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Friday, September 3, 2010

Thinking about anarchism: Capitalism and the exploitation of women (2008)

From http://www.wsm.ie/content/thinking-about-anarchism-capitalism-and-exploitation-women

When the Irish constitution was unveiled in 1937 it set out a special place for women within the home. In Ireland as elsewhere ‘women’s life within the home’ has to a large extent been characterized by long hours of thankless drudgery. While the struggles of Irish women for greater liberties during the last century have improved our lives in many ways, the drudgery of housework remains thankless and the workplace has not brought the liberation that certain feminists promised. As anarchists see it, this is because as long as we live in a capitalist society women (or men) can never be meaningfully liberated.

For the vast bulk of people on the planet, capitalism means a life of exploitation with little or no say in how things are organised, while a small elite reap the profits and make the decisions. Those of us who create the wealth do not control it. The main tool of capitalist exploitation is the wage. Put simply, in your job you create a certain amount of wealth every day when you go to work be it in the office, the call centre or the building site. You are paid back a fraction of this wealth as a wage by your boss who keeps the rest as profit or surplus value.

So whether you work as a waiter in Cork or in a garment factory in the Philippines the wage relationship means that you are not paid for all the work you do; you are being exploited by your boss who amasses the surplus value you create. For working class women around the globe capitalist exploitation is twofold. Women are exploited as wage workers in paid jobs but also on the basis of the vast amount of unpaid domestic work, overwhelmingly done by women, that contributes directly to the bosses’ profits.

According to U.N. figures, women do two thirds of the world’s work for 5% of the world’s income. Most of this work is unpaid, unvalued, unrecognised work without guaranteed benefits, health and safety regulations or organised hours. It is the work of rearing children, breast feeding, caring for the elderly, cooking, cleaning and growing food: housework. The work that women do in the daily grind of housework is not only central to the existence of humanity; it is the work that underpins economics and the work upon which capital bases its profits. The work that women do in housework is the production of the human race and that means overwhelmingly the human workforce, the basic ingredient of all industry, all agriculture, all services, all profits and all wars. Women’s unpaid domestic work is the production of the commodity that is sold for wages, labour power.

It is in the production and reproduction of labour power that women as housewives are exploited in capitalism. By producing workers and caring for workers to enable them to face into the daily slog of wage work women directly contribute to the profits of capital. But while the wage worker gets a fraction of the wealth they create, the housewife gets none. Her work is done for free.

Women who solely work in the home having no wage of their own are faced with the choice of being economically dependent on a man or getting by on social welfare. For many women solely working within the home is not an option and increasing numbers of women also engage in waged work. For most women, work outside of the home does not bring the liberation promised by certain feminists. Millions of working class women can tell you that there is nothing particularly liberating about low paid menial work, especially when you have to make dinner and clean the house after you ‘come home from work.’ The double day of wage work and unpaid domestic work is done by millions of women. The lack of social and economic recognition for women’s domestic work devalues all the work women do, resulting in low wages for caring and domestic jobs (nursing or cleaning for example) and helping to keep women’s wages lower than men’s across the board.

As anarchists we aim to break apart the exploitative relationships that govern all the work we do and to replace them with relationships based on mutuality, solidarity and respect. This means the destruction of the wage relationship upon which capitalism is built and in which women’s unpaid caring labour plays a central part. We think that work should be governed by the needs of our communities not the need to maximize profits at our expense. For women this means an end to their double exploitation inside and outside the home. It means a fundamental shift in what gets prioritized, placing the caring work that is fundamental to the survival of the human race, our well being and our happiness at the centre where it belongs.

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