The IMF, Sexual Assault, Intimidation, and Trade Unions May 27, 2011Posted by Garibaldy in Capitalism, media.
Very interesting piece about the Strauss Kahn case in yesterday’s Guardian by Dean Baker. In it, he discusses the importance of the fact that the maid who has accused Strauss Kahn of sexual assault is in a trade union. In an industry and a country, he says, where management can fire staff easily and is keen to avoid a fuss, the fact that she was in a union that had negotiated provisions for this sort of situation may have given her the confidence to come forward knowing it was not going to cost her her job.
Imagine the situation of the hotel worker had she not been protected by a union contract. She is a young immigrant mother who needs this job to support her family. According to reports, she likely did not know Strauss-Kahn’s identity at the time she reported the assault, but she undoubtedly understood that the person staying in the $3,000-a-night suite was a wealthy and important person. In these circumstances, how likely would it be that she would make an issue of a sexual assault to her supervisors?
Housekeepers are generally among the lowest-paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage. It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management. If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she have been prepared to risk her job to pursue the case?
Housekeepers and officials with the main hotel workers union, Unite Here, said that housekeepers were often too embarrassed or scared to report incidents to management or the police. Sometimes they fear that management, often embracing the motto “the customer is always right,” will believe the customer over the housekeeper and that the worker may end up getting fired.
Ms. Babbington said a co-worker once encountered a naked guest who chased her around the room. “She was just panicking,” Ms. Babbington said. “She was very new in the country and she demanded to talk to the police. Her manager sat her down to calm her down and told her not to call the police, that it wouldn’t be good for the hotel.”
We are used to reading about sexual discrimination and sexual harassment cases where people are victimised by the boss or by co-workers; not so much about cases where assaults by customers might be covered up by management, or swept under the carpet by firing the victims. It is outrageous that such a thing can, and does, happen. As Baker points out, the IMF has been engaged in a long-term campaign to undermine the rights of workers and trade unions. If it had its way, people like hotel maids would be still more vulnerable to pressure from customers and employers than they are already. Baker has pointed out that whether or not Strauss Kahn escapes conviction, the case has important lessons about the continuing necessity of trade unions in resisting the neo-liberal assault on the working class.