The Independent: I founded the Wages for Housework campaign in 1972 – and women are still working for free

Forget basic income, those who care for people and the planet deserve to be recognised for the unpaid work they already do

‘Nothing can justify the subordination of one group of producers – the mothers – to the rest’
‘Nothing can justify the subordination of one group of producers – the mothers – to the rest’ ( Getty )

In 1972, a paper I wrote was discussed at the women’s liberation conference in Manchester. It had six demands: the right to work less; the right to have or not to have children (rather than just abortion); equal pay for all; free community-controlled nurseries and childcare (rather than 24/7 state childcare); an end to price rises; and the right to a guaranteed income, for women and men, and to wages for housework. It named my future.

I had the example of single mothers on benefits. They had a lower standard of living than women with male partners but they were freer because the money they had was their own. They were the backbone of the women’s movement but not a dominant voice.

The dominant voice at the conference (which was white and largely middle class) was that wages for housework would institutionalise women in the home and that going out to work was the beginning of liberation – no reference to wages or working conditions. As a young mother, I had waitressed, packed sweets, and wired and soldered TVs on an assembly line. Liberation didn’t look like that!

Wages for housework’s first campaign was to keep family allowance (as child benefit was called) in women’s hands; the government intended to transfer it to men’s pay packets. Signing petitions in front of post offices, women were adamant that “this is the only money I can call my own”. The government retreated and mothers kept their family allowance, their little bit of wages for housework.

But where had this money come from? Eleanor Rathbone, independently wealthy suffragette and MP, had fought for decades to win it. “Nothing can justify the subordination of one group of producers – the mothers – to the rest, and their deprivation of all share of their own in the wealth of a community which depends on them for its very existence.”

Maude Royden, who supported Rathbone, was outraged that giving birth to and raising children was trivialised: “Our object will not be to enable mothers to earn their living, but to ensure that since they have earned it they should get it. The one really fundamental difference between men and women is a difference, it is certainly not an inferiority. For women to try to reduce it to a trifle when it is really so great a thing is an acceptance of masculine standards too dishonouring and too artificial to endure.”

It is extraordinary that those who reproduce the human race are still unsupported and impoverished for this fundamental biological and societal work. Unwaged, in a world dominated by money.

As a result, like it or not, to escape dependence and poverty, women went out to the double day. Mostly not careers, and with austerity, they were even forced to subsidise low wages at food banks.

But women everywhere have fought for money for reproductive work, from maternity leave to paid time off to care for sick relatives.

Selma James refuses entry for male members of the press to the launch in 1975 of the Wages For Housework campaign at Conway Hall, Holborn (Getty)

In the US, a mass movement led by black single mothers (never acknowledged as part of the “women’s movement”) fought for welfare. Spokeswoman Johnnie Tillmon wrote in 1972: “If I were president, I would … go a long way toward liberating every woman. I’d just issue a proclamation that ‘women’s’ work is real work. I’d start paying women a living wage for doing the work we are already doing – childraising and house-keeping.”

We took our campaign to the United Nations, publicising the ILO figure that “women do two-thirds of the world’s work for 5 per cent of its income”. Over 1,500 organisations representing millions of women worldwide signed our petition Women Count – Count Women’s Work. In 1995 we won the UN commitment to measure and value unwaged work in national accounts. (The Commission on the Status of Women was to review implementation this month but was postponed due to the health emergency.)

In January, an Oxfam report said that women and girls do more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work, contributing an estimated £8.28 trillion to the global economy with a total of 12.5 billion hours a day.

Like other reports, it urges us to get an education and thus a better-paid job rather than urging governments to pay us for this mountain of work. Women did not form a movement to eliminate caring but the dependence, isolation, servitude, invisibility and almost universal discrimination that society imposes on the unwaged carer.

The climate emergency clarifies much. The Green New Deal for Europe, of which we are part, proposes a care income for all who do caring work for people and planet – a welcome update on wages for housework.

This is light years ahead of a basic income (which hides the unwaged work women are already doing, leaves the market in charge, and may be used to abolish benefits); and it is more respectful of mutually caring relationships than parking children, the disabled and elderly people with “professionals” in order to “liberate” us, as some women economists urge.

A care income has been embraced by our network, from farmers, human rights defenders and sex workers in Southeast Asia to domestic workers in Peru. At last, protecting people and protecting Mother Earth are equated and prioritised over the uncaring market – a major step in transforming the world and saving it.

Selma James is founder of the Wages for Housework campaign which coordinates the Global Women’s Strike, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. WS and other organisations based at Crossroads will celebrate International Women’s Day on Sunday with an Open Day from 12-6pm, 25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX  More info here

Camden New Journal: Let’s value the work of human survival

Marking International Women’s Day on Sunday, Selma James argues the long-overdue case for a Care Income

06 March, 2020 — By Selma James

IT’S almost 50 years since I marched, with thousands of others, behind the women’s liberation banner. Groups formed all over London and the UK, discussing what in our lives we wanted to change. Everything! Most wanted to destroy all the hierarchies in society. In fact, we considered for the first time how many hierarchies there were – not only of gender, but of class, race, nationality, age, disability, sexuality… Everything was up for grabs.

By 1972 a few of us had concluded that women’s unwaged caring work was central to the low status of women in every sphere. While we produced and cared for all the workers in the world, and therefore gave birth to the economy, our unwaged caring work kept us poor and dependent on men. We were often asked by husbands then, “What did you do all day?” as we put dinner on the table while tending a crying baby. We worked very hard at what nobody considered work.

In 1972 I called women together for what became the International Wages for Housework Campaign; in 1975 we opened our first women’s centre in Camden – a little squat which ultimately became today’s Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town.

In 1980 we went to the United Nations Women’s Decade conference in Copenhagen. We learnt that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had compared the work that women and men did, and concluded that “Women do two-thirds of the world’s work for 5 per cent of its income”.

We said “Women Count – Count Women’s Work” and publicised the ILO figures wherever we could. This was a figure of entitlement.

The women from the Global South agreed absolutely. They worked far harder than we did in London, often growing the food they and their families ate. They knew imperialism had plundered their countries so they didn’t have the technology we did – they had to walk to rivers to bring water home or get their girl children to do it.

In 1985 in Nairobi, we won the UN decision that governments should include the value of “unremunerated work in the home, on the land and in the community” in their financial accounts. They did begin to count the work but did not begin to pay us for it.

Quite the opposite. In the UK we lost Income Support which many single mothers had relied on to be financially independent. Those of us who are disabled saw our financial stability slashed under austerity cuts – 86 per cent of which fell on women.

Successive govern­ments insisted we go out to work even for the lowest pay – one reason why more than four million UK children, including 35 per cent of Camden’s children, live in poverty, and be assured their mothers are missing meals to feed them. There are more children in care than for decades, and low-income single mothers are more likely to have their children taken by social services than to get the help they are entitled to by law.

Yet there are now 220 women MPs and nearly 30 per cent of FTSE100 board positions are held by women. But what’s in it for us?

The hierarchies remain, shifting and not always for the better as the rich are richer and the poor poorer, and wars are raging with weapons poor people pay for.

We’ve been fighting to protect our children from the polluted air which makes them ill and sometimes kills them. Now none can avoid facing the climate emergency. That’s why we are part of the Green New Deal for Europe to demand a Care Income for the work of human survival we were never paid for, and the work of halting and undoing the destruction of Mother Earth, South and North, so we can all survive. All genders, all carers, all survivors.

• The Global Women’s Strike and other organi­sations at Crossroads Women’s Centre will be celebrating International Women’s Day on Sunday March 8, with an Open Day from 12-6pm, 25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX. All welcome.
• Selma James is founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, and the author of The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community; and Sex, Race and Class – The Perspective of Winning

Grazia: The Problem Of Invisible Labour – And Why YOU Should Down Tools This International Women’s Day

For International Women’s Day on 8 March, Grazia commissioned an exclusive survey that revealed women are still doing more at home. Writer Sally Howard, whose new book is about all the work women do to keep a household running smoothly, isn’t surprised…

Invisible Labour


On 8 March 2018, a year into my infant son’s life, I decided to go on domestic strike. My direct action was prompted by the shock quadrupling of domestic labour that had arrived, like an unwelcome gift, with my pink-faced newborn: the stacks of milk- sticky laundry; the endless carousel of kitchen and bathroom cleaning ; the tedious mashing and puréeing of baby food.

While my partner Tim and I had prided ourselves on our egalitarianism as childless cohabitees, I was alarmed to find that the lioness’s share of this parenting work had fallen on my aching shoulders.

And I’m not alone in this: studies have found that the arrival of a baby increases the domestic load by around three hours a day, with only 40 minutes of this parent-labour penalty falling to men. Indeed, according to Grazia’s survey, 71% of women said they’d taken more time off work for childcare reasons, the same number said they had organised their child’s last birthday party – and a huge 87% buy most of their children’s clothes.

Worse was the ‘invisible labour’ that accompanied these myriad manual tasks. It was me who was expected to know whether my baby was up-to-date with his inoculations and developmental milestones; it was ‘Mum’ the nosy health visitors addressed their questions to (women lose our given names as soon as we pop out a fresh human being); and me who had to be across such tasks as sending thank-you cards for unwanted babygros and buying biscuits for in-laws’ visits. Child covered in spew and kitchen in disarray? The blame, and judgement, fell at my swollen feet. However many nappies Tim changed, or milk stains he sponged, I was the one – in society’s eyes and in Tim’s – with whom the domestic buck stopped.

Domestic labour has always been a tricky injustice to protest against. It takes place in the privacy of the home, making it difficult for women to see each other doing this work and to collectively acknowledge that men do not share equally in its burden. And there can be dire consequences if we withdraw this labour: children uncared for and vulnerable relatives unfed. Our new cultural awareness of categories of invisible labour, from the mental load of household management to the feminine work of soothing, smiling and chivvying that’s been dubbed ‘emotional labour’, has done little to remedy women’s domestic plight. British women today contribute 20 hours of weekly domestic effort to British men’s 12, a 60% domestic labour gap that hasn’t budged since the 1990s.

In the months leading up to my first strike, I totted up my worth in today’s job categories. My calculation came to a cool £176,667 a year.

So why strike? For all their complexities, housework strikes have a long feminist history. On 24 October 1975, 90% of Iceland’s adult female population left their jobs, their children and their homes and took to the streets for a general strike that was billed as ‘Women’s Day Off’.

Their demands? Equal wages for equal work and a recognition of the 50 hours of unpaid labour that women undertook every week in Icelandic homes. For Icelandic men, the day became known as ‘the Long Friday’. With no women to staff desks and tills, banks, factories and shops were forced to close, as were schools and nurseries – leaving fathers with no choice but to take their children to work. (There were news reports of men bulk-buying colouring crayons and quick-cook sausages.)

Forty-five years after Women’s Day Off, its legacy lives on, with Iceland ranked top in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, an index that examines educational opportunities, life expectancy, pay equity and the average time spent each day on housework.

In the same era, feminists abandoned their domestic duties to march on New York and Washington DC, bearing placards that called out the injustices of what was then dubbed ‘women’s work’: ‘Housewives are unpaid slave labourers!’ ‘Tell him what to do with the broom!’ and, brilliantly, ‘Don’t iron while the strike is hot!’.

American feminist activist group Wages for Housework tried to quantify the financial value of women’s unpaid labour to the economy, figuring that the 1970s housewife’s combined skills of cook/ dietician, domestic cleaner, hostess, book-keeper, party organiser and chauffeur – among other diverse skills – would come to $60,000 a year (£100,000 in today’s money).

In the months leading up to my first strike, I totted up my worth in today’s job categories. My back-of-a-rusk-packet calculation came to a cool £176,667 a year, for cleaning (£19,946), private cheffing (£50,000), advanced PA £35,000), nannying (£34,721) and life-coaching services (£37,000).

So how did my first strike go? The first stumbling block was the date. With Tim at work on International Women’s Day (8 March) and my son not booked into nursery, I was in charge of a small kid with no childcare to hand. Striking on IWD would constitute child neglect and, as I scrambled around for untested babysitters, would supplant my day’s labour with a mental load of administrative chores.



I decided instead on a 9 March private direct action – a home strike! – which extended, in the end, from 8am to 5pm (time of the nursery pick-up), then from 7.15pm onwards. I didn’t tell Tim why our flat had descended into chaos until the following evening, when he confided he’d been quite pleased
to cook his own pasta and eat at a Continental hour, but had wondered why Leo had gone to bed in a sleeping bag that smelled ‘more than faintly of piss’. But, after the shock of the strike sunk in, the message landed: I wanted Tim to acknowledge the work that, to many men, registers as non-work
– present buying, managing domestic calendars and, among many other tasks, auditioning and arranging childcare.

Women are once more seeing the potential in withdrawing their labour en masse. International Women’s Strike, also known as Paro Internacional de Mujeres, is a global movement that staged its first action on IWD 2018 (when I was busy collecting strewn raisins off the floor of a Lewisham soft-play), with a series of strikes across Spain and South America. In Madrid and Barcelona, male feminists staffed communal nurseries as women marched for recognition of the 26.5 hours of weekly domestic labour Spanish women contribute compared to Spanish men’s 14, and the symbol of the strike, cooking aprons, fluttered from apartment balconies.

What would Britain look like if women downed tools for a day? We might soon find out. On 8 March 2020, tens of thousands of women will gather in London’s Cavendish Square for International Women’s Strike 2020. Dressed in red, #westrike will take place alongside women who are affected by the devaluation of women’s work in the public sphere: care workers, cleaners of hotels and private homes and NHS nurses. Our march is against structural sexism and racism and the lazy assumption that women will always
be there to wipe, mop, blow noses and pick up the pieces after men’s actions.

Will you, too, down domestic tools and learn to say a resounding ‘no!’ to the work that’s ascribed to women on the basis of nothing but the shape of our genitals? If a day’s tricky, why not try what Selma James of Wages For Housework calls a ‘small resistance’? Head out for a solo walk, forget about the ironing or sweating over Sunday lunch; bang the pots and pans.

Whatever you do, step away from the squeegee, Grazia comradistas. Don’t iron while the strike’s hot!

Sally’s book, The Home Stretch – Why It’s Time To Come Clean About Who Does The Dishes (Atlantic Books), is out now.

READ MORE: Women Will Work For Four Years Longer Than Men

READ MORE: Are You At Risk From The Gender Health Gap?

Morning Star: The crucial work that women do is often overlooked

Women’s caring role in society means we end up doing a ‘double day’ whether we like it or not, writes SELMA JAMES

WHEN the women’s liberation movement began in 1970, groups sprang up all over London and all over Britain.

You would have a meeting and establish some of the things you wanted to discuss but at the next meeting there were twice as many women and you had to go over the same ground again.

So the newcomers were told “form your own group,” and the number of groups doubled and trebled.

A lot of women wanted to destroy all the hierarchies in society — not only of gender, but of race, nationality, age, disability, sexuality … but especially of class. We were almost all white but we were not all middle class.

I had been involved in the anti-imperialist movement in the Caribbean and, back in Britain, in the anti-racist movement (we were a mixed-race family).

I naturally brought that to women’s liberation. Some women embraced anti-racism but some treated it as an alien force competitive with feminism.

They had not yet registered that most of the women in the world are not white: the number of people of colour in Britain, though growing, was still relatively small.

I also brought women’s liberation to the anti-racist movement and fought it out with the men there; the women found their own voice.

At that moment in time it was difficult for most people — in any movement — to conceive of identifying as more than one sector. But some of us thought that we were all more than one sector and that we shouldn’t have to cut off any part of our identity to fit into any movement.

As women we identified first of all as those who did caring work for everyone but were the poorer and subordinate sex because we got not a bean for doing it. We had concluded that this unwaged work was central to the low status of women in every sphere and every country.

We produced and cared for all the workers of the world, and thus gave birth to and maintained every economy. In much of the world this included growing the food we fed our families. We were often asked by husbands in so called advanced countries: “What did you do all day?” as we put the meal on the table while tending a crying child. We women worked very hard doing what wasn’t considered work.

To redress this basic exploitation we formed the International Wages for Housework Campaign (WFH).

In 1975 WFH in London opened our first women’s centre — a little squat which ultimately became today’s Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town.

It’s one thing to campaign for unwaged work to be waged by governments, it’s quite another for various sectors of women to organise together with this perspective and at the same time make their own particular case — as women of colour, as lesbian women, as sex workers, as women with disabilities, as single mothers, as rape survivors, as immigrants, as asylum seekers…

It was that autonomous but mutually supportive way of campaigning that enabled us to come together in a women’s centre (there are more than one Crossroads centres in the world) and even in an international network which includes domestic workers, farmers, factory workers, students, teachers, nurses, claimants…

From 2000 WFH has co-ordinated the Global Women’s Strike in a number of countries.

This International Women’s Day is different in a number of ways. The women’s strikes which have been taking place around the world on March 8 have focused on rape, domestic violence and the murder of women, and the demand to end the impunity men are being given by the state. Caring work has featured as never before.

Caring has even entered university syllabuses. This is not only because women are insisting that this massive contribution be finally recognised but because we’ve gone out to work, doing a double day whether we like it or not. That was the only route to financial independence or even family survival once benefits were cut.

Now we face a climate emergency which threatens the whole of society, and in fact the whole world.

Strangely enough it was this crisis which opened the way to updating WFH. The Green New Deal for Europe, of which we are a dedicated part, is proposing a care income paid to all who do caring work for people and the natural world, whatever our gender.

At last protecting people and protecting Mother Earth are equated and elevated above the uncaring market.

This is light years ahead of a basic income which hides the crucial work that women do, leaves intact the sexist division of labour and the domination of the market and can even be used to abolish benefits.

And it is certainly more respectful of caring relationships than parking dependent loved ones with “professionals” in order to the “liberate” us, as some women economists urge.

We know enough about capitalism to worry that a “greening” of Europe means a new level of exploitation and environmental destruction of the global South — ie where is lithium for electric car batteries coming from and who is mining it? They will try to sell and celebrate this “development” — which makes international accountability and organising even more urgent.

The new and massively growing movement to save the earth is having to confront every prejudice which has divided us. Fighting for climate justice is our chance and our need.

This Sunday the Crossroads Women’s Centre will open its doors to women and to every gender, welcoming all to meet the 15 organisations based there and what they try to accomplish through collective self-help.

The open day on Sunday March 8 features workshops, films, exhibitions, music and refreshments. It runs from 12pm-5pm at 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX. For more information visit

We must remember all victims of the Nazis


30 January, 2020

We must remember all victims of the Nazis

• WE remembered the victims and survivors on this 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau liberation, including those currently persecuted, as Gareth Murphy’s letter said (Remember the Gypsy and Roma victims, January 23).

There seemed little space for Israel to mention those who died shoulder to shoulder with Jewish victims. In concentration camps, slave labour and death-camps, we all resisted and we all died: Jewish people, Roma, Soviet people, Poles, people with disabilities, gay people, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It’s still Tory policy to criminalise Traveller communities, and to refuse to reunite child refugees with their families. And only a few weeks ago Theresa May and Boris Johnson unveiled a statue to Nancy Astor: anti-Catholic, antisemitic and a Nazi sympathiser.

It seems that supporters of Israeli apartheid are selective about the antisemitism and anti-Nazism they object to; Nancy Astor is ok, so are the antisemitic Donald Trump and Victor Orban, dear friends of Israel.

On the other hand, Corbyn, as his sons said, “endured the most despicable attacks filled with hatred”. Corbyn and the Labour movement were relentlessly accused of even imaginary antisemitism – tropes – including by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the self-appointed “voice of British Jewry”; and the tiny Jewish Labour Move­ment which refused to campaign for the Labour Party it’s affiliated to (astonishingly, you don’t have to be Jewish or a Labour Party member to join!).

Labour’s popular manifesto including its ethical foreign policy was never mentioned, as though the only thing Labour stood for was antisemitism.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) are investigating possible war crimes by Israel against Palestinian people: in response Netanyahu has accused the ICC of antisemitism!

Let’s commemorate next January 27 Genocide Memorial Day, by building a movement to protect all communities facing genocide and mass murder and repression: Never Again – for Anyone.



International Jewish

Anti-Zionist Network UK

Selma James & Women of Colour GWS sign letter: We stand with Jeremy Corbyn – just as he always stood with us

Organisations and individuals including Kehinde AndrewsHanif KureishiAhdaf SoueifGillian SlovoRobert Del Naja and Anish Kapoor urge BAME and migrant communities to vote for Labour

December 10, 2019 · 8 min read

We stand with Jeremy Corbyn

As BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) representatives, organisations, anti-racist activists and individuals involved in local, national, and international campaigns, we urge BAME and migrant communities to vote for the Labour Party on 12 December, to elect Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing friend and supporter of the anti-racist causes we campaign for.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party has transformed politics in the UK, bringing hope to millions from our communities, who had previously been ignored, silenced, and oppressed by over nine years of Conservative and Liberal Democrat governments. Labour’s membership has soared since 2015, with a significant influx of BAME and migrant members. Our communities joined Labour because of Jeremy’s positions and exemplary record, over many decades, of standing beside us in our struggles against injustice and structural racism, at home and abroad. In the 2017 General Election, we turned out in record numbers to vote for Corbyn’s inclusive Labour party.

No other British politician in recent memory has been so dedicated to working with us in our communities, in order to overturn racism and achieve justice for those of us facing oppression and injustices. Jeremy’s first speech as Labour leader in 2015 was to a  “refugees welcome” rally, reflecting his longstanding commitment to achieve basic rights for migrants. Since becoming an MP in 1983, he has personally intervened on countless occasions to prevent deportations. In 2012 and 2014, Jeremy was one of only six MPs (alongside shadow cabinet members John McDonnell and Diane Abbott) that voted against the racist ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation that created the Windrush scandal, and has hurt hundreds of thousands of people in our communities.

Jeremy’s position on migrant justice is based on a true internationalism with a commitment to anti-racist and anti-colonial principles. In 1984, he was arrested protesting outside the embassy of Apartheid South Africa. In 1998, the Chilean former dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London only after Corbyn supported a 25 year campaign against his fascist regime. In 2001, he publicly opposed the NATO invasion of Afghanistan. In 2003, he spoke at the demonstration against the illegal British and American invasion of Iraq. He has always stood in solidarity with the Tamils of Sri Lanka, calling for accountability and ending the arms trade. He has spoken out against the oppression of persecuted peoples across the world, including Palestinians and Kurds in the Middle East, as well as communities in Mexico, Haiti, West Papua – often when no one else would.

Jeremy Corbyn was a key organiser in the Haringey Labour anti-racist group in the 1970s which later became the Anti-Nazi League. In 1977, he organised with the Indian Workers’ Association to turn back a violent National Front demonstration in Wood Green, North London. In 1992, Jeremy attended the inquest into the death of Leon Patterson, a young black man who died in police custody. In these ways and many more, he continues to keep police brutality against communities of colour on the political agenda, constantly tabling questions on police violence, including on Mark Duggan’s fatal shooting in 2011.


These are some of the reasons we know that Jeremy Corbyn is no ordinary politician. Each one of us, as individuals and organisations, have memories of Jeremy attending our events and demonstrations, large and small, championing our causes, and being our voice in Parliament – standing with us when we were dismissed and ignored.

In government he pledges to close detention centres, oppose imperial wars that have killed millions, and dismantle the Conservatives’ Hostile Environment policies, which criminalise our communities, and have led to the deaths of so many.

The Conservative government’s negligence allowed our brothers and sisters to die in the fatal fire at Grenfell Tower and has deported British citizens for the crime of being black during the Windrush scandal. We cannot continue like this: we must have a Labour victory in the upcoming election. We urgently need it.

Jeremy Corbyn will be the United Kingdom’s first anti-racist Prime Minister. We call on all of you, BAME and migrant communities to mobilise everyone you know, and ensure we get Labour elected on December 12. At this critical moment of possibility, and the chance for change, we stand with Jeremy Corbyn – just as he has always stood with us.


Initiating and supporting groups:

Arab Labour Group

Black Labour Movement

Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF)

Labour Friends of Kashmir

Lantinx for Corbyn

Kurds for Labour

Indians for Labour

Labour Friends of Yemen

Jewish Socialists’ Group

Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike

London Young Labour BAME Network

South Asia Solidarity Group

Individual Signatories:

Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper – King’s College London

Ahdaf Soueif – Novelist

Dr Ala’a Al Shehabi – University College London

Professor Amia Srinivasan – University of Oxford

Sir Anish Kapoor C.B.E.

Anjum Mouj – Trainer and consultant

Asad Rehman

Ash Sarkar – Novara Media

Ashok Kumar – Lecturer of Political Economy

Asmahan Nouman – Chair of Network of Eritrean Women UK

Atallah Said O.B.E. – Founder of Arab Labour

Bill MacKeith – Campaign to Close Campsfield

Bobby Chan – Veteran Chinese human rights activist

Crissie Richter – Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike

Dalia Gebrial – Novara Media

Professor David Graeber – London School of Economics

David Rosenberg – Convenor of Cable Street 80 commemoration

Don Flynn – Migrants rights campaigner

Elif Sarican – Kurdish Women’s Movement

Estella Schmid – Peace in Kurdistan

Farhana Yamin – Associate Fellow, Chatham House

Farzana Khan – Healing Justice London

Professor Felix Padel –  Associate of University of Oxford

Firoze Manji – Publisher and academic

Gillian Slovo – Novelist, playwright and memoirist

Grant Marshall – Massive Attack

Professor Gautam Appa – London School of Economics

Professor Gurminder Bhambra – University of Sussex

Professor Gus John

Amrit Wilson – South Asia Solidarity Group

Nisha Kapoor – University of Warwick

Richard Rieser – World of Inclusion

Zrinka Bralo – Migrants rights campaigner

Hanif Kureishi C.B.E

Harsev Bains – Indian Workers Association (GB)

Dr John Narayan – King’s College London

Dr Kalpana Wilson – Birkbeck University

Katrina Ffrench – Human Rights Advocate

Professor Karma Nabulsi – University of Oxford

Professor Kehinde Andrews – Birmingham City University

Khadija Mohammad-Nur – Co-founder of Network of Eritrean Women

Professor Laleh Khalili – School of Oriental and Afican Studies

Leena Dhingra – Actress

Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins – University of Warwick

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Poet and musician

Dr Mezna Qato – University of Cambridge

Mirza Saaib Beg – Lawyer, Kashmir Reading Room

Mukhtar Dar – Founding member of South Asian Alliance (Birmingham)

Dr Musab Younis – Queen Mary University

Dr Nivi Manchanda – Queen Mary University

Noorafshan Mirza – Independent Cultural Worker

Peter Herbert O.B.E – Society of Black Lawyers

Preethi Manuel

Rahila Gupta – Southall Black Sisters

Dr Rahul Rao – Senior Lecturer in Politics, SOAS

Remi Joseph-Salisbury – Racial Justice Network

Robert Del Naja – Massive Attack

Rossanna Leal – Organiser and migrant rights campaigner

Sara Callway – Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike

Sarli Nana – Migrant justice and anti-racist campaigner

Selma James – Global Women’s Strike

Shakila Taranum Maan – Artist and filmmaker

Dr Sita Balani – King’s College London

Dr Sivamohan Valluvan – University of Warwick

Professor Sundari Anitha – University of Lincoln

Suresh Grover – Anti-racist activist, Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

Dr  Tanzil Chowdhury – Queen Mary University

Professor Virinder Kalra – University of Warwick

Yemsrach Hailemariam – Free Andy Tsege Campaign

Zita Holbourne – National Chair BARAC UK


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Selma James writes an open letter to Chris Williamson


OpinionWe are in the midst of an anti-left witch-hunt

Dear Chris,

I read your statement in support of Jeremy Corbyn and your article in the Morning Star and was struck by your honesty, clarity and determination to win for Labour in this election.

Though I wish you were running as an official party candidate, I am well aware why you are running as an independent.

Many of us have to hold our tongues about the malicious fabricated attacks on the Labour leadership which have often gone unchallenged and have resulted, therefore, in wildly unjustified suspensions and expulsions like yours.

Otherwise we risk being suspended just when we are needed to fight for Labour in the election. (This of course is the intention of the attacks.)

I am delighted to hear that many party members in your constituency are backing your candidacy in order to get a Corbyn victory based on Labour’s terrific manifesto, which outlines a new start for Labour, for working-class people and for the country as a whole.

In fact it’s a new start for the planet when we consider Labour’s programme for immediately and massively funding measures to address the climate crisis.

We thank you for campaigning for a Corbyn-led government that we desperately need. We are terrified of what might happen to the NHS, the climate emergency and rights of all kinds if Johnson is elected.

He is pro-fossil fuels, pro-hostile environment, pro-austerity, pro-arming the Saudi and Israeli governments, pro-occupation of Palestine, and friends of the racist anti-semitic Islamophobic far right in Europe — the list is endless.

A deal with Donald Trump, the sexist, racist climate change denier, would destroy the NHS and our possibilities to stop climate change.

They are genocidally and suicidally greedy for money and power, and don’t care that over 50 million people in Africa (the equivalent of three-quarters of the UK population) are already going hungry because of previously unheard of climate catastrophes, or even that unprecedented numbers of people in Britain are being flooded or surviving on foodbanks.

Even Dominic Cummings has spelled this out, saying Tory MPs “don’t care about these poor people, they don’t care about the NHS.”

I want to tell you a few things about recent Jewish history which have been censored by apartheid Israel.

One big event that has been misrepresented is the Battle of Cable Street. The East End of London had Irish and Jewish immigrants.

The Irish Catholics were likely to be dockers and the European Jews sweatshop workers, for example in the garment industry.

They had a good understanding and supported each other. When the fascist Blackshirts attempted to march through the East End, the Irish and the Jews fought alongside each other and drove the fascists out.

Those who represented Jewish nationalism rather than traditional Jewish internationalism, told the Jewish community to stay home.

But the Jewish working class came out with their Irish comrades and won the day. On the 80th anniversary of that great victory, the Israeli ambassador who had been the spokesman for the bombing of Gaza that killed over 2,000 people, tried to claim the Battle of Cable Street as their victory.

I grew up in the US in the ’30s when the nazis came to power in Germany. Among the first to be put in concentration camps were Jewish people not only because they were Jewish but because they were trade unionists, socialists, communists, anti-war, anti-nazi, lesbian and gay.

There was a tradition among Jews, wherever we were in the world, that we stood with every underdog, every fighter for freedom, every struggler against racism and other discrimination.

To quote Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, “To be a Jew means always being with the oppressed and never the oppressors.”

Imperialist and militarist Israel has hidden that history and replaced it with political alliances with dictators and far-right regimes, beginning with Trump, Victor Orban, etc, and charges of anti-semitism against anyone left-wing.

The latest is their connection with the genocidal Myanmar regime, which they helped arm and train, which raped, tortured and even burned alive Rohingya people driving hundreds of thousands out of their homes and out of their country.

Israel’s ambassador to Myanmar tweeted “Good luck” to Aung San Suu Kyi who is testifying at the International Court of Human Rights on behalf of the military which committed these atrocities. The mainstream media has censored out any reference to this alliance.

How is it possible that we can even consider the views on anti-semitism or any other human rights issue from supporters of such a barbaric apartheid regime?

Haaretz, the most truthful Israeli daily newspaper, has published an article by one of its editors saying that there has been a “contract” on Corbyn since his election as leader of the Labour Party. Anyone who cares about Jewish people anywhere should take this very seriously.

There has also been a “contract” against you, Chris, as a vocal, effective and principled supporter of Corbyn and his policies.

It is scandalous that you have been denied a platform as venues cancelled meetings where you were to speak following threats and false accusations of anti-semitism.

And when Greg Philo of Glasgow University Media Group and other academics showed how much the biased media has been allowed to influence public opinion on the basis of lies and misinformation, they also were denied a venue to issue the book with their findings by Waterstones bookshop (Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief). Professor Philo said: “The next step is book burning.”

We are in the midst of a witch-hunt where the witch-hunters attacking both the Labour leadership and the hundreds of thousands who elected them, are both inside and outside the party, supported by the corporate media, beginning with the Murdoch press and extending to the BBC and the Guardian.

Much like the ’50s in the US under Joe McCarthy attacks are launched against anyone who spoke up, lies are presented as truths, accusations equal evidence, and denial proves guilt.

I lost my job in a factory because they knew I was a socialist, and the man I came to England to marry, CLR James, had been deported for being an anti-Stalinist socialist.

There’s one letter that won’t make headlines. It is from Rabbi Mayer Weinberger on behalf of the Executive Board of the United European Jews.

He “totally rejects and condemns” comments that British Jews are “gripped by anxiety” at the thought of a Labour government, saying that “such assertions are due to propaganda with a political and ideological agenda.”

He thanks Corbyn for his “acts of solidarity for the Jewish community over many years.” Subsequently he and his family have been threatened with harm.

How much do people believe the lies of the Tory media? We won’t know until the election. But we do know that many people know the difference between what the media tells them and their own reality, and your campaign strengthens them and all of us to stick to our guns and work for a Corbyn victory.

Power to the people against the exploiters, the polluters and the warmongers.

Selma James

Selma James speaking at Latin America Conference 2019, Saturday 23 November

Black lives Matter: Resisting Trump from Haiti & the Caribbean to the US In the era of Trump, racism is on the rise in the Americas, but countries such as Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela show that the cause of black liberation can be advanced with self-organisation and progressive policies. The history and current uprising in Haiti shows the power of protest and the strength of the people united against austerity. It reminds us of Haiti’s revolutionary history and its enormous contribution to the liberation of the Americas. Chair: Denis Fernando, Rainbow Coalition against Racism  Myriam Kane, Stand Up to Racism  Selma James, GWS working group in support of the grassroots Haitian movement  Luke Daniels, Caribbean Labour Solidarity

See the programme HERE.

Actress Jodhi May cast as Selma James in Steve McQueen’s new BBC series, Small Axe

Actor defends film’s depiction of teacher’s affair with schoolboy

Jodhi May says Scarborough, in which her character has a romance with a 16-year-old boy, is supposed to be uncomfortable to watch
Jodhi May and Jordan Bolger in Scarborough, directed by Barnaby Southcombe.
 Jodhi May and Jordan Bolger in Scarborough, directed by Barnaby Southcombe.

Actress Jodhi May, who stars in an uncompromising new film about a relationship between a teacher and a pupil, has defended it against critics who question its moral standpoint.

In British film Scarborough, out this weekend, May plays Liz, a teacher who is in a secret relationship with a 16-year-old schoolboy. She argues that her job as an actor was to “try to get into the head of someone in an indefensible position”.

Talking of the film’s contentious screenplay and several sex scenes, she told the Observer: “The minute you try to give a clear sense of the morality of a behaviour, you can’t inhabit the character. You know the audience is going to be intelligent enough to make up its own mind.”

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is illegal for an adult who is in a position of trust to have a sexual relationship with someone under 18 years of age. Prosecutions always make national headlines. In Merseyside this month, a married 43-year-old, Lydia Beattie-Milligan, who had worked in education for 25 years, was found guilty of arranging to meet a male pupil in a hotel room. Before she was jailed for two years, the jury at Liverpool crown court heard how she had sent text messages to the boy joking about him not going home that night. And six years ago 30-year-old teacher Jeremy Forrest was jailed for five-and-a-half years after embarking on a relationship with a 15-year-old pupil.

For May, who came to fame aged 12 in the award-winning 1988 film A World Apart, the role of Liz appealed precisely because of the challenges it posed.

“It is interesting to play a lead character who is really a victim of her unconscious,” said May, 44. “Liz is deluded and not aware what is really driving her. Thinking about it in that kind of depth helps if you are trying to get into the head of someone in an indefensible position.”

Jodhi May has just directed a short film for the portmanteau Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men
Jodhi May has just directed a short film for the portmanteau Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men. Photograph: Jamie Harvey

Scarborough, directed by Barnaby Southcombe, the son of Charlotte Rampling, follows the story of two teachers who take pupils on covert trips to the North Yorkshire seaside resort. The parallel relationships start on identical tracks, but the stories then diverge dramatically.

“It needs to be uncomfortable for the viewer,” said May, of the apparently sympathetic treatment of the four characters. “It is a very dark subject but it would be an error to simplify these characters. The balance of ambiguity is necessary. It is important to distinguish between the way a child would perceive a relationship like this and how it is seen by others.”

May is aware that audiences find the subject upsetting. In 2006 she appeared on a West End stage opposite Roger Allam in Blackbird, a highly praised play with similarly disturbing themes. “Every evening, Roger and I could hear the seats in the auditorium going up with a thud as people left, realising it was not the kind of show they had imagined,” she said.

Scarborough provides the perfect backdrop for relationships that “cannot exist in the real world”: She says: “The place became a sort of metaphor for a grand escape from the normality. There is a kind of crumbling, desolate grandeur, a promise of a dream that is broken and an underlying seediness.”

The film was inspired by a 2008 play of the same name by Fiona Evans, and by Southcombe’s memories of a schoolgirl contemporary who had an affair with a teacher. He has argued his film does not condone, but merely reflects reality. “In a culture of shaming, there is no place for teachers to safely voice their mixed emotions without fear of criticism and instant dismissal,” he told the Observer. “They are most likely wrong, they are certainly misguided and confused, but what they are mostly is human.”

May took the role, she said, because challenging leading roles for women seldom crop up. Yet she is soon to appear in several equally surprising parts. She plays the armour-clad warrior grandmother Calanthe in upcoming Netflix drama The Witcher, heralded as the new Game of Thrones, and will play Queen Victoria in the film Warrior Queen of Jhansi, about the 1857 Indian uprising against the British. May is also cast as Selma James, the American activist, in Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen’s much-anticipated new BBC series, Small Axe, about the British black activists of the early 1970s, who were known as the Mangrove Nine.

And in a busy year the actor has also just finished directing a short film which is part of a portmanteau feature created by 18 female directors and called Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men. “It’s an initiative to create more women directors,” explains May. “My film stars James Purefoy and Issy Knopfler, it’s set in the theatre and tells the story of a young actress who has an affair with an older actor and of its aftermath.”

Selma James in Monthly Review

Beyond Boundaries

Selma James in July 2012

Selma James in July 2012. Photo credit: Crossroads AV Collective.

Ron Augustin is a freelance journalist and editor based in Brussels. In collaboration with the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, he has been involved in editorial and digitization projects documenting anti-imperialist movements of the 1960s.

Selma James was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, in 1930. She worked in factories as a young woman and, at the age of 15, joined the Johnson-Forest Tendency (sometimes called the Johnsonites), a group within and eventually a split from the U.S. Workers Party, founded by C. L. R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Grace Chin Lee (later Boggs) under the respective pseudonyms J. R. Johnson, Freddie Forest, and Ria Stone. In 1952, Selma wrote the classic pamphlet A Woman’s Place. Four years later, she married C. L. R. (short for Cyril Lionel Robert) in England, where he had been deported. The two were together for more than twenty-five years, each with their own political activities but also sharing important struggles.

Selma James went on to become a founding member and organizing secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, a British organization established in 1965. In 1972, the publication of her and Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s groundbreaking The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, which discussed how women’s unpaid housework and care work is crucial to the production of the working class and, thus, the economy as a whole, launched the domestic labor debate inside the women’s movement. That same year, the International Wages for Housework Campaign was formed. James was also the first spokeswoman of the English Collective of Prostitutes, started in 1975 to advocate for the decriminalization of sex work and sex workers’ right to recognition and safety. In 1975, James helped found what became the Crossroads Women’s Centre, home to more than fifteen different groups—including Black Women for Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians, and Women Against Rape—and now located in the heart of London’s Kentish Town, a few streets away from where Karl Marx lived with his family for more than ten years. In 1983, she delivered her important “Marx and Feminism,” later published as a pamphlet.

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