HOMEless: a case study of private/public inversion and the temporal–spatial exclusion faced by migrant domestic workers
Young-Ie WUO (Translated by Jerry Yung-Ching CHANG)
ABSTRACT This paper is a case study of the shutdown of HOME (the House for Migrant Workers’ Empowerment), a cultural and service center for migrant workers. HOME was founded by the Taipei City Labor Bureau (TCLB) and subcontracted to TIWA (the Taiwan International Workers’ Association) in 2002, when the Director of the TCLB was the former labor activist Zheng Cun-qi.
For migrant domestic workers, the distinction between sold-time and free-time (i.e. the work-rest distinction) is blurred. Most of their supposedly private reproductive activities are temporally squeezed into holidays and spatially forced into public places where they are exposed to the scrutiny of the Taiwanese. This peculiar situation of private/public inversion not only results from but also serves to reinforce racial discrimination and class inferiority in their workplace (i.e. the homes of their employers). I use the concept of ‘bracketing’ to describe the spatial-temporal strategies used by migrant domestic workers against this distorted inversion. I also analyze how employers ‘counter-bracket’ migrant worker subjects as a counter strategy.
HOME once existed as a ‘surrogate home’, providing shelter for migrant workers and allowing them to retain privacy during their days off. TIWA conducted organizing-oriented cultural and political activities to assist the migrants in forming their own community, and challenged the spatial hegemony of real estate owners in the ChungShan District. However, when Yan Shang-luan, a well-known feminist labor research professor, took over the directorship of the TCLB in 2004, she did not appreciate the function of HOME, and decided to close its doors.
In analyzing the official rhetoric in the documents of the TCLB, I find that their decision to shut down HOME was a result of their middle-class temporal-spatial ‘habitus’. The shutdown became a counter-bracket measure, which coincided with the real estate interests of the ChungShan local elites.
KEYWORDS: migrant domestic workers, the House for Migrant Workers’ Empowerment (HOME), private/public inversion, spatial social exclusion, reproductive activities, gentrification, middle-class temporal-spatial ‘habitus’, the Taipei City Labor Bureau (TCLB)
Young-Ie WUO 吳永毅 is a PhD candidate in the Department of Applied Social Science, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University 香港理工大學. He was once a China Times journalistin 1988, reporting on labor-related issues, but was dismissed for organizing a labor union. After his dismissal he became a labor movement activist. From 1991-2001 he served as Coordinator and Secretary-General of the Committee for Actions for Labor Legislation (CALL) 工人立法行動委員會.
Jerry Yung-Ching CHANG 張永靖 is an MA student of English at National Central University 國立中央大學, Taiwan. He is currently writing his thesis on contemporary Taiwanese literary representations of gay sex home parties on Ecstasy.