By ERNIE GOTTA
The movement of working women and the fightback against sexual harassment, abuse, and rape on the job is growing. The movement is challenging past practices of human resource departments and management everywhere that are guilty of sweeping sexual harassment complaints under the rug.
For generations, women have been silenced on the job for reporting sexual abuse. A 2003 study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) showed that 75% of women who report sexual abuse are retaliated against.
These statistics are nothing new for women in the workplace. The daily reality for millions broke into the open as numerous women in Hollywood came forward to expose decades of sexual harassment by executive producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein went as far as hiring former Israeli Mossad agents to silence accusers.
In November, prior to the “Take Back the Workplace” march in Los Angeles, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization comprised of 700,000 current and former farmworker women, wrote an open letter expressing their solidarity with Hollywood actresses fighting back against sexual abuse in the movie industry. The farmworkers wrote, “Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical, and emotional security.”
As we begin the new year, 300 Hollywood actresses launched the “Times Up” initiative to fight sexual harassment on the stage and screen while also extending solidarity to working class women. Their initiative includes, “A legal defense fund, backed by $13 million in donations, to help less privileged women—like janitors, nurses and workers at farms, factories, restaurants and hotels—protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.”
Time magazine included union hotel housekeepers, members of Unite Here, fighting sexual harassment on the cover of the “Silence Breakers” 2017 person of the year issue. Every day women hotel workers, many of who are immigrant, Black or Latino, punch in and face unsafe working conditions.
In Chicago, Unite Here hotel workers were instrumental in passing the “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance, which is aimed at protecting hotel workers from harassment. A survey conducted by Unite Here Local 1 in Chicago of hospitality workers shows “49% of housekeepers surveyed have had guest(s) expose themselves, flash them, or answer the door naked. 65% of casino cocktail servers surveyed have had a guest grope, pinch or grab them or try to touch them in an unwelcome way.”
From hotel housekeepers to Hollywood movie stars, women are taking the lead in the fight against sexual harassment. It is becoming more clear each day how the capitalist system uses sexual violence to exploit and oppress women. We can increase the opposition to sexual harassment by bringing our coworkers to the Women’s Marches on Jan. 20-21 as well as organizing workplace, community, and campus actions around the country on March 8 for International Women’s Day.
Last year, dozens of schools faced closures due to teachers’ calling in sick on International Women’s Day. Is your union ready to do the same? If you’re not ready for action, begin by building a base that is ready to mobilize. Union members can demand time during monthly meetings to discuss how to build a fightback in their shops. College students can organize forums that feature students alongside hotel workers.
Let’s make 2018 a year of solidarity and fightback for the rights of women on the job, on the campus, and in the home.