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Marina Vishmidt, “Human Capital or Toxic Asset: After the Wage”

February 8, 2011 1 comment

“Human Capital or Toxic Asset: After the Wage”

Marina Vishmidt

Reartikulacija, 2010. [link]

This is a sequence of reflections on affirmation and negation, on identification and severance: determinate negation as strategic affirmation, the identification of concrete universals and severance from a defunct relation. These lines will be explored with reference to the current situation of the waged and unwaged working class, most proximately in Britain, as “debt” becomes the ideological white noise and the practical horizon of all social and political imagination. Household indebtedness is confused with the state deficit in the spontaneous ideology of the Conservative austerity agenda, as what remains of the crisis-riddled economy is sacrificed to the “debt” – as poor people to loan sharks, so Britain to the bond investors. The nationalist narrative of “we’re all in this together” eliminates any space for discussion as to who might bear greater responsibility for the crisis, and who should be paying for it. The announced cuts make it all too clear – it’s the bloated public sector and welfare payments which are responsible, and those that have the least shall have even that taken away, as the Biblical parable goes. Yet a fatalistic consensus prevails for now, transfixed by a menace beyond dispute: the “debt.” Read more…

María Ruido, “Just Do It! Bodies and Images of Women in the New Division of Labor”

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

“Just Do It! Bodies and Images of Women in the New Division of Labor”

María Ruido

“Representation needs to be contextualized from several points. The representation of texts and images does not reflect the world as a mirror, mere translation of its sources, but is rather remodeled, coded in rhetorical terms. (…) Representation may be understood as a visible formal ‘articulation’ of social order “.

Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference, 1994

 

FIRST INTRODUCTION

WORK> NON WORK: REDEFINITIONS FROM FEMINISM

“What do you do? What is your occupation?” Although every day we all reply quite easily to this apparently simple question, if we stop and carefully think what is our interlocutor demanding, we conclude that, in fact, what he/she really wants to know is the job we have or the activity or activities we make for a living and does not expect us at all to enumerate the wide range of actions, relations and productions that we unfold throughout the day.

Defining work and its limits in abstract terms at the present time, where the times and locations of production became blurred and extended, is not an easy task. However, experiencing its consequences on our bodies seems to be less complicated, especially if we consider a definition of work that goes beyond the economistic view (whether neoclassical or Marxist) and, especially, if we understand our sustainment of a daily life and our daily incorporation of personalities and social actions as spaces and (re)productive efforts. Everything that tires, that occupies, that disciplines and stresses our body, but also everything that constructs it, that takes care of it, that gives it pleasure and maintains it, is work. Read more…

Louie Traikovski, “The Housewives’ Wages Debate in the 1920s”

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

“The Housewives’ Wages Debate in the 1920s”

Louie Traikovski

Journal of Australian Studies, No. 78, 2003 [PDF]

The topic of housewives’ wages has received almost no Australian historical consideration. Dorothy Campbell’s fleeting reference is an extremely rare exception. [1] This article provides a much-needed historical examination of a neglected topic. Such examination shows that progressive and conservative arguments were mounted on both sides of the debate over housewives’ wages in Australia in the 1920s. Both sides of the debate are also found to have sometimes pursued contradictory aims. Furthermore, this article contests sociologist Ann Oakley’s claim that support for housewives’ wages always has conservative ends. [2]

The closest a housewife’s wage came to being awarded in 1920s Australia was in 1921, when the matter was debated in the Western Australian parliament. [3] This debate continued throughout the decade in the press, where arguments over financial remuneration for a housewife’s domestic labour focused on the value of woman’s domestic work and woman’s place in marriage. The press both reflected and shaped the debate. It fulfilled the former role by reporting statements by key public figures on the issue. It fulfilled the latter role through publishing the opinion of staff columnists and citizen letter writers on the topic. Read more…

Categories: histories, housework

Sheila Fitzpatrick, “The Wives’ Movement”

January 23, 2011 1 comment

“The Wives’ Movement”

Sheila Fitzpatrick

From Chapter Six, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, 1999. [PDF]

“Wives” were an almost unrecognized entity in the first decade and a half after the revolution. An emancipated woman did not define herself by her status vis-à-vis her husband but by her work and activity outside the home. Educated revolutionary women despised housework and tended to consider the upbringing of children as a community rather than family responsibility. For a woman to concern herself primarily with home and family was “bourgeois.”

Although housewives had the vote, they often seemed to be treated as second-class citizens. “Sometimes I thought that we housewives were not even considered human,” one woman complained. Another wrote:

In all my documents it says: housewife. It has been ten years since I graduated from high school and got married, and here I am still putting it down as my meaningful “occupation.” During the elections to the soviets I, a healthy young woman, was sitting together with the old people and retired invalids. I suppose that’s fair. I am “unorganized population.” [62] Read more…

Categories: histories, housework

Tracey Moffatt, Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy. Tracey Moffatt, AUS 1990, 19 min.

Sarcastically staged in the setting of the social solitariness of the Australian outback, an old invalid and a young female nurse act out this cinematic chamber piece. It is a horror-tragicomedy of domestic hand movements, mute sounds and noisy work about love and dependence. Night Cries tells about a relationship that is affected by the formation of a nation and the forced assimilation of the “Aborigines” that was practised until the 1970s, and can also be read as a pointed critique of colonialist ethnographic film, which traditionally addressed Aboriginal issues through idioms and conventions particular to naturalistic documentary filmmaking. [Marie-Hélène Gutberlet]


Categories: film, housework, race

Ousmane Sembene, La Noire de… [Black Girl]

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Ousmane Sembene, La Noire de… [Black Girl]

65 min, 1966. [imdb]

Read more…

Categories: film, housework, migration, race

Lara Vapnek, “Desires for Distance: White Working-Class Women’s Rejection of Domestic Service in the late 19th-century United States”

January 19, 2011 1 comment

“Desires for Distance: White Working-Class Women’s Rejection of Domestic Service in the late 19th-century United States”

Lara Vapnek, St. John’s University [PDF]

This paper examines several moments when the intimacy entailed in domestic service became a political issue. The first, and most sustained series of examples comes from post-Civil War Boston, where native-born, white working-class women characterized domestic service as an unacceptable compromise of their independence as American citizens. Female leaders of the post-Civil War labor reform movement such as Jennie Collins and Aurora Phelps developed this rejection into a broader critique of class relations. Their metaphors of “wage slavery” invite us to consider how gender, racial, and ethnic identities were constituted through the performance (or non-performance) of paid domestic labor. The second part of this paper considers how these issues played out during the remainder of the nineteenth century in working-class women’s continued associations of service and slavery, and in growing anxieties about ethnic and racial mixing in middle-class households. Together, the various pieces of this essay suggest how the category of intimate labor might reframe our understanding of the history of paid domestic labor in the United States. Read more…

Harry Cleaver, “On Self-valorization in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s “‘Women and the Subversion of the Community'”

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

“On Self-valorization in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’ (1971)”

Harry Cleaver [Link]

One important limitation to Mariarosa’s essay, in my opinion, is its failure to directly address the issue of self-valorization, either in general, or in the specific case of women’s housework. “Self-valorization” is my translation of the Italian word autovalorizzazione. A more literal translation would be auto-valorization, but such a word is a bit weird in English so I prefer self-valorization even though it is a bit misleading. It is misleading for two reasons: first, because it is a term appropriated from Marx but changed in its meaning. Second, because the English prefix “self-” risks evoking the individual whereas the Italian prefix “auto” is less likely to do so and is more conducive to a more appropriate interpretation in terms not just of individuals but of groups and classes. Let me explain further.

In Marx the term self-valorization referred to the self-valorization of capital – everything involved in its expanded reproduction – which is most basically the expanded reproduction of the class relation but includes every element of that relation, e.g., every element that appears in his analysis of Volume I of Capital and reappear as moments of his analysis of the “circuits” or “reproduction schemes” of capital discussed at length in volume II of Capital, e.g., labor power, constant capital, money, exchange, work, commodities, and all the class antagonisms those elements embody and structure: exploitation, alienation and working class resistance and struggle. Capital successfully “self-valorizes” when it is able to juggle/manage the class relationships at all points sufficiently to achieve the expanded reproduction of those relationships.

When Italian autonomist Marxists, especially Toni Negri, appropriated the term “self-valorization” they changed its meaning from the expanded reproduction of capital to the autonomous, self-determination or self-development of the working class. The new use of the term was designed to denote working class self-activity that went beyond being merely reactive to capital, e.g., fighting back against exploitation, to denote working class self-activity that carried within it the basic positive, creative and imaginative re-invention of the world that characterized the “living labor” that capital-the-vampire has fed on but which is always an autonomous power that has frequently ruptured capital’s controls and limitations and that will ultimately, hopefully, be powerful enough to break free completely and craft new worlds beyond capitalism. Read more…

Harry Cleaver, “On Domestic Labor and Value in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’ (1971)”

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

“On Domestic Labor and Value in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’ (1971)”

Harry Cleaver [Link]

A central point of Mariarosa’s analysis in “Women and the Subversion of the Community” is to argue that housework, or domestic labor, or for that matter any and all labor that produces and reproduces labor power is socially productive, i.e., produces value and surplus value. “We have to make clear,” she writes, “domestic work produces not merely use values, but is essential to the production of surplus value.” And a footnote adds: “What we meant precisely is that housework as work is productive in the Marxian sense, that is, is producing surplus value.” This is a claim which is asserted – in the section of the essay called “Surplus Value and the Social Factory” – but not really explored in her article. She demonstrates at length how housework produces a key element of capitalist society – labor power – but doesn’t do so, for the most part, in terms of value. It is also a claim that was, and remains, highly controversial (and one which Polda addressed in greater depth in her book – a treatment that I’m going to leave for future discussion).

The primary objection to this claim that housework produces value and surplus value derives, of course, from contrasting her assertion with Marx who treated the production of value and surplus value uniquely in the context of workers producing commodities for capital that are sold and on which a profit is realized. This objection, and the usual reading of Marx, however, usually doesn’t critically examine a key issue: what it means to “produce” value. Neither, of course, does Mariarosa in this essay. Read more…

David Roediger, “‘Slaving like a Nigger': Irish Jobs and Irish Whiteness”

January 15, 2011 Leave a comment

“‘Slaving like a Nigger': Irish Jobs and Irish Whiteness”

David Roediger

From Chapter 7, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, 1991. [PDF]

In 1856, Henry C. Brokmeyer, then a wage-earning immigrant German molder in St. Louis, wrote in his diary a question posed about one of his German-American friends: ‘”Why doesn’t he learn . . . a trade; and he wouldn’t have to slave like a nigger? ‘ Brokmeyer, who was to become not only independent of wage work but eventually lieutenant governor of Missouri, had picked up a pattern of usage common in American English since the 1830s. [61] Not only was nigger work synonymous with hard, drudging labor but to nigger it meant ‘to do hard work’, or ‘to slave’. ‘White niggers’ were white workers in arduous unskilled jobs or in subservient positions. [62]

But not all European immigrants had the same prospects to ‘learn a trade’, let alone to acquire independence from ‘slaving like a nigger’, by owning a workshop or a farm. English and Scandinavian immigrants were especially likely to achieve such mobility, while the Irish and Germans faced most directly the question of how and whether their labor was different from ‘slaving like a nigger’. But the Irish confronted the question much more starkly. Both before and after the famine, they were far more likely than the Germans to be without skills. The famine Irish infrequently achieved rural land ownership. Within large cities Irish-American males were skilled workers perhaps half as often as German-Americans, and were unskilled at least twice as often. Although frontier cities, perhaps attracting Irish migrants with more resources and choices, showed less difference between Irish and German occupational patterns, the Irish stayed at the bottom of white society. [63] Read more…

Categories: histories, housework, race

Maria Mies, “Colonization and Housewifization”

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

“Colonization and Housewifization”

Maria Mies

Chapter Three, Patriarchy and Capital Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, 1986. [PDF]

The Dialectics of ‘Progress and Retrogression’

On the basis of the foregoing analysis, it is possible to formulate a tentative thesis which will guide my further discussion.

The historical development of the division of labour in general, and the sexual division of labour in particular, was/is not an evolutionary and peaceful process, based on the ever-progressing development of productive forces (mainly technology) and specialization, but a violent one by which first certain categories of men, later certain peoples, were able mainly by virtue of arms and warfare to establish an exploitative relationship between themselves and women, and other peoples and classes.

Within such a predatory mode of production, which is intrinsically patriarchal, warfare and conquest become the most ‘productive’ modes of production. The quick accumulation of material wealth – not based on regular subsistence work in one’s own community, but on looting and robbery – facilitates the faster development of technology in those societies which are based on conquest and warfare. This technological development, however, again is not oriented principally towards the satisfaction of subsistence needs of the community as a whole, but towards further warfare, conquest and accumulation. The development of arms and transport technology has been a driving force for technological innovation in all patriarchal societies, but particularly in the modem capitalist European one which has conquered and subjected the whole world since the fifteenth century. The concept of ‘progress’ which emerged in this particular patriarchal civilization is historically unthinkable without the one-sided development of the technology of warfare and conquest. All subsistence technology (for conservation and production of food, clothes and shelter, etc.) henceforth appears to be ‘backward’ in comparison to the ‘wonders’ of the modern technology of warfare and conquest (navigation, the compass, gunpowder, etc.). Read more…

CLR James, “On the Woman Question: An Orientation”

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

“On the Woman Question: An Orientation”

CLR James

Source: An SWP discussion held on 3rd September 1951, opened by CLR James. [Link]

A new stage has been reached. We are finished with endless discussions on male chauvinism. We have no more time for individual attacks against individual men who are backward or against individual women who do not want to be “emancipated.” These people will reorient themselves and will be drawn into their own struggles.

Now for the first time we know where we are going. We did not develop accidentally. The ideas explicit in this document are the concrete manifestations of the movement of capitalism and the reaction of the masses of women today. It is this reaction that we shall attempt to concretize in this document. Read more…

Christine Delphy, “Patriarchy, Domestic Mode of Production, Gender, and Class”

December 11, 2010 Leave a comment

“Patriarchy, Domestic Mode of Production, Gender, and Class”

Christine Delphy

Translated by Diana Leonard

Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. 259‐267. [PDF]

 

 

The analysis of patriarchy in our society that I have been developing for the last fifteen years has a history I would like to detail. I came to my use of the concept and to the model growing out of it by way of two projects whose theoretical concerns might seem unrelated. One project was to study the transmission of family property (patrimony), and the other was to reply to criticisms of the women’s liberation movement that come from the Left.

As it happened, when I started to do research on these two topics, I found that lack of relatedness was only apparent. This might have been predictable from the coherent commitment that had led me to these topics: I had wanted to work “on women,” which is to say, for me, on women’s oppression. Yet my director of studies at the time told me this was not possible, so I chose to study the inheritance of property instead, eventually to get back to my initial interest by an indirect route. In my research I first discovered what a great quantity of goods change hands without passing through the market; instead, these goods were passed through the family, as gifts or “inheritance.” I also discovered that the science of economics, which purports to concern itself with everything related to the exchange of goods in society, is in fact concerned with only one of the of systems of production, circulation, and consumption of goods: the market. Read more…

Categories: Feminisms, housework

Dorothy Sue Cobble, “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm': Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”

December 3, 2010 4 comments

“‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm': Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”

Dorothy Sue Cobble

International Labor and Working-Class History No. 56, Fall 1999, pp. 23-44 [PDF]

In 1972, a group of tired stewardesses tried to explain their concerns to the incredulous male transit union officials who led their union. No, the primary issues were not wages and benefits, they insisted, but the particular cut of their uniforms and the sexual insinuations made about their occupation in the new airline advertisements. Their words fell on deaf ears. Despite their commonalities as transportation workers, the gender gap separating the two groups was simply too wide to cross. Indeed, male subway drivers could not understand why the stewardesses would object to their glamorous sex-object image. Deeply held gendered notions of unionism and politics also stood in the way of communication.

For even if the complaints of stewardesses were accepted as “real,” to many male union leaders they seemed petty: matters not deserving of serious attention, let alone concerted activity. The gender gap in labor history may not be quite as wide as that between female flight attendants and male subway drivers. But many of the same processes have blocked productive communication and hindered the intellectual development of the field. Labor history scholarship still rests upon gendered definitions of work, politics, and unionism. Just as significantly, the overall narratives that dominate the field incorporate neither the history of female-dominated occupations and industries nor that of women’s particular forms of collective action. Read more…

Marvel Cooke, “The Bronx Slave Market”

December 1, 2010 3 comments

“The Bronx Slave Market”

Marvel Cooke

From The Daily Compass, 1950 [PDF]

PART I

I WAS A PART OF THE BRONX SLAVE MARKET

I was a slave.

I was part of the “paper bag brigade,” waiting patiently in front of Woolworth’s on 170th St., between Jerome and Walton Aves., for someone to “buy” me for an hour or two, or, if I were lucky, for a day.

That is The Bronx Slave Market, where Negro women wait, in rain or shine, in bitter cold or under broiling Sun, to be hired by local housewives looking for bargains in human labor.

It has its counterparts in Brighton Beach, Brownsville and other areas of the city.

Born in the last depression, the Slave Markets are products of poverty and desperation. They grow as employment falls. Today they are growing.

They arose after the 1929 crash when thousands of Negro women, who before then had a “corner” on household jobs because they were discriminated against in other employment, found themselves among the army of the unemployed. Either the employer was forced to do her own household chores or she fired the Negro worker to make way for a white worker who had been let out of less menial employment.

The Negro domestic had no place to turn. She took to the streets in search of employment-and the Slave Markets were born.

Their growth was checked slightly in 1941 when Mayor LaGuardia ordered an investigation of charges that Negro women were being exploited by housewives. He opened free hiring halls in strategic spots in The Bronx and other areas where the Slave Markets had mushroomed.

They were not entirely erased, however, until World War II diverted labor, skilled and unskilled, to the factories.

Today, Slave Markets are starting up again in far-flung sections of the city. As yet, they are pallid replicas of the depression model; but as unemployment increases, as more and more Negro women are thrown out of work and there is less and less money earmarked for full-time household workers, the markets threaten to spread as they did in the middle ’30s, when it was estimated there were 20 to 30 in The Bronx alone.

The housewife in search of cheap labor can easily identify the women of the Slave Market. She can identify them by the dejected droop of their shoulders, or by their work-worn hands, or by the look of bitter resentment on their faces, or because they stand quietly leaning against store fronts or lamp posts waiting for anything – or for nothing at all.

These unprotected workers arc most easily identified. however, by the paper bag in which they invariably carry their work clothes. It is a sort of badge of their profession. It proclaims their membership in “the paper bag brigade”-these women who can be bought by the hour or by the day at depressed wages.

The way the Slave Market operates is primitive and direct and simple-as simple as selling a pig or a cow or a horse in a public market.

The housewife goes to the spot where she knows women in search of domestic work congregate and looks over the prospects. She almost undresses them with her eyes as she measures their strength, to judge how much work they can stand.

If one of them pleases her, the housewife asks what her price is by the hour. Then she beats that price down as low as the worker will permit. Although the worker usually starts out demanding $6 a day and carfare, or $1 an hour and carfare, the price finally agreed upon is pretty low-lower than the wage demanded by public and private agencies, lower than the wage the women of the Slave Market have agreed upon among themselves. Read more…

Lynn Prince Cook, “The Politics of Housework”

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Politics of Housework”

Lynn Prince Cooke

Chapter Four, Dividing the Domestic: Men, Women, and Household Work in Cross-National Perspective, Edited by Judith Treas and Sonja Drobnic, Stanford University Press, 2010. [PDF]

Love occurs in context, yet the dominant theories of how couples divide up housework model the interactions between two adults as if they occurred in a social cocoon. For example, bargaining or social exchange theories focused on the power derived from paid work and predicted women’s increasing employment would lead to men performing more domestic tasks.1 However, an increase in men’s domestic share during the past decades stems primarily from the dramatic decline in women’s housework hours, not substantial increases in men’s.2 The persistence of the gendered division of housework regardless of a woman’s employment supports the gender perspective that our daily activities reflect and reinforce normative expectations of masculine and feminine behavior (West and Zimmerman 1987). These normative expectations vary across social classes or ethnic groups, as well as across countries, reflecting gender regimes (Connell 1987) or cultures (Pfau-Effinger 1998). Norms also evolve over time, albeit more slowly and less spectacularly than we had first anticipated. In sum, how couples might divide paid and unpaid labor in the household varies across class, ethnic, temporal, and country contexts.

Only recently, however, have researchers begun to explore how couples’ sharing of housework varies within its sociopolitical as well as temporal contexts. This research has yielded somewhat conflicting evidence, in part because theory development linking context with individual behavior lags behind the available international data. Most analyses to date have focused on policy effects on women’s equality in the public spheres such as education, employment, or political representation (Baxter 1997; Fuwa 2004). Equally important and intertwined with equality in the public sphere is whether policies reinforce women’s normative responsibility for the private sphere. In this chapter I outline how a broad range of policies influences women’s access to paid work as well as their continued responsibility for unpaid domestic activities, illustrated with examples from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These three countries are based in British common law and share a liberal political ideology vis-à-vis reliance on the market over state provision of welfare, similarities that would lead us to expect common policy effects on the gendered division of labor across them. When comparing specific policies, however, the countries vary more in the degree to which the state shapes gender equality, so that we might find greater variation in how housework is divided within and across couples. Read more…

Categories: housework

Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke, “The Slave Market”

November 24, 2010 1 comment

“The Slave Market”

Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke

From The Crisis 42 (Nov. 1935).

The Bronx Slave Market! What is it? Who are its dealers? Who are its victims? What are its causes? How far does its stench spread? What forces are at work to counteract it?

Any corner in the congested sections of New York City’s Bronx is fertile soil for mushroom “slave marts.” The two where the traffic is heaviest and the bidding is highest are located at 167th street and Jerome Avenue and at Simpson and Westchester avenues.

Symbolic of the more humane slave block is the Jerome avenue “market.” There, on benches surrounding a green square, the victims wait, grateful, at least, for some place to sit. In direct contrast is the Simpson avenue “mart,” where they pose wearily against buildings and lampposts, or scuttle about in an attempt to retrieve discarded boxes upon which to rest.

Again, the Simpson avenue block exudes the stench of the slave market at its worst. Not only is human labor bartered and sold for slave wage, but human love also is a marketable commodity. But whether it is labor, or love that is sold, economic necessity compels the sale. As early as 8 a.m. they come; as late as 1 p.m. they remain.

Rain or shine, cold or hot, you will find them there – Negro women, old and young – sometimes bedraggled, sometimes neatly dressed – but with the invariable paper bundle, waiting expectantly for Bronx housewives to buy their strength and energy for an hour, two hours, or even for a day at the munificent rate of fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, or, if luck be with them, thirty cents an hour. If not the wives themselves, maybe their husbands, their sons, or their brothers, under the subterfuge of work, offer worldly-wise girls higher bids for their time.

Who are these women? What brings them here? Why do they stay? In the boom days before the onslaught of the depression in 1929, many of these women who are now forced to bargain for day’s work on street corners, were employed in grand homes in the rich Eighties, or in wealthier homes in Long Island and Westchester, at more than adequate wages. Some are former marginal industrial workers, forced by the slack in industry to seek other means of sustenance. In many instances there had been no necessity for work at all. But whatever their standing prior to the depression, none sought employment where they now seek it. They come to the Bronx, not because of what it promises, but largely in desperation.

Paradoxically, the crash of 1929 brought to the domestic labor market a new employer class. The lower middle-class housewife, who, having dreamed of the luxury of a maid, found opportunity staring her in tee face in the form of Negro women pressed to the wall by poverty, starvation and discrimination.

Where once color was the “gilt edged” security for obtaining domestic and personal service jobs, here, even, Negro women found themselves being displaced by whites. Hours of futile waiting in employment agencies, the fee that must be paid despite the lack of income, fraudulent agencies that sprung up during the depression, all forced the day worker to fend for herself or try the dubious and circuitous road to public relief.

As inadequate as emergency relief has been, it has proved somewhat of a boon to many of these women, for with its advent, actual starvation is no longer their ever-present slave driver and they have been able to demand twenty-five and even thirty cents an hour as against the old fifteen and twenty cent rate. In an effort to supplement the inadequate relief received, many seek this open market.

And what a market! She who is fortunate (?) enough to please Mrs. Simon Legree’s scrutinizing eye is led away to perform hours of multifarious household drudgeries. Under a rigid watch, she is permitted to scrub floors on her bended knees, to hang precariously from window sills, cleaning window after window, or to strain and sweat over steaming tubs of heavy blankets, spreads and furniture covers.

Fortunate, indeed, is she who gets the full hourly rate promised. Often, her day’s slavery is rewarded with a single dollar bill or whatever her unscrupulous employer pleases to pay. More often, the clock is set back for an hour or more. Too often she is sent away without any pay at all.

Mariarosa Dalla Costa, “Women’s Autonomy and Remuneration for Care Work in the New Emergencies”

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

“Women’s Autonomy and Remuneration for Care Work in the New Emergencies”

Mariarosa Dalla Costa

PDF posted on The Commoner Oct. 2010

This paper has been presented at the international Conference on: “La
autonomia posible” (The Possible Autonomy). Universidad Autonoma de la
Ciudad de Mexico, October 24-25-26, 2006. It has been translated from Italian into
English by Silvia Federici.

 

 

Every construction of autonomy has its own history that evolves in a specific context
and must face specific obstacles and battles. Yesterday I mentioned the first stages of
this history through the initiatives of that feminist movement in which I directly
participated—initiatives necessary for women to regain the availability of their body.
I have also recalled how, on a planetary level, this battle is far from being concluded.
Here I would like to consider other aspects of this history, starting again from the
initial moments of that political experience, to assess what is the relation between
women and autonomy today with respect to some emergent problems, and also to
ask, in relation to the latter, what has happened to both the demand that housework
(or care work) be remunerated and to women’s economic autonomy. Read more…

Gwendolyn Mink, “The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”

Gwendolyn Mink

Feminist Studies, Vol. 24 No. 1 (Spring, 1998). pp. 55-64.

I have worked in various political venues on welfare issues for ten years-for about as long as I have been researching and writing about women and U.S. social policy.’ Most recently, I worked as a Steering Committee member and cochair of the Women’s Committee of 100, a feminist mobilization against punitive welfare reform. I signed up with the Women’s Committee of 100 in March or April of 1995-roughly a year after completing a book on welfare policy history and around the same time as the book’s publication.2

I have always done both politics and scholarship, so directing my activism toward my field of professional expertise at first did not seem especially odd or problematic. However, I had just published a book critical of experts like me-a book which, among other things, faulted solipsistic women welfare innovators of the early twentieth century for building a welfare state harmful to women and to gender equality. The book was barely between covers, and I had already embarked on a path of policy advocacy that veered disturbingly close to the reformers I had criticized. There I was, consorting with a group of supereducated, do-good feminists, most of whom would never need a welfare check. And there we were, using our social and professional positions to gain entry into congressional offices, where we spoke against reforms that would affect not us but poor women. It seemed to me that maybe I hadn’t really internalized the lessons I had drawn from early-twentieth-century welfare history. Read more…

Categories: Feminisms, housework, race, welfare

Francis Wheen, “The Megalosaurus” (excerpt)

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Megalosaurus” (excerpt)

Francis Wheen

Excerpt from Karl Marx: A Life, p. 169-177

His living conditions might have been expressly designed to keep him from lapsing into contentment. The furniture and fittings in the two-room apartment were all broken, tattered or torn, with a half-inch of dust over everything. In the middle of the front living room, overlooking Dean Street, was a big table covered with an oil cloth, on which lay Marx’s manuscripts, books and newspapers, as well as the children’s toys, rags and scraps from his wife’s sewing basket, several cups with broken rims, knives, forks, lamps, an inkpot, tumblers, Dutch clay pipes and a thick veneer of tobacco ash. Even finding somewhere to sit was fraught with peril. ‘Here is a chair with only three legs, on another chair the children have been playing at cooking  – this chair happens to have four legs,’ a guest reported. ‘This is the one which is offered to the visitor, but the children’s cooking has not been wiped away; and if you sit down, you risk a pair of trousers.’

One of the few Prussian police spies who gained admission to this smoke-filled cavern was shocked by Marx’s chaotic habits:

He leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk. Though he is often idle for days on end, he will work day and night with tireless endurance when he has a great deal of work to do. He has no fixed times for going to sleep and waking up. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the comings and goings of the whole world.

Marx’s reluctance to go to bed seems eminently reasonable, since his whole menage – including the housekeeper, Helene “Lenchen” Demuth – had to sleep in one small room in the back of the building. How Karl and Jenny ever found the time or privacy for procreation remains a mystery; one assumes that they seized their chances while Lenchen was out taking the children for a walk. With Jenny ill and Karl preoccupied, the task of preserving any semblance of domestic order fell entirely on their servant. ‘Oh, if you knew how much I am longing for you and the little ones,’ Jenny wrote to Karl during her fruitless expedition to Holland in 1850. ‘I know that you and Lenchen will take care of them. Without Lenchen I would not have peace of mind here.’ Read more…

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