Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, “Caring Work Counts! Mothers Challenge Advocates & the Poverty Lobby”
“Caring Work Counts! Mothers Challenge Advocates & the Poverty Lobby”
Every Mother is a Working Mother Network (EMWM) campaigns to establish that raising children and caring work is work, and that the time mothers spend raising children, and the economic value of their work be included in our right to welfare and other resources. We campaign for resources to enable a mother to raise her own children full-time or to also work outside the home. We are a national multiracial grassroots network from different backgrounds and situations.
One of our slogans is “Mothering is Real Work; We Demand Real Wages”. The demand for payment for caring work was central to women – mothers and others – in over 60 countries deciding to take part in the Global Women’s Strike on 8 March 2000 and 2001, and for the growing mobilization for the Global Women’s Strike on 8 March 2002.
With the reauthorization of welfare ‘reform’ on the agenda in Congress, EMWM is pressing for the value of the work of moms and other carers to be reflected in welfare benefits. Denying the value of the work of mothers and other carers is the very basis of welfare ‘reform’ and must be the basis of opposition to it. Welfare mothers also have the right to a job outside the home, as a choice not a mandate, with pay equity, affirmative action, protection from racial and sexual harassment, childcare and more. For some women waged work outside the home, is a rest in comparison to the workload in the home. Welfare ‘reform’ is also low waged work recruitment. We want to choose whether, when, and how much to work outside the home, and we want the resources and education to make our choices viable.
In addition to being up against the government, as caregivers, we are also up against the advocacy sector and poverty lobby, who instead of supporting a choice for mothers and other carers, has worked to implement the government’s solution for mothers receiving welfare— that they should go out and get a “real” job even if it is for the lowest pay. This view has imposed more work and poverty on women and denies our children their right to our care. Welfare ‘reform’ is forced work and low-waged work recruitment. It is on the basis of the ‘more jobs’ agreement and promotion that the advocacy sector has been rewarded with contracts and grants. On the other hand, grassroots groups, which have another point of view, have much more difficulty getting funding.
Welfare moms have been ignored or put on the back burner by the advocacy sector that says their job is to be supporting moms but instead, despite rare and invaluable exceptions, have opposed us while claiming to speak for us. We write this with care. We are up against so much – a president who threatens not only all we are working for, but even our lives and our planet – the temptation, including for us, is not to raise criticisms. But the price of silence is too high. With time limits pressing down upon us threatening to put thousands of us onto the streets, those who dismiss caring work, government or advocates, as either having no value or at best as a minor issue have for too long allowed the devaluation of our work to continue and have undermined our right to benefits. This undercuts the self-defense of those of us who are attacked by these policies, beginning with those of us who are Black, Latina, and other women of color, who are now the majority of women under attack by welfare “reform”. We all must clearly know what we are for and what we are against.
To add insult to injury, advocates often advise their “clients” receiving welfare to put forward in testimony and other arenas the defensive view that what they want is a job in order to become “productive members of society”, or they promote those ready to put forward that point of view. This view is an insult to mothers on welfare and all carers, it promotes the work mothers do as not productive. But, what job is harder than being a mom? What mothers lack are a wage and other resources, not more work. And for those of us who want to work outside the home, we want the recognition of our caring work to be considered there as well. To demand only more waged jobs as a solution to poverty is to dismiss and continue to hide the tremendous unwaged workload women are already carrying, on which the whole society is dependent. The reality is that mothers produce all the workers in the world, it is the caring, including reproductive work that mothers and other carers do, that makes the world go round, and lays the basis for all industry and profit.
Increasingly we see evidence of the impact of the grassroots movement to value caring work. Pressed by the International Women Count Network, the UN has resolved that governments measure and value all unwaged work in national accounts; the Wall Street Journal reports the multi-tasking of a mother is worth $500,000 a year; and a family allowance child benefit is received in many other countries. Internationally women’s unwaged caring work is valued at $11 trillion. This is money denied mothers and other carers and instead is going into outrageous military spending, intervention and economic embargoes, corporate welfare and other initiatives that support killing not caring. Meanwhile, we are being encouraged by advocates and others not to claim our money, but instead push to take on more work. Welfare is our right on the basis of caring for others and ourselves, it is every woman’s insurance policy against complete dependency on a man and starvation.
Those of us who have been in this struggle for a long time have had to watch with great frustration, and anger too, how the “jobs only” demand has set the stage for welfare “reform”; and was given credibility by appearing to come from the grassroots, that is, from those being attacked by the cuts it justified. Unfortunately, the advocacy sector, which has put this demand forward or at least has not opposed it, has agreed with the government and accepted that ”work” is what takes place outside the home; then advocates were in no position to oppose the government and their mouthpieces when they put forward “jobs only”.
Ambitious people in the advocacy sector are by far not the movement’s only problem. We have all seen grassroots groups and or individuals, used as vehicles for personal ambition. Some grab the spotlight without accountability to either their members or to the movement as a whole. This is a kind of careerism that puts personal ambition before the needs of the movement, paves the way for some of us to be bought off and also can let the government off the hook, even when at first look the demands sound good. Some attempt to tokenize mothers on welfare, where even when given a platform are asked to stick to expressing their desire for a job, or to personal stories only, leaving the organizing proposals to come from others; and then organizing proposals are put forward which do not attack the basis of welfare ‘reform’.
We strongly oppose plans for mobilizations to impact welfare “reform” reauthorization that rely on the old “jobs only” strategy. With the reality of a Bush administration, with money taken from welfare mothers while Star Wars and weapons in space and other military spending is promoted, with the personal and social reality that women do 2/3 of the world’s work for 5% of the income, the “more jobs only” agenda is a particularly dangerous one. And it is out of touch. With the movement picking up everywhere – including the demand that society prioritize caring not killing, and support the care of people over corporate profits reflected in the slogan “Human Need, Not Corporate Greed”, women are building the power to refuse to allow this “more jobs only” agenda out of the mouths of those who say they speak for us. We cannot accept giving equal weight to both positions, the one coming from the opposition and the one from welfare mothers. This cannot be a basis for working together, and cannot stand because it is a formula for defeat for all as well as for other mothers and caregivers everywhere. There is too much at stake, beginning with the health and lives of mothers who are already overburdened with too much work, as well as those who depend on our care.
Whether the mobilizations building around welfare ‘reform’ reauthorization will take us forward or not, or simply be another funding opportunity for advocates, will depend on the voices of mothers and other carers, beginning with those most impacted by welfare ‘reform’ becoming a point of reference for those whose waged work it is to “fight poverty”. And a question basic to all of this is whether there is unity on a central premise: recognition of and compensation for the work of mothers and other carers, and for support and resources for those who choose jobs outside the home.