Sunday 18th March is the third anniversary of the founding of the group Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW). I have to admit I don’t really feel like travelling down to London, but I know I’ll enjoy it once I’m there. It’s an important gathering too, as the government has changed the visa arrangements for this category of workers, and people are nervous about what it means for them. I drive down to the UNITE office in Holborn and there must be nearly two hundred people gathered.
Straight away I’m pleased I came. It’s a great, truly multi-national group of women, from Benin, Philippines, and Nigeria, among other places. A Moroccan member is very pleased with herself as she’s brought along five Moroccans with her for the first time. The food is, of course fantastic, and there’s a photographer taking portrait photos of people while they queue for lunch. Lots of them are wearing red ‘It is a sign of power and struggle, and shows we are together’ someone explains to me, and gave me a red feather from her scarlet feather boa.
There are people here I’ve known for nearly thirty years, who have moved from illegality to citizenship. One of them, a retired woman from India, is given a Mother’s Day gift from the group in recognition of the kindness and practical support she’s given members over the years. She calls them ‘her daughters’ in her thank you speech, and she’s really quite strict, hissing at anyone who has a mobile phone on if it beeps during any of the presentations.
After the food, the dance, and an Indonesian begins, wearing what I presume is Indonesian dress. She’s a fantastic formal dancer, and as she moves, other nationalities are enjoined to take part – ‘We need a Moroccan to join. Where is a Moroccan? And a Sri Lankan? And where are the Indians?’ and so it goes on. As women join they bring their own spontaneity and style and the studied formality of the Indonesian dancer structures and contrasts with everyone’s very different movements. People start standing up and clapping in time to the music. It makes me think of Phil Cole’s reflections on the importance of listening to (and in this case, watching) the theories of those who are not held to be theorists.
This is followed by singing, by testimonies, by a slide show detailing their achievements, and finally by an open forum of ‘experts’. There are audible sighs of relief when they learn that the changes to the domestic worker visa won’t affect those who are already in the country, but they’re going to campaign for new arrivals to have the right to change employer. Watch this space.