“I have a philosophy: When others say no, I say yes.” Expressed by Shirley Pryce, this statement could not be more accurate.
Shirley finishes her internship at United for a Fair Economy this week. As sad as we are to see her go, she has promised to be a “UFE Ambassador,” taking all she has learned back home to Jamaica.
For over 30 years, Shirley was a domestic worker in Jamaica. She was badly abused. There was nowhere to go to protest, except for the Ministry of Labor, where the large number of cases made filing a complaint unproductive. She needed help.
After attending a workshop for domestic workers, she was motivated, along with other participants, to form the Jamaica Household Workers’ Association. She wanted to advocate for people in her situation; “I don’t want another domestic worker to go through that.” Shirley is currently the fifth President of the organization, vigorously leading the fight for the rights of domestic workers.
When Shirley became president, membership was extremely low, and the organization was told to close down. Shirley took it upon herself to recruit members. She knew where to go. Early in the morning and late at night, she went to bus stops to invite domestic workers to become part of the organization, as well as leaving flyers in letterboxes and ATM machines. Her strategies worked. Doubtful as many people were, her organization became a union in 2013, and is now powerful and respected. Shirley’s attitude toward their negativity: “If you say it can’t happen, I’m going to do it.”
Now, Shirley is getting her Master’s degree in Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State University. She is the only organizer in the program, gladly representing domestic workers around the world. At first, Shirley resisted doing her internship at UFE, hoping instead to work with a union. Now, she raves about her experience here.
Shirley took part in UFE’s Popular Economics Training in May. She explains that popular education is special. Trainings are typically top-down, but UFE’s model works to change things from the bottom up. It is interactive, realistic, and understandable. That, she says, is powerful.
“It pains my heart to leave UFE,” Shirley said, “a small organization with a big vision.” But she is going back home to put what she has learned into practice. She aims to spread UFE’s work, “not only in Jamaica, not only in the Caribbean, but across the world, to show people it’s a different way of doing your training.”
Shirley’s next step is to set up a Domestic Workers’ Training Institute in Jamaica. Most domestic workers do not have the resources to train themselves, and this school will be designed to fit their needs and schedule. This training is crucial to the empowerment and respect Shirley works to achieve.
Shirley is also a founding member of the Caribbean Domestic Workers’ Network and the International Domestic Workers’ Federation. All over the Caribbean, she is lobbying for governments to adopt the Domestic Worker Convention, which she was instrumental in passing 4 years ago in Geneva.
“We are all doing the same thing: fighting for domestic workers’ rights, fighting for empowerment of domestic workers, fighting to get the convention ratified, fighting for respect. That’s what we do. Daily. Hourly. Minutely. My life is fighting for workers’ rights.”