Every Woman Is a Working Woman

Image: Marta Jara (eldiaro.es)


See the full interview here.

Excerpt from the introduction below:

“In 1972 feminists from Italy, England, and the United States convened in Padova, Italy, for a two-day conference. Associated with the extra-parliamentary left, anti-colonial struggles, and alternatives to the communist party, these activists composed a declaration for action, the “Statement of the International Feminist Collective.” The statement rejects a separation between unwaged work in the home and waged work in the factory, pronouncing housework as a critical terrain in the class struggle against capitalism.

Silvia Federici, an Italian expat living in New York, attended the conference and afterward returned to New York to found the New York Wages for Housework Committee. In the following years, Wages for Housework committees were launched in a number of U.S. cities. In each case, these groups organized autonomously, apart from waged male workers. As “Theses on Wages for Housework” (1974) put it, “Autonomy from men is Autonomy from capital that uses men’s power to discipline us.”

In New York, the Wages for Housework Committee consisted of no more than twenty women, who maintained close ties with the Italian Triveneto Committee and the Power of Women Collective in London. As Federici remembers it, there was high turnover during early years, as members discussed the paradoxical nature of the demand for a wage: was this compensation for housework, and, if so, a mere reformism that further incorporated women’s labor into the capitalist system—or was the demand for a wage a subversion of housework, shifting women’s social roles and identities?

These were central questions in the domestic labor debates of the 1960s to the 1980s. Though Marxist and socialist feminists had long theorized about domestic labor, these new debates focused more specifically on the political economy of women’s housework in the wider arc of capitalist development. In this framework, social reproduction marks the unwaged labor of cleaning, cooking, raising children, but also the expectations of feminized care, comfort, and sex that make men’s waged work in the factory possible.

For more than four decades now, Federici’s scholarship and activism have been central to this work. Her writing offers a foundational account of the demand for the wage as a revolutionary act. Her influential pamphlet, Wages Against Housework (1975), opens with a provocative rebuttal: “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.” In this document and others, Federici argues that demand for a wage is a critical political nexus for organizing women around a shared condition of alienated labor. The demand for the wage is impossible for capitalism to meet, and that is the point; success would entail a wholescale reconfiguration of the distribution of social wealth.

Wages Against Housework has been recently reissued by AK Press as part of the collection Wages for Housework: The New York Committee 1972–1977: History, Theory, Documents, edited by Federici and Arlen Austin. This collection includes a number of previously unpublished or difficult to locate pamphlets, speeches, newsletters, photographs, songs, and media coverage. Although the collection focuses on New York, it also includes materials from Los Angeles, Iceland, Italy, Germany, and London. The texts often reject the utopian promise that new technologies will reduce the time spent on housework, freeing up time for other activities. As Federici and Nicole Cox argue in Counter-planning from the Kitchen (1975), the enhanced productivity enabled by new technologies does not necessarily change the isolated nature of housework or the normative family forms produced by it.

Rather than focus on the innovations that make housework look different, the following conversation considers technologies and techniques of struggle developed through feminist organizing around reproductive labor.”

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