Housework as work: Selma James on Democracy Now!


Selma James on Unwaged Labor and Decades-Long Struggle to Pay Housewives

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from Democracy Now website:

A debate over housework shook the presidential race last week after a Democratic strategist accused Mitt Romney’s wife Ann of never having worked a day in her life. Ann responded: "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work." Today we bring a historic voice into this discussion: the longtime activist, writer and political thinker Selma James, known for her pioneering work on women’s rights and against racism. She is credited with coining the phrase “unwaged” labor to describe the work of housewives — and she has argued women should be paid for housework. Selma James’ new book is "Sex, Race, and Class — The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings, 1952-2011." In a series of arguments that have remained remarkably consistent across six decades, Selma James urges unity across the lines of race, class and gender. I interviewed Selma James recently, and she spoke about the great West Indian scholar C.L.R. James, who was her husband, and the writing of her seminal 1952 essay, "A Woman’s Place."

Full interview here

Watch Amy Goodman’s complete interview with the pioneering activist, writer and political thinker Selma James. For six decades, James has been on the front lines of working-class movements for women’s liberation and against racism. She launched the International Wages for Housework Campaign three decades ago, controversially arguing that women should be paid for housework. That argument is still timely today as a debate over women’s work rocks the presidential race. Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen sparked a firestorm last week when she said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s wife Ann has "actually never worked a day in her life." Selma James, who coined the term "unwaged" labor to describe the work of housewives, notes that much of the world’s work consists of unpaid labor performed by women. "There’s an international division of labor of which we are all part, including those of us who are unwaged,” James says.

In this extended interview, Selma James takes us through six decades of her trailblazing activism, from the writing of her seminal 1952 essay "A Woman’s Place," which she penned with encouragement from the late West Indian scholar C.L.R. James, who later became her husband, to today’s SlutWalk protests in London, England. Among her many acts of resistance over the years, James recounts how she sat with masked prostitutes in 1982 as they occupied a church to protest police abuses. She discusses her late husband, C.L.R. James, and how she joined his Johnson-Forest Tendency as a teenager and later worked with him in the Caribbean. Finally, she weighs in on today’s Occupy movement and the imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose book she edited. "The fact that so many people are in prison in the United States not only shapes the lives of millions ... but it means that the whole society is much more repressive, because the standards of prison are constantly imprisoning the rest of us," she says.