Archive for the ‘labor and capital’ Category

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America [book]

May 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America

Evelyn Nakano Glenn

2010. PDF



This book is about the ideological and material foundations of the care crisis. It is grounded in the premise that the often untenable strains to which family caregivers are subject and the parlous situation of paid caregivers are closely intertwined and need to be examined together. The main thesis of the book is that the social organization of care has been rooted in diverse forms of coercion that have induced women to assume responsibility for caring for family members and that have tracked poor, racial minority, and immigrant women into positions entailing caring for others. The forms of coercion have varied in degree, directness, and explicitness but nonetheless have served to constrain and direct women’s choices; the net consequence of restricted choice has been to keep caring labor “cheap,” that is, free (in the case of family care labor) or low waged (in the case of paid care labor). Read more…

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

“Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”

Evelyn Nakano Glenn

Review of Radical Political Economics Vol 17(3):86-108, 1985. [PDF]


The failure of the feminist movement to address the concerns of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American women is currently engendering widespread discussion in white women’s organizations. Paralleling this discussion is a growing interest among racial ethnic women [1] in articulating aspects of their experiences that have been ignored in feminist analyses of women’s oppression (e.g. oral histories by Sterling 1979; Elessar, MacKenzie and Tixier y Vigil 1980; Kim 1983; and social and historical studies by Dill 1979; Mirande and Enriquez 1979; Davis 1981; Hooks 1981; Jones 1984). [2]

As an initial corrective, racial ethnic scholars have begun research on racial ethnic women in relation to employment, the family and the ethnic community, both historically and contemporarily (e.g. Acosta-Belen 1979; Mora and Del Castillo 1980; Melville 1980; Rodgers-Rose 1980; Tsuchida 1982). The most interesting of these studies describe the social world and day-to-day struggles of racial ethnic women, making visible what has up to now been invisible in the social sciences and humanities. These concrete data constitute the first step toward understanding the effects of race and gender oppression in the lives of racial ethnic women. Read more…

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




“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…

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…

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…

Precarias a la Deriva, “Close encounters in the second phase: The communication continuum: care-sex-attention”

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

“Close encounters in the second phase: The communication continuum: care-sex-attention”

Precarias a la Deriva

Nov. 2003 [link]

Ya, desde el famoso 11 de setiembre

Ya, en una guerra global permanente

Yo, que vivo en guerra cotidianamente

Yo salgo a las calles y digo que NO!

(to strike in A major, to the tune of “Yo te amo con la fuerza de los mares”)


In the months that followed the “Grand Show” of December of 2002, we began to give shape to what all of us understood as a second phase in our exploration of women’s precarious work.  Some moved to other places and no longer shared the day to day of Precarias in Madrid, others joined the group or proposed particular initiatives: the publication of a text in a book or a web page, participation in a conference, collaboration in a video, or else accompanied us in organizing processes or in a mobilization.[1] This coming and going makes room for a mode of networked cooperation which is not so much about belonging, in this case to the group of Precarias, as it is about opening a field of communication and fluid action – sometimes perhaps too diffuse – which we hope will become a means of constructing a new space of aggregation: the Laboratory of Women Workers. Read more…

Precarias a la Deriva, “Precarious Lexicon”

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

“Precarious Lexicon”

Provisional European lexicon for free copy, modification, and distribution by the jugglers of life by some precarias a la deriva

Translated by Franco Ingrassia and Nate Holdren.

April, 2005 [Link]

Precarization of existence

In order to overcome the dichotomies of public/private and production/reproduction, and to recognize and give visibility to the interconnections between the social and the economic that make it impossible to think precariety from an exclusively laboral and salarial point of view, we define precarity as the set of material and symbolic conditions that determine a vital uncertainty with respect to the sustained access to the essential resources for the full development of the life of a subject. Read more…

Precarias a la Deriva, “Preguntas para Precarias”

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

“Preguntas para Precarias”

Precarias a la Deriva



How do (if at all) strains of theory (the Situationist theory of the derive, the work of Negri and Hardt) inform the work of Precarias?

Obviously, we’ve read a few things.  But this doesn’t mean that we’re reading theoretical work and then looking for ways to put it into action: quite the contrary.  We found ourselves in a certain situation and began to look for ways to understand it and intervene in it, and to the extent that other thinkers can provide us with tools or inspiration, we look to them. Mustn’t forget that any theory worth its salt is written as a tool for action in a specific context and moment.   As for the influence of  particular strains, I’d say we’re pretty eclectic: whatever seems useful.  A lot of feminists, some operisti, some urban studies and an ongoing dialog with a number of other groups working on ‘activist research’ (like Situaciones in Buenos Aires).  I don’t know if you can get your hands on the book Nociones Comunes but in the introduction the editor (Marta Malo, one of the Precarias girls) writes a very nice genealogy of influences; maybe I can get you a copy (in spanish, haven’t translated it yet) Read more…

Precarias a la Deriva, “First Stutterings of ‘Precarias a la Deriva'”

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

“First Stutterings of ‘Precarias a la Deriva'”

Precarias a la Deriva

April, 2003 [Link]


Trabajo flexible ¿Es que somos invisibles?

Trabajo inmaterial ¡Ay que estrés mental!

Trabajo de jornalera ¡Eso es la repera!

(Little song by Precarias a la Deriva in the General Strike of 20 June 2002)


Precarias a la deriva (Precarious women workers adrift) is a collective project of investigation and action.  The concerns of the participants in this open project converged the 20th of June 2002, the day of the general strike called by the major unions in Spain.  Some of us had already initiated a trajectory of reflection and intervention in questions of the transformations of labor (in groups such as ‘ZeroWork’ and Sex, Lies and Precariousness, or individually), others wished to begin to think through these themes.  In the days before the strike we came together to brainstorm an intervention which would reflect our times, aware that the labor strike, as the culminating expression of a process of struggle, was unsatisfactory for us for three reasons: (1) for not taking up –and this is no novelty- the experience and the unjust division of domestic work and care, almost entirely done by women in the ‘non-productive’ sphere, (2) for the marginalization to which both the forms of action and the proposals of the strike condemn those in types of work –ever more common-  which are generally lumped together as ‘precarious’[1] and (3) for not taking into consideration precarious, flexible, invisible or undervalued work, specifically that of women and/or migrants (sexual, domestic, assistance, etc.).  As a friend recently pointed out in the context of the more recent ‘political’ strike against the war (April 10, 2003), “How do we invent new forms of striking when production fragments and dislocates itself, when it is organized in such a way that to stop working for a few hours (or even 24) does not necessarily effect the production process, and when our contract situation is so fragile that striking today means risking the possibility of working tomorrow?” Read more…

Frances Rooney, “SORWUC” [the Service, Office and Retail Workers' Union of Canada]

December 6, 2010 1 comment


Frances Rooney

Canadian Woman Studies, Vol 1, No 2, 1978. [PDF]

Women in unions? Yes, Virginia, there are women in unions but … sixty-five per cent of women in the labour force are not unionized. Most unions ignore or discriminate against part-time workers; an elite, removed from the membership, dominates many unions; members often have no direct say in decision-making and it goes without saying that the labour-union movement is overwhelmingly male-oriented and male-dominated.

SORWUC (the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada) is doing something about all those things. The now six-year-old union grew out of the Vancouver Working Women’s Association. Its purpose is to organize workers in retail stores, banks, restaurants, and the other service trades-those predominantly female occupations which have always been ignored by the traditional trade unions. Because SORWUC’S twenty-four founders were tired of insensitive hierarchies and were aware that women need to learn about the workings of unions, they designed the SORWUC constitution specifically to prevent the growth of a highly paid professional bureaucracy.

All important decisions are voted on by the entire membership through referendum ballots mailed to the members’ houses. All officers are elected annually, and there is a limit to the length of time any person may hold office. And all local bargaining units are autonomous: each unit retains control over every aspect of negotiations, and the members of each unit write and negotiate their own contracts.

For the first year after certification by the B.C. Labour Relations Board, SORWUC’S one bargaining unit consisted of the employees of a small legal office. Since 1974, Local 1 has come to represent several social-service agencies, other offices, restaurants, and day-care centres. In addition to the usual provisions concerning job security, promotions, and wages, the SORWUC contracts have included several provisions designed to meet the needs of working people who must also function as members of families and of their communities. These include work weeks as short as 32 hours; full pay for maternity leave; two weeks’ paid paternity leave; an extra hour at lunch-time, paid, once a month to allow women with families to participate in union meetings; protection and prorated benefits for part-time workers; and personal rights clauses prohibiting dress regulations, performance of personal chores for employers, and that most familiar function of the ‘office wife’, getting coffee.

SORWUC is working to evolve policies to improve the quality of the life of working people. One area of study is child care: ‘We want to explore the possibilities of unions having more control of day-care centres and child-care facilities. A union of parents/working people will care for its children as industry/government never will.’ Policy proposals presented to the SORWUC National Convention in February 1978 included free 24-hour child care; centres which the child can reach by her/himself and, when necessary, free transportation for both parent and child; nonsexist, nonracist training for childcare workers and salaries at parity with those of school teachers and the funding of these facilities from corporation profits. Underlying these policy proposals, which contain a statement of the rights of children, is SORWUC’s view that children are part of society and, as such, are the responsibility of society as a whole. Read more…

Genora Johnson Dollinger, “‘This Is the Pressure That They Used': Genora Dollinger Recalls the Flint Sit-Down Strike”

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

“‘This Is the Pressure That They Used': Genora Dollinger Recalls the Flint Sit-Down Strike”

Genora Johnson Dollinger

Oral history courtesy of Sherna Gluck, Feminist History Project.


Strikes affect an entire community, and in the end they need that community’s support to succeed. This is especially true in the case of a sit-down strike like the legendary sit-down strike at  Flint, Michigan, in 1936, when the strikers occupied the GM plants. The  strikers, isolated at first inside the Fisher Body Plant Number One,  needed food; they also needed information and advance warning on what  management might be up to. The Women’s Emergency Brigade, formed during  the Flint strike, proved indispensable to the union effort more than once. Genora Johnson Dollinger helped found the Women’s Emergency Brigade and became one of the strike’s key leaders. In this interview, conducted by historian Sherna Gluck in 1976, Genora Johnson Dollinger described first how the strike affected her family. [History Matters]

Genora Dollinger: During  this period, I was renting an apartment above my mother, on the third floor of the building that my father – or the building I was raised in.  And I had one little boy in school and the other little fellow was only two. Now, I started leaving him downstairs until my father became so anti-union, they’d cut off all of my father’s funds at the bank, all of  his business transactions. That included not only his real estate  building, but also his photograph studio. He had no funds that he could write any checks. He was frozen. And he went down to see them, and they said, “Until you get that communist daughter of yours out of your apartment building, we’re not going to -” This was just pressure, when I stop to think about it. Just his daughter moving out of the building?  This is the pressure that they used. And it was – I remember the banker’s name very well because the son-of-a-beehive was a KKK member with my father through the church minister where I belonged. And so he told him, “You get your daughter out.” And so my father marched home and he said,  “For God’s sake, I’m frozen here. I can’t move in any of my business enterprises, and your nonsense, so you’ll have to move.” And I said, “I’m sorry. I haven’t got time to move,” and who would take care of my kids  anyway. So then he said, well, then he was going to shut the heat and water off, and I said, “You do that, and I’ll issue a statement to the press that their grandfather is-” you know, from their grandchildren,” and call the health department.”

So my mother at this point didn’t dare to defy my father, but she let me know that whatever I thought was right for working people, you know, she would be in agreement. She may not understand, but she understood that I had my reasons.

And what would happen is that – you know, I had two young sisters, remember. One was eight and the other one was twelve. And they would take turns. They would get up and eat breakfast with mother and dad in the morning, and then they would kiss them goodbye and go off to school. One would go to school and the other one would go up the back stairs and stay with my children during the day, and then they would take turns. And that was primarily how my children were being taken care of.

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…

Eileen Boris and S. J. Kleinberg, “Mothers and Other Workers: (Re)Conceiving Labor, Maternalism, and the State”

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

“Mothers and Other Workers: (Re)Conceiving Labor, Maternalism, and the State”

Eileen Boris and S. J. Kleinberg

Journal of Women’s History, 15:3 (Autumn, 2003), 90-117. [PDF]

This article interrogates the gendering of labor and welfare history as part of an examination into the meaning of work, its connection to social welfare policy, and definitions of what constitutes a “real” family in the United States. It examines the gendering of labor based upon the largely male model of waged labor and the exclusion of women of color from the early phases of women’s labor history. By integrating caregiving and domestic production into analyses of work and welfare, it analyzes how the troika of class, race, and gender (especially as complicated by marriage and motherhood) have become central issues in the history of labor. It explores the racialized and gendered construction of labor and welfare legislation and the redefinition of women’s “rights” in contemporary America as participation in the waged workforce, not the right to choose how to combine motherwork and economic survival. 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]



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…

Harry Braverman, “Service occupations and retail trade”

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

“Service occupations and retail trade”

Harry Braverman

Chapter 16, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, Monthly Review Press, 1974. [PDF]

The giant mass of workers who are relatively homogeneous as to lack of developed skill, low pay, and interchangeability of person and function (although heterogeneous in such particulars as the site and nature of the work they perform) is not limited to offices and factories. Another huge concentration is to be found in the so-called service occupations and in retail trade. We have already discussed, particularly in Chapter 13, “The Universal Market,” the reasons for the rapid growth of service occupations in both the corporate and governmental sectors of the economy: the completion by capital of the conquest of goods-producing activities; the displacement of labor from those industries, corresponding to the accumulation of capital in them, and the juncture of these reserves of labor and capital on the ground of new industries; and the inexorable growth of service needs as the new shape of society destroys the older forms of social, community, and family cooperation and self-aid. Now we must examine the labor processes of the service occupations themselves more closely.

“A service,” Marx pointed out, “is nothing more than the useful effect of a use-value, be it of a commodity, or be it of labour.”1 The worker who is employed in producing goods renders a service to the capitalist, and it is as a result of this service that a tangible, vendible object takes shape as a commodity. But what if the useful effects of labor are such that they cannot take shape in an object? Such labor must be offered directly to the consumer, since production and consumption are simultaneous. The useful effects of labor, in such cases, do not serve to make up a vendible object which then carries its useful effects with it as part of its existence as a commodity. Instead, the useful effects of labor themselves become the commodity. When the worker does not offer this labor directly to the user of its effects, but instead sells it to a capitalist, who re-sells it on the commodity market, then we have the capitalist form of production in the field of services.  Read more…

Categories: labor and capital

Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez, “The ‘Hidden Side’ of the New Economy: On Transnational Migration, Domestic Work, and Unprecedented Intimacy”

November 26, 2010 1 comment

“The ‘Hidden Side’ of the New Economy: On Transnational Migration, Domestic Work, and Unprecedented Intimacy

Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez

Frontiers, vol. 28, no. 3, 2007


Migration is a topic that occupies the front page of every newspaper in Europe today. As one of the constantly reiterated items in television news, it engages politicians as well as scholars. In times of globalization, migration is viewed both as a cause and a consequence of the intensive exchange of commodities, goods, and capital across national borders. This phenomenon is, however, not new. After all, during colonial times,1 migratory movements occurred that were, as Kien Nghi Ha stresses, at least “bidirectional” and tied to complex relations of power.2 Today, traces of colonialism inform the patterns, modes, and cultural narratives of migration. Transnational migration has evolved in a global setting marked by postcolonial cultural, economic, and political relationships, as well as by new forms of imperial power. Within this historical context and global conjuncture I would like to discuss the “hidden side” of the new economy: care and domestic work. As Eleonore Kofman and Parvati Raghuram3 note with reference to Arlie Russell Hochschild,4 care and domestic work (and I also would suggest sex work) form part of global-gendered inequalities which “are transferred along chains of care, with care provided by Third World women in households in affluent societies.”5 Read more…

Erik S. McDuffie, “Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front”

November 24, 2010 2 comments

“Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front

Erik S. McDuffie

American Communist History, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008 [PDF]

Esther V. Cooper’s brilliant 120-page 1940 M.A. thesis, ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism,” still stands as the most thorough sociological and historical study written on the working conditions and status of black women household workers and their efforts to unionize during the Depression.1 The ”Negro Woman Domestic Worker” was a crucial part of her early intellectual foundation, helping to set the stage for her staunch support for civil rights, social justice, internationalism, and radical democracy with special concern for African-American women that were trade marks of her life’s work. It also stands as a marker for what could have been a significantly different life journey for her.2

The thesis, above all, contains broad significance for understanding black women’s activism and black radicalism during the Popular Front. It reveals an emergent black left feminism, a politics that centers working-class women by combining Communist Party positions on race, gender, and class with black nationalism and black radical women’s lived experiences, embedded in their writings and activism. Black left feminism paid special attention to the intersectional, transnational nature of African-American women’s oppression and viewed them as key agents for transformative change. Committed to the Popular Front agenda of civil rights, trade unionism, anti-fascism, internationalism, and concern for women’s equality, their work anticipating conclusions drawn by ”second wave” black feminism decades later.3 Read more…


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