‘The Grand Domestic Revolution—User’s Manual’ (GDR) investigates the domestic space and its (changing) use through a variety of methods and disciplines, traversing the fields of art, design, architecture, urban planning, activism and theory. A number of artists and other practitioners contribute to this endeavour. Residents from 2009-2011 include Sepake Angiama, Paul Elliman, and Doris Denekamp who utilized neighbourhood and online research to create prototypes and interventions around the theme of (Green) Cooperativsm. Wietske Maas and Travis Meinolf experimented with Home Production; while 'interor' infrastuctural interventions for the furniture, library and hallways were created by ifau & Jesko Fezer, Mirjam Thomann and Graziela Kunsch. Current themes and residents from February–October 2011 include Kyohei Sakaguchi and Kateřina Šedá who will each investigate forms of usership in architectures; home and housing rights with Maria Pask and Nazima Kadir; the question of invisible and domestic labour taken up by Werker Magazine; Agency will continue its deliberations on copyright issues of domestic THINGS (gardens and textiles); and keywords in relations to food service work will be workshopped with Xu Tan. Parallel to this, the Read-in activity continues. Initiated by artist Annette Krauss and theatre maker, Read-in is an open reading group inhabiting a different neighbour’s home for every session.



The GDR library constitutes the backbone of our ongoing ‘living research’ and thus grows over time. The library offers points of engagement with the project and consists of different research materials such as books, articles, images and DVDs (artist’s video, films) that are available for viewing when visiting the apartment. The first installment was done by the GDR team and was later adapted by Sao Paulo-based artist Graziela Kunsch who suggested that the GDR team create thematic selections.



'The Grand Domestic Revolution-User's Manual' is a long-term project developed as Casco’s contribution to 'Utrecht Manifest: Biennial for Social Design'. The project deals with the evolutionary and collaborative process of “living” research in the contemporary domestic and private sphere – particularly in relation to the spatial imagining (or the built environment). It aims at re-articulating while exercising the notions of the social, the public and, eventually, the commons.




Since August 2010, the GDR team have undertaken research in order to connect with the local neighbourhood on questions relating to peoples’ social conditions and material environments. Questionnaires, interviews, and conversations are the methods used to explore the themes and problems addressed in GDR, such as self-organised governance, co-operative living, and spatial organisation in and from the domestic sphere.


Interview with Rebeca Pabon, Organizer FNV
Conducted by Annette Krauss, Elsa and Maiko
FNV Bondgenoten office, Radarweg 60, Amsterdam
(27 September 2010)

Rebeca Pabon, FNV organizer

As we got to know more about the very formidable domestic labour union in Netherlands, we came to understand how the age old public/private political debates come to bear today. There are two forces at play that have created the increase of migrant domestic labour: the lack of an obliged or willing workforce in affluent European countries, such as The Netherlands, result in domestic jobs being taken up by migrant workers from poorer countries; and the decline of the Western European welfare system making formerly nationalised ‘care’ jobs get thrown back as the responsibility of individual households. The paradox in this situation is that this reproductive work is undervalued and increasingly its workers are exploited and worse still, becoming criminalised. We spoke with Rebeca Pabon of the FNV Bondgenoten Domestic Labour campaign about the paradoxical tensions between invisible labour and political demands that migrant domestic workers face today in the Netherlands.

Elsa: Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?

Rebecca: I am a union organizer for domestic workers, in FNV Bondgenoten. I came to work here because of my experience working with the topic before. Basically, domestic workers who are undocumented, and also the ones that are documented, can be part of the Trade Union—so their proposal of coming to the Trade Union is to have a campaign in which they can fight for their demands: respect for the work, recognition of the work, and the work permit, as most people doing this work are undocumented.

Elsa: In that sense, since you are working with documented and undocumented people, how do you make it visible, or how can undocumented people take part in action? Is it a danger for them? In this way, are you a representative for them?

R: First of all, I don't speak for anybody. I see myself as a person who creates the conditions and the space for them to talk. I don’t have to tell the story of a domestic worker when a domestic worker can tell the story her/himself. That’s more powerful I think, they are more in power as well. The problem with undocumented people at the moment is that they realize that unless they take action to change their working and social conditions, nothing will change. Basically their daughters and family members—who follow the in the future to take up these jobs—would work under the same conditions.

It’s a moment when you have to decide, whether you continue to hide somewhere and live in fear, or do something about it? This is a way to convince people to do something.

E: What kind of platforms or events are created for that?

R: Our main activity is to work on our base. We want to grow our base of workers, to have a critical mass of workers that can present and lead this campaign. The union has to be seen as a platform. It's a space which they can use to voice their demands and issues. We work with an organizing committee in Amsterdam and Den Haag, Rotterdam, our strategy is to have the main Randstad area. Basically the coordination committee functions to lead where the campaign goes, what kind of events will we participate, what kinds of needs do we have as domestic workers, what kind of issues and fights do we have and how do we want to solve them and push further our own agenda? This coordination is composed only of domestic workers, and they take part monthly in these meetings. That's one space where they can co-ordinate and organize. From there, we participate in different ways. Our main purpose at the moment, is to reach other domestic workers and our activities involve visiting churches, migrant centres and community parties. Domestic workers are not in a factory, they are in individual houses so we have to reach out in the places where they gather.

E: What is the reaction of churches?

R: They are quite surprised because it is not common that the Trade Union is approaching churches as a serious social partner. Sometimes the strategies of organized labour are perceived in the framework of a strike, so this type of approach and thinking about the importance of community in worker's lives and how to integrate that, can create a surprise in the context of a church. But they usually accept us.

M: How are you funded and what kind of fundraising do you do for your events and projects?

R: We are funded, as part of the trade Union. The union pays for the organizers. Also the groups themselves do fundraising for their activities. Domestic workers themselves first come to the Union and start self-organizing. So you have groups that organize on a grassroots level and raise funds and work together on that, to help themselves. For our own activities, we don’t have external support at the moment. So it would be great to have someone who can write proposals.

Annette: What are the main difficulties, in convincing domestic workers to join you?

R: Fear is a difficulty. Of course, it is not easy for a person who is in such a vulnerable position to come out. We want to convince people that this is a collective fight, not an individual fight. We place the collective perspective in the foreground. Another challenge is that they are isolated, so coming out isn’t easy, and in terms of time—they don’t have that much time to organize. But that can be changed and we have seen the transformation of those fears into great leaders. The point is that if you don’t want to keep living like that, at one point you have to realize that you have to do something. You are anyways always in fear of the threat of being arrested, it can happen anytime, it can happen while you are bicycling. These are things we always discuss, those are real challenges, but it is also very real that things aren't going to change if we don't do anything and that is actually very scary.

Maiko: You mentioned a point about the domestic worker's children coming to reproduce the same work. Can you tell us more about that?

R: This is about the cycles of migration, so if you don‘t have the economic conditions to support yourselves at home and you have to migrate, there is a a good chance that you will be a domestic worker. If someone sees that you have gone abroad for work and have been able to send help back home, then this will be considered as an option for the future. Therefore you have good chances that your family members will join you. This means that, in the Netherlands, if we don’t do anything now, the bad conditions are going to continue. It's a vicious cycle.

A: As you are working with undocumented people in the trade union, how is your situation as an organization, for instance in connection to the police? Are you in danger of being monitored or surveilled?

R: There are certain principles here: we are a union; and if you are a worker, you have the right to be in the union. That's an important principle here. Documentation and migration isn't the role of the trade union, this is the role of the migration office, it's an important distinction. Our role is to organize workers. It is in our best interest that the sector of the cleaning industry is regularized, that workers have decent working conditions, in which the employers and the workers can have good relations. It is in the best interest of the workers and of the employers as well. My priority here is that these people get organized and we have a sector for decent conditions. But it is not my role to determine whether you have papers or not. s.

A: And it often works the other way around—since it is often the problem that domestic labour isn’t recognized as ‘real labour’—that you say "they are workers so they can be part of the trade-union."

R: Yes this is a step in the process of recognizing domestic workers, or valuing the work: this isn’t a side-job for pocket money. It pays for university, rent, food, so these people are workers and this is the right place to be, in the trade union.

E: At your presentation in the panel event in Rotterdam (TO SERVE: House without a maid), you spoke about new legal conditions and international law and how it would affect Dutch law: what is exactly the change that would be made?

R: The Netherlands was consulted for the International Labour Organization in terms of what kind of rights domestic workers have here, apparently domestic workers have the right to maternity. We know that in practice, domestic workers, even Dutch domestic workers, can hardly get access to a pension for instance. There is something very different between having rights, in terms of the law, and there is something very different in being able to exercise those rights, which is key to this analysis. Secondly, domestic workers often work for several different employers and according to Dutch law, part-time workers have less rights that if you work for more than three hours. So the way that domestic work is organized, it doesn’t allow for these laws to be implemented, therefore there needs to be another analysis of how to access rights.

And when you are undocumented, there is a perception that if a worker is undocumented--because of no work permit and they have no access to a variety of rights---But in the other sense, what we are saying is: First of all, it is real work. Second, it is a work that is organized in certain ways so we need to adjust the labour law to apply to workers that are organized in this way and Third, we need to recognize who is providing the service are mostly undocumented people. Let's face it, the Dutch workers have other possibilities to have access to the labour market, so why go and clear the toilets of another Dutch person? Internationally, this topic has gained relevance. In Europe, and in other countries, domestic workers have been organizing and challenging all these limitations of labour and migration law, to say "we need a revaluing of this type work and we need recognition of this, so we need another set of rules ". Therefore, in Europe, when you go to Spain, Italy, France, Greece, London or Brussels, domestic workers are regularized and can join the union, get access to sick days, vacation time, can have a visa for domestic work;. a visa for domestic workers which doesn’t exist in The Netherlands.

 In other European countries, they have been open to discussion and changing their national laws according to the international one, so lets bring this discussion to The Netherlands. Is not only in Europe, but in other continents as well, that lead the process of the International Labour Organization, to add the situation of domestic work in their agenda—meaning that the ILO is a standard setting organization. It is part of the UN and they create labour standards or laws. The countries who are members of the UN are also members of the ILO and when the ILO creates a law, called a convention, the country members must ratify it. When that happens, they must change their national laws accordingly. A ratification can take years. For us, we must support this process. Not only for us in NL but for all domestic workers for the recognition the work internationally. If the Dutch government approves or ratifies this convention, that will be a step in terms of value of this type of work.

A: What is the situation in The Netherlands that they haven't ratified it yet?

R: First the convention needs to be created. It is still on discussion. It is a two year discussion. Last year was the first part of the discussions with the first negotiations. This year, 2011 will be the final set. We believe that we will end the year with a good convention for countries to ratify.

But, on the other side, your question is more "why is it that other countries are so advanced in providing rights for domestic workers, and not in The Netherlands?” We must say that domestic workers are nothing new in The Netherlands. In 1920's, Norwegians started migrating to do the work, then Germans, later on came the Spanish. Until the 1930's, Western Europeans were dominating the market in the provision of these services. After 1950's , more non western European workers came, from Latin America, East Europe, Africa, Asia, to provide these services. It is nothing new. Its has always been part of the culture.

On the other side in The Netherlands, there is still a strong idea that the work of traditionally associated with women (cleaning houses or taking care of kids) will be something to supplement the main provision of the house, which is the salary of the husband.

But, as times have been changing, and the composition and needs of families have been changing, it's becomes clearer that domestic work isn’t just a side-pocket job. It is a serious job. It requires organization, coordination, a lot of independence at work, and certain skills that are not seen as something that everyone can do. There is a certain economy of the house, certain conditions that must be fulfilled, and there are professional domestic workers out there. In Hong Kong, domestic workers have contracts, but not here.

E: What is the relation of the employer in that case, within the struggle? Do you get their participation?

R: The employers are not organized in an association—that's an important factor, a very problematic factor because employers are individuals. But this year, the association of employers of the cleaning industry, they recognized, as part of a collective agreement, those agencies or employers working in the provision of services in private houses. So that's a step towards the recognition of the employer's side of domestic work. But to answer the question, if they participate or not, some employers are very supportive, they join the activities but they don’t have a very vocal voice. The problem is that this situation also affects them. We do have many employers that are very decent people who would like to regularize their relations with the domestic workers—but even though they would like to, they are not allowed by the state. There is no mechanism in place. The closest thing to a visa is the Au Pair program. It is a program that is conceptualized as a cultural exchange program, but we do know that Au Pairs also work as domestic workers—and very badly paid. There is no structure in place to regularize that and we need to create this, and it affects employers is also always under the threat to be fined.

A: So you are working on different fronts: on governmental front and even European front on the ratification, but also on a very local base to organize people.

R: We are working on many many different fronts, and it is necessary to be like that. First of all, we are in a social momentum, that is so urgent, and so necessary that you cannot limit yourself to do international work. You need to mobilize the people, to make some change here. Our main front is in the ground, in trying to reach out to people and supporters and bring this discussion into public debate. In the meantime, we cannot go totally public because we aren't strong enough. We are quite small. You need to have more than a 1000 workers organized and that hasn’t been possible yet.

On the other side, you need to support what is happening internationally. The process in the ILO is really exceptional—domestic work is one of the oldest type of works—but for the first time it is in discussion to create an international law to protect these type of workers. We are talking about something that challenges the conceptions we have have of organizing. Domestic work brings us to the discuss the limits of the public and the private, into a gender discussion, into informal/formal labour discussions and brings us also to new ways of organizing, reinventing our union, and reinventing what we consider labour, expanding those visions.

So it is a type of work, a type of struggle that makes you fight in different fronts. That’s the quality of it, the elasticity that it has.

A: Can you give an example of how it challenges the concept of a normal way of mobilizing?

R: For instance, trade unions don’t usually visit churches or work with so much alliances. This campaign is pushing us to make alliances with all sorts of activities or spaces, like with artists for example. It was super important for example with a cultural centre, to have a space where a debate of labour and art can merge. These are types of alliances that are quite new from the old idea of going to the factory, fighting for better salaries, fighting for benefits.. etc.

Also, we look at access to health care. If you are undocumented even if you want to pay for health insurance, if you don't have a SOFI number, you cannot. But there is a law in The Netherlands that provides health care to those who cannot have a health insurance, even for Dutch citizens. So we try to reinforce this law in order to give real health care to domestic workers. That is totally different from the usual struggles as a trade union. We are challenged to look at the access to social services.

E: And when you say that you have discussion about broader questions such as the limits of public and private, which questions are coming in for instance?

R: For instance, if the relation of a woman with another woman who comes to clean her house, it is an employment relation. The classical one is a worker who lives in a house which is also her workplace and lives with her employee—this is a terrible clash of public/private relations for instance.

M Back to that Rotterdam cultural event where you spoke, did anything stand out for you?

R Someone was talking about domestic workers in Hong Kong. She made a film of domestic workers regularly visit this square - so the film was on how the workers take and make use of the public space. She was also talking about a transnational movement. That was also very interesting because you can see that the academics in these spaces, they were starting to think outside of the usual approach of representation--the sad stories, which are of course very sad, but the workers are actually thinking and taking very seriously how they are framing their demands,showing the possibilities for escalation and starting to think of this as a movement. That is what I found very interesting.

M: One of the questions to follow: "Does anything gets lost in the unofficial aspects of the work once the regularization is succeeded?”

R: One of the discussions comes from “if we regularize it, what kind of structure can we imagine?” And one of the difficulties of domestic work is that, though many countries have been regularized, the migration status of the worker is attached to the name of the family. In Hong Kong for instance, if the employer dies, the migrant worker loses their job and their migration status immediately. In many countries, you can receive a VISA, but on your passport is written the name of the family. Therefore if you are in a situation of abuse and want to change employer, it's very difficult and you can easily lose your whole migration status.

Therefore in The Netherlands we need to think of a strategy that doesn't attach the permit of domestic worker to the name of the employer—there should be levels of flexibility. If you don’t take that in consideration, you can end up creating a regulation that creates dependency between worker and employer.

M: So it is about thinking of regularization as a non rigid structure.

R: Right now, for instance, domestic workers have a certain space of maneuver, because they are not attached in any way to the employer. They can leave whenever they want. If the space of maneuver isn’t taken in consideration, when proposing a regulation system, the domestic worker can end up dependent. But it is in the best interest of the state to control the workers who come here with limited visas. We do believe that it will be an approach from the state to want it this way but we need to argue why that may not be the best choice.

A: Is there, if you look at your working situation, a specific need that you can put forth? Like, do you have enough people?

R: That’s exactly what we need. We have very limited resources and we have a very ambitious campaign.We'll have a supporters meeting on the 12th of October 2010, and the idea of this meeting is to create working groups between supporters, that can work independently from the coordination group of the domestic workers.

They work directly in connection with the campaign with the organizer—for instance we need people that help us with health care, a working group that could train the workers on how to demand their rights to health care, what kind of info they may need. We also need someone who help create and write newsletters, that help us to testify what we have been doing and to communicate it. We need a secretary who can manage all the administration, we need people who can think about creative ways of how we can expose this campaign. We need someone to make documentation, we also need a website or blog to present ourselves on the web. This is very important in order to reach the workers. We need someone who can record the stories of the workers, for instance a collaboration between a photographer and writer or an exhibition.

I believe there are different angles if which you can contribute to this approach. Strikes work but it could also be different tools, like this type of discussion we're having but, with with a higher level of analysis.

We need people who understand why we are doing this and who have respect for these people, instead of looking at is as a 'victim's situation'. It's not about inviting people to listen to issues about motherhood, of someone who leaves her kid behind to take care of someones' else kid, that's not the immediate issue! That's the newspaper story that presents the domestic worker as a victim. We need to put forward these stories of woman who are conscious of their situation and who are proposing their own ideas and who are in power. The most important is to bring these discussions to another level, to empower the workers to a level that creates the conditions to put forward their stories.

E: Do you also touch feminist issues, gender issues, people's pre-conception that it is mostly women doing this work?

R: We need to set something very clear in the public debate: this is not an issue of migrant woman. This is an issue of Dutch Society. The fact that domestic workers are out there and exist, is because Dutch households have been looking for private solution for a public problem. They have a public problem in Amsterdam for instance. It is a public problem if you have to wait for 9 months for a daycare. As a reality of Amsterdam's households, a Dutch woman is pressured to participate in the labour market and contribute to the economy and to work; but on the other side she is not given the necessary tools to liberate herself from the tasks she has at home in order to participate. So…she goes and finds a private solution, looking for ads in the supermarket where she will find a migrant woman to work for her. This illustrates that it is a societal issue.

I do not know that much about the feminist scene here in The Netherlands. It seems to me that there is quite a focus on women's participation and position in the labour market, equal pay, but it is kind of a discussion of feminism that only certain women with certain backgrounds can participate. It’s a class issue as well.

I am interested in how feminists can take up the discussion and elevate it to another level, and how we can create a space of solidarity between women's issues. But I was saying that it isn’t a woman's issue only but a public social issue because not only women take care of the household, although historically, we know that it is like that. So we do need to elevate the discussion to a feminist level. We need people who can write about this and push forward their analysis about it. One of our views was also that publicly, we can have a campaign where women support women, where feminist organizations can claim their support for domestic work, saying that it contributes to their life.

At the end we are talking about the reproduction of social life. Therefore how do we incorporate this discussion of reproduction into a major feminist debate? If you have access to this kind of space, this is something I would like to put on the table for them.

Brochure download of FNV Bondegenoten Domestic Worker Rights

Since August 2010, the GDR team have undertaken research in order to connect with the local neighbourhood on questions relating to peoples’ social conditions and material environments. Questionnaires, interviews and conversations are the methods used to explore the themes and problems addressed in GDR, such as self-organised governance, cooperative living and spatial organisation in and from the domestic sphere.


Victory Garden

No Work

No Garden

No Work

No Spuds

No Turnips

No Tanks

No Flying Fortress

No Victory

Bear that in mind, all you Victory Gardeners and work for VICTORY!

Propaganda film for the Victory Garden during WWII here *Embed video here

26 January 2011, 11.52 — posted by Doris