Selma James (born 15 August 1930), is a co-author of the women's movement classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (with Mariarosa Dalla Costa), co-founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign and coordinator of the Global Women's Strike.
Selma James (née Deitch) was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1930. As a young woman she worked in factories and then as a full-time housewife and mother. At the age of 15 she joined the Johnson-Forest tendency, one of whose three leaders was C. L. R. James.
In 1952 she wrote the classic A Woman’s Place, first published as a column in Correspondence, a bi-weekly newspaper written and edited by its readers with an audience of mainly working-class people. Unusually at the time, the newspaper had pages dedicated to giving women, young people and Black people an autonomous voice. James was a regular columnist and edited the Women's Page. In 1955 she came to England to marry CLR James, who had been deported from the United States during the McCarthy Period. They were together for 25 years and were close political colleagues.
From 1958 to 1962 James lived in Trinidad where, with C. L. R. James, she was active in the movement for West Indian independence and federation. Returning to England after independence, she became the first organising secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination in 1965, and a founding member of the Black Regional Action Movement and editor of its journal in 1969.
Wages for housework
In 1972, the publication Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (authored with Mariarosa Dalla Costa) launched the "domestic labour debate" by spelling out how housework and other caring work women do outside of the market produces the whole working class, thus the market economy, based on those workers, is built on women’s unwaged work. The 1983 publication of James's Marx and Feminism broke with established Marxist theory by providing a reading of Marx's Capital from the point of view of women and of unwaged work.
In 1972 James founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign which demands money from the State for the unwaged work in the home and in the community. A raging debate followed about whether caring full-time was "work" or a "role" — and whether it should be compensated with a wage.
A number of autonomous organizations were formed in 1975: Black Women for Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and some years later WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities). James is the first spokeswoman of the ECP, which campaigns for decriminalization as well as viable economic alternatives to prostitution.
From 1985 James co-ordinated the International Women Count Network, which won the UN decision where governments agreed to measure and value unwaged work in national statistics . Legislation on this has since been introduced in Trinidad & Tobago and Spain, and time-use surveys and other research are under way in many countries. In Venezuela, Article 88 of the Constitution recognizes work in the home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces wealth and social welfare, and entitles housewives to social security.
Since 2000 James has been international coordinator of the Global Women's Strike, a network of grassroots women, bringing together actions and initiatives in many countries. The Strike demands that society "Invest in Caring Not Killing", and that military budgets be returned to the community starting with women, the main carers everywhere. She has been working with the Venezuelan Revolution since 2002.
She lectures in the UK, US and other countries on a wide range of topics including "Sex, Race & Class", "What the Marxists Never Told Us About Marx", "The Internationalist Jewish Tradition", "Rediscovering Nyerere's Tanzania", "CLR James as a political organizer", and "Jean Rhys: Jumping to Tia".
In April 2008, James (along with Edinburgh-based couple Ralph Ibbott and Noreen Ibbott, both members of the Britain Tanzania Society in the 1960s), visited Edinburgh on the anniversary of Tanzania Muungano Day, which falls on 26 April. She gave a talk in a session hosted by the Tanzania Edinburgh Community Association (TzECA) on Julius Nyerere's Ujamaa (African socialism) in the 1960s in Tanzania with reference to the subject of Ruvuma Development Association (RDA) and the Tanzania Arusha Declaration. The session took place at the "Waverley Care Solas" Abbey Mount.
James is a founder member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, and in May 2008, signed the Letter of British Jews on 60th anniversary of Israel published in the Guardian explaining why she will not celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary.
- A Woman's Place (1952
- The Power of Women & the Subversion of the Community (with Mariarosa Dalla Costa; Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1972)
- Women, the Unions and Work, or What Is Not To Be Done (1972)
- Sex, Race & Class (1974)
- The Rapist Who Pays the Rent (co-author, 1982)
- Marx and Feminism (1983)
- Hookers in the House of the Lord (1983)
- The Ladies and the Mammies: Jane Austen and Jean Rhys (1983)
- Strangers & Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration (ed. & introduction, 1985)
- The Global Kitchen: The Case for Counting Unwaged Work (1985, 1995)
- The Milk of Human Kindness: Defending Breastfeeding from the Global Market and the AIDS Industry (co-author, 2003)
- Introduction to Creating a Caring Economy: Nora Castañeda & the Women's Development Bank of Venezuela (published in 2006)
- Introduction to The Arusha Declaration, Rediscovering Nyerere's Tanzania (2007)
- Editor of Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners Vs the USA by Mumia Abu-Jamal (UK edition Crossroads Books, 2011)
- Sex, Race and Class--the Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952–2011 (PM Press, 2012)
- "Selma James 80 on 15 August this year", Global Women's Strike.
- Becky Gardiner, "A life in writing: Selma James", The Guardian, 8 June 2012.
- "Profile of our first spokeswoman, Selma James", English Collective of Prostitutes, 8 June 2012.
- "Selma James speaks on Sex, Race and Class at Occupy LSX", 25 November 2011.
- Selma James speaking tour.
- The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, Bristol: Falling Wall Press, October 1972 (2nd edition February 1973, 3rd edition September 1975).
- "Waging the War Over Wages", Los Angeles Times, 7 May 1987.
- "Labours of Love, or Maybe Just a Rip-Off", The Times, 19 February 1992.
- "Home Truths for Feminists, How Should the Work Women do as Mothers be Rewarded?", The Guardian, 21 February 2004.
- Jenny Turner, "As Many Pairs of Shoes as She Likes", London Review of Books, Vol. 33, No. 24, 15 December 2011, pp. 11-15.
- Video: Sex, Race and Class — Extended Interview with Selma James on Her Six Decades of Activism, Democracy Now, April 18, 2012.
- "Rape, Race, Prostitution and the Cash Connection". Video Recording of a Lecture given by Selma James in San Francisco.
- "How women's work has been pushed up the US political agenda" by Selma James, The Guardian, 25 April 2012.
- "Care Work and the Power of Women: An Interview with Selma James", Viewpoint Magazine, 19 March 2012.
- Selma James, "The Tory 'Big Society' relies on women replacing welfare", The Guardian 22 October 2010. Retrieved on 22 October 2010.
- Global Women's Strike Campaign
- Selma James, "An antidote for apathy: Venezuela's president has achieved a level of grassroots participation our politicians can only dream of", Comment, The Guardian, 13 August 2004. Retrieved on 8 January 2008.
- Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. Retrieved on 8 January 2008.
- Selma James, Sex, Race, and Class. Retrieved on 8 January 2008.
- Selma James and the Wages for Housework Campaign
- Open Letter by British Jews on the 60th Anniversary of the founding of Israel, The Guardian, 30 April 2008.
- "Sex, Race, and Class". Audio Recording of a Lecture given by Selma James at Dickinson College on 7 November 2007.
- Housework 'worth' £700bn BBC News, 22 April 2002
- Interview in the Tribune.