Wages for Housework and Social Reproduction: A MicrosyllabusHistorians in the News
tags: feminism, domestic labor, COVID-19, Social reproduction, social theory
This microsyllabus explores the activist and intellectual production of the International Wages for Housework (WfH) movement as a vital starting point for illuminating the history of our present. Today, after decades of neoliberal assaults on the racialized and gendered poor, we confront the unevenly distributed entanglements of care and social reproduction. Such uneven relations are only sharpened by the Covid-19 pandemic, which underscores the force of white supremacist, capitalist hetero-patriarchy on our material lives. The demand, for example, that we all “stay home” illuminates the brokenness of support systems for the precariously housed and homeless, those whose subsistence depends upon street economies, and those for whom the house itself is a site of sexual, racial, and gendered violence. The lack of infrastructure to support the elderly, ill, disabled, and those who care for them reflects a corporate and political commitment to only those lives and labors considered “productive.” Wages for Housework provides an opportunity to reframe economies as grounded in reproduction. Material survival and well-being require dramatic reimaginings of the family and care, beyond isolated households of struggling individuals.
Wages for Housework generated influential thinking about how reproductive labor might be “counted” and organized on multiple fronts against the global capitalist system and for a radical vision of collective care. Although it never constituted a mass movement, branches of WfH were established on three continents. The political and theoretical understanding of its core members developed within anti-colonial, Black power, civil rights, gay liberation and workerist movements in North America, Europe and Africa. From this diversity of experience, members forwarded a feminist program attentive to the devaluation of reproductive labor or “housework,” which was grounded in the need for autonomous organizing cognizant of divisions within feminist and left movements.
This rich history of efforts to value reproductive labor provides resources for recognizing this work for what it is: crucial to all of our survival, at the absolute center of economies and exchange. In particular, this movement attunes us to how the devaluation of reproductive work sustains capitalism’s racial, sexual, and global hierarchies. It also attests to the ways in which actors on both the right and the left have disregarded, disavowed and rebuffed demands to take social reproduction and carework seriously.
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