Selma James: Wages for Housework

Chris, London 100423.2040 at
Tue Dec 12 08:14:09 MST 1995


If I am not mistaken, the ("Marxist-Feminist cult") group led by Selma James
(one time wife of CLR) was "Wages for Housework." Its program is aptly
described in its name. I believe it was based in London, so maybe Chris B. or
other UK folks would know more. I believe that I have a copy somewhere of a
pamphlet written by Selma also entitled "Wages for Housework" which outlines
the justification for this position, but it would be covered with 20 years of
dust. The description of Doug's correspondent seems to the point of what I
knew. If the pamphlet would be useful, I could roust it out.


True, I knew a young American woman, by the name of Hall, whose older sister, 
and mother were often talking about Selma James, and I think worked with her. 
It seemed all rather problematical, and it was not clear to me that it was 
really appropriate for me to get interested in it, so I cannot say more from 
that time.

Jon, who may not be able to comment just now, as I believe he is taking a 
short break, said the key connection was with the Italian "Autonomia" movement.
Perhaps our Italian subscribers can add more detail.

As it happens I do think it would be very interesting to dig the pamphlet
out. Not as a serious campaign but as a dramatic thought experiment in 
Marxism, Wages for Housework is very challenging. IMO what it does is to shine
the spotlight on the fact that the total pool of exchange value, based on 
commodity producing labour, is part of a wider set of all socially valued labour,
that goes into reproducing the society. Because women are at times more on the
edge of this boundary than men, owing to discrimination and child care etc,
these phenomena and the inteweaving patterns of injustice and misfortune 
cannot be untangled without an analysis of the different compartments of 
commodity exchange and non-commodity exchange.

I asked an old member of the CPGB yesterday and she said wages for housework
had obvious objections to her: it raised questions about the class 
position of the employer, and created the possibility of commodifying other
personal domestic services, in a way she found unappealing. But this seemed to 
assume the man would be the employer and the woman the home-maker.

So it would be interesting to see how Selma James put forward the case at 
its strongest, and how she met the objections.

Chris B,

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