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Stand Up for Working Women!

The grassroots rage and organizing that countered Komen and GOP’s anti-contraception crusade showed just what feminist fury can do. Facing a cut-off in funds from the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, PPFA raised more money in a few days than it stood to lose from Komen all year. The federation’s supporters stirred up such a storm that a senior Komen VP was forced out with her Georgia Republican anti-choice agenda showing.  And the burdensome pressure tactics of gratuitous slap-suits and Congressional investigations finally made news – dirty tactics that women’s clinics around the states have been subject to for years.

And then came Daryl Issa’s panel on President Obama’s plan to require insurance companies to pay for contraception coverage when religious employers refused. Issa’s panel “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State” was as crazy as it sounds (and almost as crazy as the Clinton-conceded “conscious clause” itself) but it was no match for the Democratic response.  Democratic women on the committee begged to participate, asking Issa to let a college student testify. He refused. That refusal made that student a star guest on liberal cable shows across the country and Issa’s stupid hearing attracted more attention than any hearing on any topic for months.

And that’s my point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see feminist hackles rise. I only wish we’d see liberals as angry and activated about women’s labor, as about women going — or not going —  into labor. Capitalism’s crazies are just as righteous-rage worthy as the anti-contraceptive sort.

Take the two million paid home care workers in U.S, up to 95 per cent of whom are women, foreign-born or people of color. Many are undocumented. The multi-billion dollar home care industry is right now mobilizing opposition to an Obama administration proposal to extend basic minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. Industry claims that extending basic protections will cost jobs and leave elderly and disabled Americans without care are no less absurd than what Issa and his chums had to say about contraception coverage crushing the church.

Yet the  public has only a few more days to speak out, and so far, the din is,  let’s just say, not deafening. The Department of Labor is taking public comments until February 27.

Restaurant work, like domestic work and retail, is another female-dominated sector.  Think only women are affected by the congressionally mandated “sub-minimum” wage for tipped workers? Hardly. Since 1991, the sub-generous subminimum for tipped workers has stood at $2.13, thanks to active lobbying by the National Restaurant Owners Association (one of the top twenty-five lobby groups in the United States.) Food servers, it turns out, are twice as likely as the general population to use food stamps. How many of us thought about that this Valentines Day, one of the top dining-out holidays. Chances are good that the person who served up your love potion, cannot themselves afford to eat.

ALEC, the conservative legislative cabal liberals love to hate, is pushing right now to repeal all sub-minimum wage laws (along with the federal, non-tipped sort.) Senators in Florida, where state law provides an increased tipped-worker minimum, want to strike that increase down. If history is anything to go by, giving in on the tipped-workers’ minimum is what Democrats do when they have to strike a bargain with the corporate right. Clinton did it in 1996 in exchange for a lift in the non-tipped minimum wage. History repeated in 2007, the last time the non-tipped minimum got a lift.

Let’s be clear. Wages as a whole haven’t grown with the economy. But wages in female dominated sectors like domestic work, restaurant work and retail have grown the least.  As today’s favorite corporate model is the “feminized” labor model it would  behoove not just feminists to pay attention.  All today’s employers seem to prefer to hire workers part time, ideally through private, independent contractors. In so doing, they distance workers from their bosses, from labor law protections, from access to unions and the right to collectively bargain.  It’s not just sexist but it started where women work.

Governors in Indiana and Wisconsin are denying to public workers now what the federal government denied disproporationately to women workers when domestics, agricultural workers and freelancers were written out of the Fair Labor Standards Act — in 1936!

Today we have a chance to rebuild labor power, the old way or the new way. Millions of new jobs are likely to be created – eventually – mostly probably in the “feminized” part of the workforce.  We could make them good jobs. We clearly have movements that make a difference when they want to.  Or we could focus on choice. We have a choice.

LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura. 

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Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv now seen on the new, news channel TeleSUR English – for a new perspective. 

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