Talking Shop #5 – Wages For Housework

They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.

They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism.

Every miscarriage is a work accident.

Homosexuality and heterosexuality are both working conditions…but homosexuality is workers’ control of production, not the end of work.

More smiles? More money. Nothing will be so powerful in destroying the healing virtues of a smile.

Neuroses, suicides, desexualization: occupational diseases of the housewife

These are the opening lines from Silvia Federici’s 1975 essay, ‘Wages Against Housework’, a foundational text from the Wages for Housework movement. As part of our Too Many Men series, we discuss the movement’s history and legacy, thinking about how developing an understanding of social reproduction can strengthen our organising.

Wages for Housework demanded that the reproduction of labour power, mainly undertaken by women, be recognised as work. What do we mean by reproduction here? We mean everything you probably associate with housework, such as cooking and cleaning, and some things you probably don’t, like sex and smiling. This is the unpaid labour which creates and cares for new workers, and allows existing workers to get out of bed and through the factory gates. If this work isn’t done, or if it becomes waged, capitalism would no longer function.

Wages for Housework addressed the material reality of women’s lives, in the home and in society. It gives us a framework to understand why forms of work like childcare, cleaning and care work are poorly paid and undervalued by our society – they reflect the unwaged work that women do in the home. The movement has also inspired key struggles for reproductive justice, trans liberation, and sex worker rights.

On this episode we are joined by Rosa, a feminist historian, to discuss the origins of Wages for Housework, how its radicalism continues to influence contemporary feminist movements, and why we should take its lessons into our workplace struggles.

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