Dear Novara Media,
The article by Sophie Rosa, published on 21 March, grossly misinforms about the Wages for Housework Campaign which is celebrating 50 years of uninterrupted campaigning this year. It jumbles together academics past and present, avoiding the concrete struggles our international grassroots network has been making in the Global South and the Global North.
Sophie Rosa quotes people like Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Leopoldina Fortunati and Silvia Federici who left the international campaign in the late 1970s – over 40 years ago! She neglects to say that they have not been organising for or with the WFH Campaign since then. In fact, they dissolved soon after Black Women for Wages for Housework was formed, whom they called “presumptuous”.
Selma James, who first put forward Wages for Housework in March 1972 at the Women’s Liberation conference in Manchester (see “Women, the Unions and Work” republished in Sex, Race, and Class: The Perspective of Winning), and the many of us who are organising with her in a number of countries, never stopped. We are based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in London and in Ireland, several cities in the US, Canada, India, Peru, Thailand and work with contacts in many other countries, from Argentina to Haiti.
The late Clotil Walcott won the first legislation in the world to count women’s unremunerated work in national accounts in Trinidad & Tobago in 1995. She had joined the WFH Campaign in 1980, after Dalla Costa, Fortunati and Federici had already left. She had nothing to do with them. It was the work of Walcott and many others with Selma James, Margaret Prescod, co-founder of Black Women for Wages for Housework, that got over 1200 NGOs worldwide to demand that women’s unwaged work “in the home, on the land and in the community” be included in national accounts. We mobilised international delegations to win the UN pathbreaking decision at the 1985 (Nairobi) and 1995 (Beijing) conferences. Why would Rosa not credit us?
It was us, again, who called the Global Women’s Strike in 2000 and have been coordinating it ever since. Its first demand is “payment for all caring work”.
Rosa had every chance to be accurate. Not only did she interview Selma James, whom she quotes out of context, but much of this information is on Wikipedia and in the widely available anthologies, Sex, Race, and Class and Our Time Is Now: Sex, Race, Class, and Caring for People and Planet, which go through this history and which she does not mention. They also detail the history of the autonomous organisations of women of colour, including immigrants and asylum seekers, queer women, sex workers, women with disabilities, single mothers which formed WITHIN the Wages for Housework Campaign and shaped it, and have never stopped organising as part of it. See “The Organizational Strategy of Autonomy” in Our Time Is Now. Most recently an accurate bio of James was published as part of the City of Women initiative, which renamed underground stations after women and non-binary people who have left a lasting impact on London, and chose Selma James to represent Kentish Town, the closest station to our women’s centre.
Unlike Dalla Costa, Federici and Fortunati, Selma James is not an academic. She is not based at a university but at a women’s centre. She is an antisexist, antiracist, antiimperialist, anticapitalist working-class campaigner. To give credit to academics for what she and an international grassroots network have done and continue to do is a piece of academic pimping. It is also racist, hiding and misrepresenting the work of women of colour and of other autonomous sectors within the Wages for Housework Campaign and the Global Women’s Strike it co-ordinates. Many in the movement are familiar with such pimping but we didn’t expect it from Novara Media.
Tellingly, Rosa’s article doesn’t mention poverty, women’s poverty. Yet that is what the Wages for Housework Campaign, which is now celebrating its 50 years of campaigning, has been organising against. Every single autonomous group in the Campaign, every initiative we have ever undertaken has always started with women’s poverty, in the city and the countryside, the Global North and the Global South. Women are the poorest because we do most of society’s caring work unwaged. The demand for wages for housework may be “symbolic” for academics like Claire English, it is very practical for our international network. In fact, it has always been a condition for anyone who wants to join the Wages for Housework Campaign that they should want wages for housework for themselves. To bypass financial considerations demonstrates the gulf between academics using wages for housework to pursue their careers and campaigners organising for financial recognition for caring work in order to change their situation and the whole world from the bottom up. Our open letter calling for a Care Income Now (not mentioned in the article), issued in March 2020, would have disabused Rosa of any assumptions of “symbolism”.
This deliberate confusion between our campaigning and the inactivity of academics who were once in wages for housework (and for less than a decade) must be corrected in Novara Media. It would help to publish a letter from us and advertise the events we are having on 24, 25 and 27 March, and others throughout the year, where people will be able to find out for themselves who the Wages for Housework Campaign is and what organising it has been doing for 50 years.
- Thursday 24 March at 6pm UTC: Selma James, founder of the WFH Campaign, and Margaret Prescod, co-founder Black Women for Wages for Housework in conversation (online). Register here.
- Friday 25 March at 2pm UTC: Webinar, Empowering Women: A Care Income for People and Planet at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Register here.
- Sunday 27 March: Launch of the WFH archives Moving Forward by Looking Back at the Bishopsgate Institute in London (more information here) and at Crossroads Women’s Center in Philadelphia (more information here).
We look forward to hearing from you,
Sara Callaway, Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike (co-ordinated by Black Women for Wages for Housework)
Selma James, Wages for Housework Campaign, joint coordinator Global Women’s Strike