As we move onto the month of March, more specifically, the 8th of March, it is important to talk about a few movements that have made it a bit easier for women to demand their rights. This article seeks to shed some light upon the meaning behind wages for housework.
Several studies continue to show how women all over the world are overwhelmed by the burden of care. Unequal care responsibilities within the house, are leaving women out of the labor market, and out of a possibility to balance their careers with their personal life. And as we’re supposedly moving towards a more equal society, we need to know what the real issue is and why society considers women as naturally prone to conducting house chores and having care responsibilities.
With the industrial revolution, women witnessed one of the sneakiest divisions as a result of the rise of capitalism. As men left the house to go to work and got paid for it, women stayed within the house, did all the work — but did not get paid for it. This division is ongoing, but in 1970, a group of women called it out as unfair.
This group of women was Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Silvia Federici, Brigitte Galtier, and Selma James, who found what was known as the International Wages for Housework Campaign (IWFHC), a grassroots women’s network campaigning for recognition and payment for all caring work, in the home and outside. This movement was started in 1972, beginning to voice their demands at the third National Women’s Liberation Conference in Manchester, England.
Wages for housework was only one of the six demands in Women, the Unions and Work or What Is Not to Be Done, the paper by Selma James presented to the Third National Women’s Liberation Conference. More specifically, this paper demanded a guaranteed income for women and for men, working or not working, married or not.
“If we raise kids, we have a right to a living wage. The ruling class has glorified motherhood only when there is a pay packet to support it. We work for the capitalist class. Let them pay us, or else we can go to the factories and offices and put our children in their father’s laps. Let’s see if they can make Ford cars and change nappies at the same time. We demand Wages for Housework. All housekeepers are entitled to wages (men too).”
– Selma James, Women, the Unions, and Work, Or…What Is Not To Be Done
The other five demands of this paper were correlated to wages for housework and equally important, demanding for the right to work less; the right to have control over our bodies; equal pay for all; and end to price rises; free community-controlled nurseries and child care.
All of these had women in the center, as the paper addressed the government to give women money and give them time, so they can be in a better position to control their bodies, their minds, and their relationships.
Some critics accused The Wages for Housework perspective, claiming that monetizing women’s work within the house would simply keep them stuck in house chores for a longer time. However, what was not understood is that this demand was a toolbox for action. It was much more than just money, it was recognition of women’s long-term contribution, especially to reproduction and care. Wages for housework were aimed to bring together women of all backgrounds, to change their situation, and challenge the relations of power.
I’ll share with you only a paragraph of the Wages for Housework manifesto, but I do recommend you click on it and read it entirely, as it’s absolutely worth it.
“The women of the world are serving notice. We clean your homes and factories. We raise the next generation of workers for you. Whatever else we may do, we are the housewives of the world. In return for our work, you have only asked us to work harder. We are serving notice to you that we intend to be paid for the work we do.”
Do you want to know more about the women of the movement? Read my book review of “Wages against Housework” from Silvia Frederici:
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