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(en) The Northeastern Anarchist #9 - The World's Largest Workplace: Social Reproduction and Wages For Housework by PJ Lilley and Jeff Shantz

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 23 Sep 2004 09:47:21 +0200 (CEST)

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This article creates a background on the international Wages for Housework
campaigns carried on since the seventies as well as our future hopes for
the abolition of marriage and all wage slavery. Reproduction, whether in
the services, child care, hospitality, health care or sex work, is also
carried on outside the home and still primarily done by women. Look for
upcoming issues of The Northeastern Anarchist for more articles on
reproductive rights -- from the struggle for affordable, accessible
abortion, to the fights against forced sterilization. We will also examine
the situation of migrant domestic workers, the globalized sex trade, and
other sites of struggle where women's bodies clash with capitalism...

One of the all time great swindles of history is the massive free labor
subsidy that capital has scored in working class homes. So much of
our time, energy, interests, resources and money goes into the
home-based work to re-produce our class. Depending on your view,
subsistence, caring, nurturing, teaching and sheltering is either the
"daily grind" or the "lubrication" needed to keep it all going. This
re-productive work is primarily, even overwhelming, done by
women, the majority of the world's population.

Lately, anarchist-communists in North America have done a better
job of addressing working class issues and workplace organizing,
but we really have not paid enough attention to the part of the
re-productive cycle that has always been done without pay.

Women's demand of pay for housework is a strategic demand for
the whole class. It's not that getting wages for housework is our end
goal and solution; instead it is a crucially important area of struggle
and mobilization, which can help to overcome the divisions between
the employed and un-employed members of our class, and between
men and women. We want to smash the capitalist patriarchy, but
we need, as Lorenzo Kombo'a Erwin puts it, 'survival pending

March 8, 2004 marked the fifth annual Global Women's Strike.
Women in Uganda, England, Argentina, Peru, Guyana, southern
India, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and several U.S. cities took part
in the global strike. Overall the movement saw participation by
women involved in grassroots organizations in sixty countries. Yet
this passed with barely a mention in radical or anarchist circles,
with the notable exception of a fine report by Mumia Abu Jamal
(reprinted in the latest edition of Kick It Over). Women had taken
strike action prior to the Global Strike, in Iceland in 1975,
Switzerland in 1991 and Mexico in 1999.

Participants in the Global Women's Strike are fighting for payment
for housework, clean, safe and accessible water resources,
accessible and safe housing, education, gender justice and an end to
wars. They have been active opponents of war and occupation,
including the too often overlooked tragedies in the Congo and
Uganda. The slogan they put forward is "Resources for Caring not

Right now, global expenditures on military spending exceed $956
billion per year. This is an even more disgusting figure when you
compare it with spending for essentials of living at $20 billion. Yet it
is caring work that produces all of the world's labor power.
Validating this kind of work is a crucial step in radically
transforming the division of labor and the structure of the economy.

Most of the work that women do is unwaged, unvalued and
unrecognized, without guaranteed benefits, health and safety
protections or organized hours. This lack of social and economic
recognition devalues all of women's work and, where wages are
received, contributes to keeping women's wages 25-50% below the
wages of men.

Recent neoliberal cuts have weakened or eliminated pay equity and
employment equity schemes, further penalizing working class
women. In addition, extreme welfare cuts and ideological attacks on
single mothers receiving welfare have further punished working
class women.

The Wages for Housework campaigns and the Global Women's
Strike have developed and expressed an important internationalist
perspective on class struggles. Among their demands the Strike
calls for the abolition of all "Third World debt" on the basis that the
work women do, which has been massively increased under
structural adjustment programs imposed by the IMF, and has more
than repaid the debt. For instance, in many countries girls and
women have to walk hours every day to get firewood and water in
order to cook the family meals when they get home. As Selma
James put it earlier this year, "Women grow 80% of food consumed
in Africa and over 60% in Asia, yet are officially 'economically
inactive.’ Despite slogging all day every day, no work record
and no wage. Any wonder that we women are 70% of the world's
poor." James also notes how this labor is essential for continuing
capital's exploitation, when she said back in 1973, that women
"service those who are daily destroyed by working for wages and
who need to be daily renewed and they care for and discipline those
who are being prepared to work when they grow up."

The United Nations has estimated the value of this work to be
worth more than $11 trillion worldwide. A Statistics Canada survey
in 1992 calculated the value of unpaid work in Canada to be as
much as $198 billion at that time. Certainly, without the unpaid
work of women, the capitalist economy would be seriously

But how did we get into an economic system of evaluation that
refuses to account for, and truly recognize the real value of women's
unpaid work? Basically, the system of accounting for value was
defined by bourgeois men who wished to evaluate the growth of
wealth in the nation state. Economists like Adam Smith started out
by separating moral, aesthetic and use "value" from "market" value.
As Marilyn Waring points out in her detailed book of feminist
economics, If Women Counted, "If Adam Smith was fed daily by
Mrs. Smith, he omitted to notice or to mention it. He did not, of
course, pay her. What her interest was in feeding him, we can only
guess, for Adam Smith saw no 'value' in what she did." From the
banks to the United Nations, economists ever since have evaded
admitting their own self-interest, and continued to judge the market
as the source of value.

Even Marx himself said little about women and their work (outside
of some specific factory references), and particularly little of
domestic work. Let's not forget he too had a wife and a female
servant. In places Marx approaches the problem but cannot put his
finger on it. "The worker...gives himself means of subsistence to
keep up his working strength, just as a steam engine is given water
and coal, and a wheel is given oil. So the workers' means of
consumption are pure and simple means of consumption of a
means of production, and the individual consumption of the worker
is a directly productive consumption" (Marx in Lotta Feminista,

Though Marx doesn't see it or can't bring himself to speak it, this
consumption is based on work of some specific kind. As Lotta
Feminista, a class struggle group out of Italy in the 70's, said "This
work [Marx misses] is housework. Housework is done by women.
This work has never been seen, precisely because it is not paid"

Housework re/produces the commodity of labor power. It is
transformed into the wages of the current or future worker and as
such is commodified, produces an exchange value rather than
simply the utility or use value of labor.

Yet the exchange value is cashed not by the houseworker but by the
bearer of the labor power that the houseworker has reproduced.
There is an assumption that the wage, the price paid by the boss for
labor power, includes a payment for the costs of reproduction. If the
worker is to bring their labor power to work everyday then they
must be able to renew that labor power, with food clothing and
shelter, at an acceptable level to allow them to keep working at an
adequate capacity.

The problem with this assumption of course is that the payment is
made to the worker, the bearer of the labor power commodity,
rather than to the people, usually women, who have done the bulk
of the work necessary to re/produce the commodity labor power.

Marxist economics have tended to focus on the exchange value of
commodities, including labor power. This is why the labor involved
in producing use values, or utility, because it is not the primary
focus of capitalist economies, is often overlooked or relegated to a
secondary status. Because women's work in the home is not openly
sold on the capitalist labor market has generally been excluded from
Marxist analyses, or relegated to the realm of non-commodity
production. The aim of Marxist critique of political economy has
been explicitly to analyze capitalist commodity production and
exchange, so women's work, and the various realms of
non-commodity production more generally, have been obscured.

But obsession with productive work can eclipse the central issue of
the productivity of housework or domestic labor. Workers must give
themselves means of subsistence to keep up their working strength
(material, psychological, emotional, intellectual).

For Lotta Femminista it was no accident "that theoretical obsession
with productive work has never touched on the productivity of
housework" (p.261). Workers' struggles over pay at the moment of
production in the factory/workplace have regularly "failed to include
the reproduction of working strength and the absence of pay which
mystified that reproduction" (Lotta Feminista, p.262).
Unfortunately, workers' movements responded to Lotta Femminista
with accusations of class splitting, "interclassism" and

"One part of the class with a salary, the other without. This
discrimination has been the basis of a stratification of power
between the paid and the non-paid, the root of the class weakness
which movements of the left have only increased" (Lotta Feminista,
p.262). This has led to calls for "wages for housework." Pay for
housework, or domestic work, is a revolutionary and strategic
demand for the working class as a whole.

Wages For Houswork?

Basically, the demands are for less work, more time and more
financial recognition for women's contributions. But the simplicity
of these basics has caused women around the world to recognize
their fundamental conflict with state patriarchy. As the Italian
feminist movement realized, "A massive request for jobs for all
women who are currently housewives would go against the system,
which cannot renounce gratuitous housework." So the vision was
expanded -- "The right to manage our own bodies, the
collectivization by the state of all the social services (canteens, local
laundries and so on) currently provided for free by housewives,
collective education of small children, equality of work with no sex
discrimination these are our objectives" (MFR, p.264).

The International Wages for Housework is a socialist feminist
coalition that was also initiated in the 1970s, but in England. Since
then the movement has developed important insights into global
linkages among wages, reserve armies of labor, misogyny and
racism (Berlant). Around the world, the Wages for Housework
movements have fought against the workfare ethic of neoliberal
governments pushing single mothers off of benefits and "into
work." The vast majority of women do unwaged work, whether on a
full-time or a part-time basis, so the issue should not be framed as a
struggle between stay-at-home mothers and employed women

Money from homework wages can be used as caregivers see fit to
arrange their lives in more satisfactory ways. "This gives women
bargaining power, to accept or reject what employers offer in wages
and conditions. Power at home too: men either share the work or
move on. For lesbian women, and in fact all women, the money
makes it easier to be sexually independent and be mothers too"
(James, 2004).

Wages for Housework also addresses the horrible problem of
women pensioner poverty, which is usually the result of a lifetime of
caring for others. "Why deny that caring for people is the very stuff
of life? Basic to relationships. Basic to human survival. Yet treated
as worthless. Women give their all but it's not mutual and its not
paid" (James, 2004).

In Italy, Lotta Femminista and Autonomia Femminista made
salaried housework a key demand from 1975. This was a
denunciation of the state's swindling of women by basing its
budgets "on the gratuitous labor exploited in the name of the
allegedly 'primary natural' function of women" (Casalini, p.264).
"The issue is how to value unpaid work without going back to the
days when women were valued only for their mothering" (Rebick).

It's not only about mothers and housewives. Nor is it a strictly home
based issue. With the expansion of the service economy much of
the work of re/production has been outsourced. "Perhaps it would
have been more interesting if the discussion about housework now
revived had originated not only among housewives, but rather
between them and the thousands of women who do the same jobs
in public places; namely in service in bringing up children, in health
assistance" (Casalini, p.265). To this we might add non-status
women who do so much of housework for wealthier families yet
have few rights or social support.

"This would have been interesting, because the whole sphere of
reproduction, in its private and public aspects, would have come
into the discussion; and, consequently, into the discussion of the
position of women. Perhaps some ideas concerning the possible
organization of these services and needs would also have emerged.
In the absence of this contact, women stay isolated in their roles as
'housewives,' and they speak of making a salary contract”
(Casalini, p.265).

The compensation can appear only as a subsidy because the
housewives' activities cannot be easily broken down into discreet
tasks. Employer contributions similar to CPP or EI could pay for it.
Especially since these contributions in Canada are already lower
than for most other industrialized nations.

Of course, there is bound to be a lack of correspondence between
service and compensation, and a subsidy is typically only a survival
income. Some have suggested that a guaranteed annual income and
a shorter work week would contribute towards a solution.

There are other problems with the wages for housework demand,
beyond the obvious reformism. Obviously, we do not want the state
to be a mediator in the complex relationship that characterizes
women's daily tasks. The surveillance, harassment and intrusions
on women receiving welfare provide a warning about this. It would
bring bureaucratic attention to women as the state attempts to
quantify the often fluid and overlapping domestic roles that are
performed each day. Certainly, the state should never be assigned
the task of giving houseworkers an identity.

There is also the concern that women would pay for the salary
increase (and the social cost of the salary itself) themselves through
price increases and salary cuts elsewhere in the workforce. In
Rhode Island right now, as low-income day care workers organize
and unionize, the state tries to cut back on day care subsidies.
Clearly, it is important to link the struggles of low-come and welfare
mothers, with those fighting for decent pay and benefits in
equivalent public sector jobs. (Their mutual aid in coming together
there has formed a group called the Day Care Justice Co-op.) And
at any time, it is a bad idea to rely too comfortably on state "charity"
concessions, especially when they can lead to further neoliberal
justifications for cuts in service funding.

There are other criticisms that the demand for salaries for
housewives would be akin to social security, when a subsidy is a
charity concession on the part of the government. Movimento
Femminista Romano suggests that this is based in the fact that,
given the character of housework, housewives do not hold any
contractual power.

How would they obtain their raise? By leaving children, elderly and
sick relatives in order to take part in demonstrations, the critics ask?
"Would they fold their arms and refuse to do the housework,
knowing that, afterwards, they would have to slave twice as hard in
order to regain lost time? (MFR, p.262).

The main concern with the wages for housework campaigns is
really how to press for equality of work, without sex discrimination.
For instance, the state may link a subsidy to oppressive patriarchal,
bourgeois family arrangements -- pay to housewives but not to
non-married women or non-mothers. We do not want to re-affirm a
sexual division of labor, but instead think of ways to collectivize
social services, ways that would include equal participation by men.
Some interesting anarchist communist projects in this area have
been canteens, laundries, collective nurseries and free schools.

Instead of reinforcing these common social functions as private,
and thereby limiting them to the home, and usually to women in
traditional roles, we must envision and implement ways of making
these functions public, and collective. That is a step toward ending
the alienation of work, paid and unpaid -- public and private
domestic workers -- as well as the isolation of women as
housewives. Solidarity in this regard means directly contesting
power relations between men and women, and the ideological basis,
especially around "the family", that sustains this inequality.

Selma James called it again when she said, "The only other choice
[to capitalist employment]: to scrimp on benefits or depend on a
man, with no money of your own -- a major source of domestic
violence, including rape in marriage. I don't think most jobs men do
are more important than raising children. Nor do I think women
should be institutionalized as carers or men deprived of their kids.
Time for a change!"

Domestic work must be recognized in a way that allows for and
supports the refusal of marriage. The fight against the patriarchal
middle class family is crucial for the liberation of women and

Many anarchists have ripped at the contractual implications of
marriage, the oppressive social relationship implicit in the
state-sanctioned property relationship between men and women. As
Emma Goldman said, "Marriage and love have nothing in
common." The spontaneous critique of the nuclear family, which
blossomed when women began mobilization for the legalization of
abortion and for divorce laws, led many to a total questioning of the
broader organization of society. The whole of capitalist social
organization is dictated by the sexual division of work. A
redefinition of "work" and re-ordering of how it is valued would go a
long way to destroying the patriarchal order.

"We've got to stop glorifying the work men do and invite them to
take part in caring for other life. If we're not segregated, demeaned,
discriminated and impoverished by it, as is true with women now,
it's the most civilizing work of all" (James, 2004). What is required
is a fundamental shift in the structures of work in order to allow all
caregivers to both care and hold waged work where desired. A real
work-life balance must mean that all of us are working less.

But emphasis on waged work at the expense of caring and
nurturing (families, communities, ourselves) is the key tension of
capitalist economies -- the struggle between our own desires and
needs, care for ourselves, and the pressure to take on waged jobs as
the mediated means to survival.

Yet, it's not enough to end sexual and reproductive "slavery," the
extraction of labor from women through the state institution of
marriage. In seeking to be free individuals, we know that we
endanger our health and emotional well-being by sacrificing our
own care for the production of capitalist exchange values. So as
anarchists, the struggle continues until there is an end to all wage

The wages for housework campaigns raised some important
debates in the 1970s and '80s that remain lively international
questions today. There are problems with its inherent reformism as
a demand, but it's a good tactical goal that has galvanized women in
struggle. As anarchists, we support welfare, unemployment
insurance, subsidized housing, not as solutions to our problems but
as resources. Wages for housework is a defensive technique like
other subsidies or assistance.

In our homes and communities, in 'private' and in public, we must
organize, raise up our just demands, march, demonstrate and strike
to win where we can.



Bono, Paola and Sandra Kemp. 1991. Italian Feminist Thought: A
Reader. (Oxford: Blackwell)

Casalini, Carla. 1991. "A Priceless Role." In Bono and Kemp.

LottaFeminista. 1991. "Introduction to the Debate." In Bono and

Movimento Feminista Romano. 1991. "Statement at a Meeting with
Lotta Feminista." In Bono and Kemp.

Mumia Abu Jamal. 2004. "What Women Want." Text

James, Selma. 2004. "Home Truths for Feminists" in the UK

Rebick, Judy. A WOMAN'S WORK. Reprinted from Elm Street

Waring, Marilyn. 1988. "If Women Counted." (San Francisco:
Harper & Row, Publishers)


PJ Lilley and Jeff Shantz are members of Punching Out Collective
(NEFAC-Toronto) and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.


This essay is from the newest issue of 'The Northeastern Anarchist'
(#9, Summer/Fall 2004)... which includes essays on the Iraq war
and military recruitment, anarchist arguments against electoralism,
wages for housework, prisons and fascism, revolutionary
organization, a history of anarchism and anti-imperialism, the
Quebec general strike of 1972, and much more!

The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language magazine of
the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC),
covering class struggle anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate
and analysis in an effort to further develop anarcho-communist
ideas and practice.


To order a copy, please send $5ppd ($6 international). For
distribution, bundle orders are $3 per copy for three or more copies,
and $2.50 per copy for ten or more.

Subscriptions are $15ppd for four issues ($18 international).

Back issues are $2ppd ($3 international) per copy; special offer
package for the entire set of back issues (#1-8) now only $12.

Checks or money orders can be made out to "Northeastern
Anarchist" and sent to:

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Link: http://www.nefac.net

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