Selma James on carework

A post on the work of Selma James, that has taken me some time to finish. (A new James video, out since, may get another post from me.)  Carework, and schooling, are discussed. 

It is clear that our economic models do not track the unwaged work of women, nor do they track the unpaid costs of externalities. What isn't within our models limits our ability to control our lives. We must move toward a better framework for a sustainable future. Selma James has long understood this and she has advocated for change focusing on carework and the unwaged labor of women.
NY Times Op-Ed: Pay People to Cook at Home! | Global Women's Strike: "She argued that it was a mistake to define feminism simply as equal pay in the work force. Instead, she wanted to formally acknowledge the work women were already doing. She knew that women wouldn’t stop doing housework once they joined the work force — rather they would return home each evening for the notorious “second shift.” 
Many feminists at the time ignored the Wages for Housework campaign, while some were blatantly antagonistic toward it. Even today, with all the talk of the importance of home cooking — a huge part of housework — no one ever seems to mention Ms. James or Wages for Housework."



Play through for excellent brief talks by Sara Calloway, Sam Weinstein, Sally Etheridge, Roger Kline, Paul Nicolson, Petra Dando, Nushra Mansuri, Nina Lopez, Nicola Mann, Maggie Ronayne, Lynn Burnham, Kim Sparrow, Kate Walters, Jessie Harvey, Jean Johnson, Isabel Counlhan-Sanchez, Emily Burnham,  Louise Irvine, Donna Rayment, Cristal Amiss, Claire Glasman, Christine Clark, Anne Neale, Ann Hall, John McDonnell, and Helen Lowder.
Wed 8.29.12 | Selma James on Class and Gender | Against the Grain: A Program about Politics, Society and Ideas: "Many on the left see the working class as the primary agent of radical change. Where does this leave people like housewives and others whose work goes uncompensated? Selma James sees unwaged work as crucial to capitalism's operation and continuation. She addresses the relationship between gender and class, and examines power relations within"
partial transcription of broadcast (Against the Grain) 
It is through ... the wage ... money ... that the relationship between the wage worker and the capitalist is expressed. ... He puts your labor power to work ... you make more than he pays you ... the wage is determined outside of the factory ... the wage relation is the power relation between you and the employer ... [within families as well]

capital is a social relation .... the unwaged relation ... on an international level, most people don't have wages ... that's not the same as it once was ... to what extent the factory has been viewed as he center of production ... by the elites and by the Left ... the standards of the factories ... has also been the priority of the Left almost exclusively ... its very hard to concentrate on the care of people when you are exhausted by work within the workplace ...

reproductive work of caring for others ... it is a civilizing influence that men are often deprived of ... the family ... is separate from the capitalist system ...the Left has always assumed that the production is central ... but that workers are more powerful there [in factories] ... to the neglect of everybody else ... the family ... is not outside of capitalist society ... [Occupy]

... the divide between waged and unwaged [must be] addressed ... the power relation between women and men has wide implications ... there are power relations among us and we have to deal with those ... housewives ... women and the family are absolutely critical to the continuation of the capitalist system ... what does all this have to do with class? ...
it depends on whether women ... are considered part of the working class... we started to use the word grassroots ... because women married to men who have some money ... there has been a grave misunderstanding of who the working class is ... when we are individuals within the capitalist system ... we live in a repressive world ... all the issues of being human are the issues of class, we are denied our own humanity ... you have to get rid of those restraints on time, your movements, and on your possibilities .... to begin to discover, together ... 

... what we want is a society where what the individual needs for his/her own development is one with what the society needs for its development ...
... women who have joined the elite ... the class line among women has been much more severely drawn now than it was before ... the last Labor election, 100 members were women ... and the first thing they did [was cut funding for mothers] 

Q: What is the consequence .. of some women's movements seeing gender as fundamental but not class?

... you can't pay attention to only your gender and one segment of your gender .. you compete with others ... we want every particularity but we don't want competition ... it doesn't build a movement ... we all want society to invest in caring instead of killing ...

Q: ... [Selma James has said] ..unwaged work of women as carers …. who should pay?

We want the state to pay and we want the money to come, first of all, from the military budget …. we are against war ...the money that we are entitled to and have not got should come from that military because caring is the opposite of killing ...

One example, breastfeeding, an area of women's work which the Left has fundamentally neglected or ignored … women ... give .. infants .. what they need which is breast milk ... and together they bring new life ... women are told that that's not good enough … what we should really do is go out to work ... get some formula … the first junk food … is that what we want? …. is that world that we want to recreate? …. in many part of Africa, women have organized against formula …. and yet ... its considered a bit primitive for mothers to be giving milk to the infant…. its because the reproduction of the human race has plunged as a social priority that we can even consider that women going out to work is more important than women feeding new life….

Q: To what extent is baby formula being pushed on women in ... other countries?

It's horrendous [pushing formula in undeveloped countries] …. once the women use the formula, the breast milk dries up .... it means the death of many infants … its one of these things that women do, its biological and easily replaced … the market's view of the human race which is that we are secondary to it…. not the market but the human race must be the priority …. the priority for the organization of society in every aspect ... invest in the human race, not in the destruction of the human race ….. that’s a very reasonable demand ...

Promotion of her new book: Sex, Race and Class

Q: You've written provocative things about school and its function in capitalist society. What is the purpose in your mind in talking children out of the home...

.. capitalism is the only society where the children of the exploited are given over to the state to educate … in previous societies, they stayed with us and worked with us and stayed with us ; it's true they didn't go to school but they weren't put against us either … children are taught in school not about our history as working-class people... not about our struggles ... not about our budgets … it would be wonderful if children in school were able to look at the relative budgets of different strata … that's what the schools should teach children ... about the actual lives that people are living… instead we are given myths about history … so many that come out of school still illiterate …. children usually can learn to read, they teach themselves fundamentally …. but children learn to read by themselves really … the children that we send to school do not get ... an education ... they are not prepared for the lives they are going to live … except they are given skills that will give them a job … a neighbor dropped by ... this happened ... to her seven-year-old child ... he was treated badly, he was the butt of racist remarks by the teacher ... [his mother said] "they're choosing the street sweepers now" ....

... so does the question of student loans … how people for life are paying for education ... crucial to me … parents want their children educated, they want their children to their children to have the skills to have a good life …. we educate our children to rise out of poverty but we don't educate our children to help everyone to rise out of poverty … [James discusses Haiti] ... what they are going to school for … are we rising out of poverty ourselves, competing with others, pushing others aside or can we all ... demand the education that enables us to destroy that which keeps us all poor … [that helps us all to rise together out of poverty] …. [60s and 70s] there were some attempts to educate children to enhance the community … instead of [leaving the family and community]

Q: Your evaluation of schools as institutions designed specifically by the ruling class to …. to prepare young people to become cogs within the machine.

There is a class struggle in education … they want to do one thing with us but we want to do something quite other …. we want more resources…… we want more education to be musicians [what we want to learn that may not be "practical"] …. [children] have a right to them, our children are really badly treated by the whole society ... "sit in that chair! do not move and do not talk!" I don't think a small child should be given those kind of orders, they have a lot to say for themselves, and we should be dying to hear everything that is but there is also the question that there are more and more children on the street who have nothing to eat ... there are more and more children taken from their mothers ... they can't distinguish between neglect and poverty: neglect is when you neglect the child, poverty is when you and your child are neglected and punished for it ... when children are not important in a society that means nobody is important ... we must deal with every problem that children have and then we will be dealing with most of the problems of society ...

Q: The demand of many activist women has been… more access to jobs [with] fair wages … more freedom ... to move out of the unwaged household and enter the job market. How would you evaluate that demand?

You know I did that work ….. I think that people should have access to work that suits them … and that all work that is repetitive and boring should be abolished … I think the working week should be cut in half and go down … we have no time for life outside of work …. I don't believe that going out to work is liberation except .... most women go to work that they don't love and sometimes they are very happy because it means they have a social life [and their own money] …. that's really a dilemma to have your financial independence ... we shouldn't have to choose between two difficulties, tragedies

Q: ... one response to the economic difficulties … is austerity …. cutting social services ... what burden does that place on women doing housework? ...

... women's work is not counted but its counted on … every single cut in … services.. means more unwaged work for women …. they'd have to think twice about doing it [cutting]…. because we are unwaged, we're the evident economic shock absorbers … 

... to the degree that services are cut ... women first and foremost are impoverished, we will see our children eating first before we eat ourselves, that's true all over the world that's not because women are especially generous, that's because women take seriously the responsibility for caring for those we love ... in the same way ... millions of men have been or are in prison .. and who does the justice work? Who runs around from one lawyer's office to another? Who stands on the line with a little something that it cost you a lot to buy ... its the women. And we ... say ... mothers, daughters, sisters, wives fighting for our loved ones lives ... [some say] that's not feminism .. I disagree ... its in our interest to fight for men who are suffering injustice ... women's justice work is part of the caring work that women have always done and haven't got credit for ...

... the Wobblies, industrial workers of the world , were an extraordinary group ... in the south of the US they organized whites and blacks together which was illegal … they were talking about going out on strike … we should ask the women come and vote with us …. because they have to hear the hungry children cry … the whole branch voted for the women to be there to vote on the strike because it was the women who had to bear the implications …


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