When it comes to oppression of women it sometimes seems like “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
March, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the success of the 63-day “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts but it also marks a time of rising protests by exploited women at the Hotel Hyatt chain cross North America.
The link between the two circumstances: exploitation of immigrant women.
The owners of 11 Lawrence textile mills gave in on March 12, 1912 and 25,000 women ended up with big raises, overtime pay, and union recognition. They went back to work on March 16.
That strike united women from Italy, Ireland, Syria, Armenia, Turkey Belgium, Canada, Germany and Sweden. They were Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists together on the same picket lines and together in their fight against the American Woolen Company.
Hired company thugs shot dead Striker Annie LoPizza on Jan. 29 and they bayoneted her 16-year-old son over and over again until he too died.
When state troopers began to carry out regular beatings of any of the children of strikers they could get their hands on, the multi-national army of women got itself together and put the children on trains bound for New York and Philadelphia, where they were taken care of by hundreds of other women who supported their struggle.
Today, the women of the Hyatt hotels, represented by Unite Here, carry on a similar battle, only this time against modern day wealthy proprieters, Chicago’s billionaire Pritzger family, chief owner of the chain.
Hyatt fired veteran union housekeepers in Boston several years ago, replacing them with poorly paid non-union help.
They fired two sisters in Santa Clara, Calif, both 30-year veterans, because the women objected to a demeaning company bulletin board display of their heads superimposed over bikini-clad female bodies.
“One day I came to work and saw men laughing at pictures on the wall. Someone had posted images of faces attached to the bodies of women wearing bikinis,” said Martha Reyes, one of the two sisters. “I was so embarrassed. For me this is no joke. I take my job seriously, and all I ask is to be treated with respect. Instead, Hyatt fired me and now I may lose my home,”
In San Francisco the Grand Hyatt threatened to fire a woman who could not return to work three days after a Caesarian Section.
Because of this the National Organization for Women , the Feminist Majority and other groups have decided to show solidarity with the union women at the Hyatt hotels.
Gloria Steinem met with the Reyes sisters in January and pledged her support for a boycott of Hyatt.
“Unfortunately, as the world marks this tremendous occasion, immigrant women are still exploited by Hyatt and its subcontractors,” said the feminist groups in a joint statement today. “Women workers of Hyatt struggle daily with an employer that injures their bodies, disrespects their rights as mothers and treats them as disposable.”
NOW and the others, are running a “Clothesline Project” in the San Francisco Bay area. The clotheslines outside the hotels bear messages and stories of the struggles women face at work.
NOW and other feminist groups have pledged not to do business with Hyatt until it treats its workers with the respect they deserve.
Photo: Clothes Line Project from Hyatt Hurts facebook page.