Female Migration, Work & Migrant Self-organisation

The following article by Luzenir Caixeta (maiz) was the the beginning of the analysis reflection of the situation of selbstorganisation of migrants women, to reflect on necessities of changes on the existent structures and being engaged in the process of political intervention and transformation. The analysis took place in Bologna on 20 th December 2005.

Luzenir Caixeta
May 2006


Beyond the simplistic discourse on pauperisation Precarious labour conditions of migrant women

Paid services of migrant women are strongly influenced by the current context of the globalisation of (precarious) labour conditions and mostly a result of the manifold reorganisation of the production process in the post-fordistic society (Caixeta / Gutierrez-Rodriguez u.a. 2004): de-industrialisation, immaterial production, feminisation of work, transnational migration and mobilisation of capital investments. Due to the plurality of precarious existences the part and number of migrant women in this sector increases rapidly. Existing employments are mainly located in the continuum “sex-aid- care work”. Precarious service sectors like the sex industry or the cleaning sector, in which migrant women are strongly represented, may therefor not be viewed isolated but have to be seen in connection with a series of other precarious fields of work in the informal sector, like for example paid housework, care for the sick and elderly, childcare, mini-jobs at the supermarket or in hotels, employment in call centres and so on. As different as these new worlds of identities of labour may be, what they all have in common is the exclusion from the system of labour legislation and therefor from the protection it provides. Precarisation is more than legal, social and financial insecurity. What is also demanded is the individual ability to become creative and to develop new forms of collectivity. The individual quality of life is increasingly dependent on the personal success on the free market.

Autonomy of migration

Aspecial challenge represents the existing contradictions in the precarisation process. The submission to hyper-exploitative circumstances paradoxically frees the persons concerned from the rigid ideas of patriarchal-fordistic normality and uncloses better life perspectives to the people in precarious work situations form the perspective of a migrational and feminist theory and practice. Trough the precarisation of migrant women the so-called “autonomy of migration” becomes obvious, a sort of precarisation “from the bottom up”, in which the desires for better life perspectives of the individual persons are incorporated. In this way the submission to the manifold precarious compulsive situations at the same time amplifies the rooms of maneouvre. Already the escape from the woeful economical situations and the patriarchal structures in the country of origin and the move into paid labour abroad can be a first step towards the experience of self-empowerment. Even in exploitative structures are moments, which can be an initial point for resistance. If and how we describe the way in which the people concerned create living conditions that meet with there own interests, in rendering services in the sex industry, cleaning industry or in private households and so on, and which “additional sexual or cleaning work” they continually have to render in order to resist to the usual attributions, is therefor also a question of political strategy (Caixeta 2005). Essential to this strategy are the answers to the question, how the existing contradictions and the ones that still are to be discovered can be comprehended beyond a simplistic discourse on pauperisation that hides out the subjectivity and the personal activity of the individual. The flexible organisation of the everyday reproduction for example is in this context not only to be seen as a consequence of new economical forces. It is crucial to which extent the rebellion against the patriarcal-fordistic normality and the surge for alternative ways of living are a requirement to implement new labour- and production conditions and how this surge can be transferred into collective strategies. New forms of labour and division of labour that are the basis of transnational distribution by which they create new disruptions are to be questioned and are to be reorganised. A look at the tasks in question illustrates a tendency towards contradictory entanglements of increased submission [3] on the one hand and of an amplified autonomy at the other: the individual labourer or the team in the cleaning industry gets for example the responsibility for the cleaning of a whole building, the work is organised in sole responibility, the boss is rarely at the site. The organisation of work in private households is mainly organised in the same manner, the sites are (mostly) being cleaned while the employer is not at home. In the sex industry migrant women earn the most money, are able to do it as a side job, normally they do not have to have former experience, are not contractually bound and have the possibility to socialise, to practice a new language and so on. None the less the fight for better living- and working conditions for migrant sex workers and migrant women working in households as well as for migrant women in other precarious service sectors continues to be necessary. Above all this means to counter the anti-prostitution and the anti-migration policies that mainly have a negative influence on the rights of migrant women working in the sex industry. The often moralistically based refusal of the recognition of sex work and the work in private households as a sector with rights and as a sector with strong ethnological relevance is not diminishing the amount of migrant women working in this sector, it merely ignores the reality of many women (and men). Repressive political regulations in regard to migration, public order and morality lead to an increased vulnerability of the service providers and to negative consequences for their health and security. In order not to get stuck in individual solutions it takes an interdisciplinary development of political-ethical positions that render a basis for the fights, which question the hegemonic corporate order and deconstructs it. The (self-)organisation of the people in question is hereby indispensable.

maiz: experiences of a (self-)organisation of migrant women

For more than 10 years maiz is active as a self-organisation of and for migrant women. Migrant women that turn to maiz are working as cleaning personnel for leasing firms, as labourers (cleaning, caring and nursing) in private households, as nursing staff in the health sector and/or are working in the sex industry. Their palpable situation is not only defined by legal regulations. In fact discursive and economical factors are decisive for their actual living conditions. Maiz stands out through our attempt as a self-organisation of migrant women to intervene in all these areas with the social debate. Therefor belongs next to our counselling and educational work also political cultural work and artistic projects to our fields of activities, in which migrant women are able to exchange their individual experiences of living situations and the limitations of their ability to act in order establish in a collective process how to present these experiences to the Austrian majority-population or respectively how to confront them with it. In this way migrant women are to get the opportunity to escape their status as an object that is politically negotiated over and to establish their own forms of articulation in order to intervene with the hegemonic discourses and to shift them. In terms of becoming visible maiz wants to provoke, wants to break with traditional structures of representation and wants to cause a “disturbance of harmony”, e.g. according to the motto: “Austria we love you! We will never leave you!” On the way to a collective organisation for the improvement of the economical situation of migrant women, new contradictions appear, this time between the interests of the individual migrant woman and the general aim to establish better labour conditions. Migrant women generally come to Austria to make fast as much money as possible – regardless what kind of activity it entangles. Consequently they initially have to interest to get collectively organised. Because they do not identify with their job as a private housekeeper or a sex worker but see it as a transitional situation, they see no benefit in fighting for a collective improvement. It is therefor imperative to make the connection visible between the individual situation in which the individual migrant woman can put her personal dreams into practice and the regulation of particular areas of work. One of the essential fields of activities of maiz therefor is also the discourse with and among migrant women themselves, for instance when those that are already living in Austria turn against the immigration of other migrant women because they intensify the competition. In this field of conflict of existing contradictions maiz aims to create room for the collective organisation of different groups of migrant women and to support their internal interests (hereby the similarities between the different precarious working and living conditions are being pointed out and not the opposite) and to call for their external interests. 1 One factor, which especially supports the precarisation of sex-work is the social standing. Within most of the societies sex-work is a stigmatized area. The rejection and stigmatisation of migrant women (in Austria about 90% of the sex-workers) as „foreingers“ and „prostitutes“ is manifold.

Logo of maiz


  • Caixeta, L. / Gutierrez-Rodriguez, E. u.a. (2004): Haushalt, Caretaking, Grenzen… Rechte von Migrantinnen und Vereinbarkeit von Beruf und Familie
  • Caixeta, L. (2005): „Precarius labor et stuprum corporis. Prekarität und die bezahlte sexuelle Dienstleistung“. In: Kulturrisse 02/05, S. 22 f.

 Luzenir Caixeta works for more than 10 years at maiz, amongst others with migrant women working within the field of sex-work. Published in: fields of TRANSFER. MigrantInnen in der Kulturarbeit. IG Kultur Österreich. April 2007. S. 56-58.

Translated by wip: