Women’s housework must be paid, not the military – an interview with Selma James
Wages for housework
Kasia: When you think of the Wages for Housework campaign, what is its ultimate goal? Is it to improve women’s situation, to give them security, to give recognition for the work they do, etc.? Or is it aimed at a major change of the system? Is it aimed at overthrowing capitalism in a way?
Selma: It aimes, first of all, at improving women’s situation, if they fight for it. It will not change anything if women don’t fight to have a wage. But in fact it aimes to show that women have been fighting for a wage. It aimes to give a name to all kinds of struggle that women have been engaged in: for welfare, for services, for pay equity, so that their hosework does not indentify them as the people who get lower wages, which is true now. It aimes at women coming together about what they have in common in the way of work and what they have in common in the way of struggle, which is often individual women struggling in individual homes or individual families. Wages for housework says that this struggle that you are engaged in, she also is doing this work, she’s also trying to refuse some of it and get it acknoledged.
Once it aimes at making the struggle visible and bringing the women together, it aimes at changing the world. Because once you say that the work we as women are doing is crucial to the society, is crucial to humanity’s survival, is crucial for creating the workforce, and therefore is crucial to the economy, you are also saying that the concentration on industry and on profit making is absolutely not what we want in the society. The Global Women Strike, which we coordinate, sums it up by saying: invest in caring not in killing. So it’s not either it changes women’s situation, or it changes the world. You cannot change the world overnight. It’s not the way our lives are, that’s not the way our organization develops. As you fight to improve your situation, you are building a movement for a change. And when women are consered, it’s the most basic change. It’s the change in the way we relate, and it’s the change in the way we reproduce ourselves as the human race. Women are central to that.
K: What are some of the arguments that you use, why housework should be paid?
Selma: Because it isn’t. Fundamentally, housework should be paid because it’s work, it’s important work. Because if we don’t have the money it makes us financially dependent, it makes the women very weak . Because if we are not able to refuse the employers, the whole society is expecting us to be in some way or another financially dependent on others, first of all men, but sometimes also our families. Therefore we get a much lower rate of pay.
Not having money means that we are vulnerable to all kinds of injustices. You know, men are expecting us to be at their service and we do that including in bed, including on the street, including demanding, as the feminists so aptly put it all those years ago, that a woman smile… The whole weakness of women is founded on, A, that we do the reproductive work, and B, that it’s unwaged and therefore that this reproductive work that we do is less important. What employers, what capital said, is: when you work for me, I will give you money. That what you are doing at home, you can do it or not do it, we don’t care if your children survive, it’s of no importance to us once we have other workers we can call on if your children die. That’s really quite crucial because if you look at the history of the labor fource, you will see that women got money every time they were short of workers or soldiers. Every time the question of the reproduction of the workforce couldn’t be left to us, they gave us money.