solutions to their grievances at work, from individual strategies of resistance to informal collective organising.

Home economics

Domestic service and gender in urban southern Africa

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