Transcending the Border
Transnational Imperatives in Singapore's Migrant Worker Rights Movement
Author: Lenore Lyons
In the last five years, interest among civil society actors in the issues migrant domestic workers face in Singapore has exploded. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), informal networks, and faith-based groups have all formed to address the needs and interests of these workers. Most of these organizations are welfare-oriented, providing support services, training programs, and social networking opportunities. Some engage in advocacy and research activities. This latter group has lobbied successfully for important changes in how female migrant workers are recruited into and deployed within the domestic labor market. To date, their activities have been focused at the local level through their engagements with the Singaporean government, employment agencies, and employers. This orientation, however, has recently begun to change as they seek to develop transnational networks and support regional and international campaigns. This article examines the reasons behind this interest in cross-border organizing through detailed case studies of two advocacy-oriented NGOs, Transient Workers Count Too and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics. The article explains that although a "transnational imperative" has begun to shape the activities of these two NGOs, they have different motivations for engaging beyond the border. By revealing a diversity of forms and meanings associated with the processes of "scaling up," this article contributes to the broader scholarly understanding of the complex nature of transnational organizing and challenges earlier studies that assert that transnational activism is a necessary and natural outcome of migrant worker organizing.