Wages for housework

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The International Wages for Housework Campaign was a feminist global social movement, which grew out of the International Feminist Collective in Italy in 1972 and organized resistance and public debate on the social formations produced by gendered labor and reproductive labor, for example domestic work such as housework, childcare, gender discrimination, and the socially reinforced performance of gender roles, gendered desire, and leisure inequality. The Campaign's platform included the women's right to work outside of the home, unemployment benefits, parental leave, and equal pay.[1][2] The Campaign was formed in Padua, Italy by Selma James, Brigitte Galtier, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and Silvia Federici. A major tenet of the campaign was that reproductive labor is the foundation of industrial work, in its important role in the maintenance and care of gendered male workers, yet a type of labor not recognized as productive enough to be wage labor.[3]

The demands for the Wages for Housework used Marxist frameworks to think through the reliance of capitalist economies on exploitative labor practices against certain populations.[2] Mariarosa Dalla Costa and some participants in the Wages for Housework campaign were enmeshed in the intellectual movement operaismo, which developed around factory strikes in Northern Italy in the 1970s. The Wages for Housework Campaign shared with operaismo the idea that fair working conditions including wages are key to the social recognition of labor. Operaismo encouraged workers to act in their direct interests, and engage in factory strikes to demand better conditions. The Wages for Housework campaign applied also shared discussions about the social factory with operaismo; whereby "the whole of society lives as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination to the whole of society".[4] The campaign activities included student protests, community workshops, and direct action protest.

Wages for Housework published a Marxist autonomist journal, Matériaux pour l’intervention. Several publications grew out of its ideas, which expanded on the claims of the original group and of more general topics in labor and exploitation. In Italy, Quaderni rossi, published by Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti, dealt with a variety of topics relating to the class struggle.

United States[edit]

In 1973, Silvia Federici helped start Wages for Housework groups in the US and in 1975, the Wages for Housework opened an office in Brooklyn, New York at 288 B. 8th St. The New York group was called the "Wages for Housework Committee."[5] Flyers handed out in support of the New York Wages for Housework Committee called for all women to join regardless of marital status, nationality, sexual orientation, number of children, or employment.[6] In 1975 Federici published Wages Against Housework, the book most commonly associated with the movement.[5]

Branches of the Wages for Housework Committee appeared in other cities across America. They were organized in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Tulsa, and Cleveland.[7] Along with these committees, other autonomous organizations that fall within the Wages for Housework campaign began to organize within the United States.[8] For example, in 1974 International Black Women for Wages for Housework was founded by Margaret Prescod and Wilmette Brown in New York City. Prescod also founded the Black Women for Wages for Housework in Los Angeles alongside Sidney Ross-Risden in 1980. The Black Women for Wages for Housework focused on not only unpaid housework for the average housewife, but specific issues of black and third world women. They called for reparations for "slavery, imperialism and neo-colonialism."[8][9][10][11]

Both San Francisco and Philadelphia were home to Wages Due Lesbians, an organization that was first created in Britain in 1975. Wages Due Lesbians called for wages for housework along with extra wages for lesbians for "the additional physical and emotional housework of surviving in a hostile and prejudiced society, recognized as work and paid for so all women have the economic power to afford sexual choices."[8][12] Wages Due Lesbians also worked alongside The Lesbian Mothers' National Defense Fund, founded in 1974 and based in Seattle, which aimed to help lesbian mothers who were a part of custody cases after coming out.[13][14]

San Francisco was also home to the U.S. PROStitutes Collective (US PROS). US PROS was created in 1982 to help decriminalize prostitution and also prevent men, women, and children from being forced into prostitution.[12] Likewise, Tulsa housed the No Bad Women, Just Bad Laws Coalitions. It was founded by Ruth Taylor Todasco in 1981 and also focused on the decriminalization of sex work.[15][16]


In 1974, the Wages for Housework Campaign started in Italy. To celebrate, one of the founding members Mariarosa Dalla Costa gave a speech entitled "A General Strike" in Mestre, Italy. In this speech she talks about how no strike before has ever been a general strike before, but instead, only a strike for male workers.[17]

Social wage campaigns[edit]

Wages for Housework is part of more general social wage campaigns in the 1970s interested in late capitalism. These campaigns used analysis of Fordist compromises during the twentieth century to argue that family wages or social security payments had amounted to wages paid for housework in the advanced capitalist West.[18][19] A number of other autonomous organizations interested in compensation for domestic labor 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).

Early influences[edit]

A number of early feminists focused women's economic independence along with the role of housewife in relation to women's oppression. In 1898 Charlotte Perkins Gilman published Women and Economics. This book argued for paid housework 74 years before the International Wages for Housework Campaign was founded as well as arguing to expand the definition of women in the home.[20] She asserts that "wives, as earners through domestic service, are entitled to the wages of cooks, housemaids, nursemaids, seamstresses, or housekeepers" and that providing women economic independence is key to their liberation. Alva Myrdal, a Swedish feminist, focused on state sponsored child care and housing, in order to ease the burden of parenting off mothers.[21] In Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, in which de Beauvoir asserts that women cannot find transcendence through unpaid house work.[21] This idea is echoed in The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan when she discusses how women are unable to feel fulfilled in the home. The Feminine Mystique defined many second wave feminist goals, and the connection between the Wages for Housework Campaign and this work cannot be overlooked.[21]

In 1965 Alison Ravetz published "Modern Technology and an Ancient Occupation: Housework in Present-Day Society"[22] which critiques housework being a womanly duty post industrial revolution. The idea here is that since housework has become less labor intensive since then, it is even less fulfilling than ever before. This echos a similar argument made by Alva Myrdal.

Recent history[edit]

The demands of the Wages for Housework Campaign have been applied to many more recent debates in the gendered aspects of labor including, reproductive rights, sex work, and demands for women in leadership roles in business.[2]

Silvia Federici and several others from the early campaign have continued to publish books and articles related to the demands of Wages for Housework including: Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (2012), Wages for Housework: The New York Committee 1972–1977, History, Theory, and Documents (2017).


  • Louise Toupin. Le salaire au travail ménager. Chronique d'une lutte féministe internationale (1972–1977) Éditions du Remue-Ménage, 2014.
  • Silvia Federici. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. PM Press, 2012. '
  • Silvia Federici. Wages Against Housework. Published jointly by the Power of Women Collective and Falling Wall Press, 1975. Link goes to full text of the book.
  • Cox, Nicole, and Silvia Federici. Counter-planning from the kitchen: wages for housework : a perspective on capital and the Left. New York: New York Wages for Housework Committee. 1976.
  • Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, and Selma James. The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. Bristol: Falling Wall Press Ltd. 1975.
  • James, Selma, Nina Lopez, and Marcus Rediker. 2012. Sex, Race and Class – The Perspective of Winning a Selection of Writings 1952–2011. Chicago: PM Press. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=867353.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ www.generation-online.org, Mariarosa Dalla Costa + EE + AB. "The door to the garden". www.generation-online.org. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "More Smiles, More Money", N+1 Magazine, August 2013.
  3. ^ James, Selma (2008). "Is Transformation Possible? They Say We Can't. We Must". Off Our Backs. 38 (1): 42. JSTOR 20838923.
  4. ^ Tronti, Mario (1962). "Factory and Society". Operaismo in English. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  5. ^ a b Vishmidt, Marina (March 2013). "Permanent Reproductive Crisis: An Interview with Silvia Federici". Meta Mute.
  6. ^ "The Campaign for Wages for Housework" (PDF). bcrw.barnard.edu. Barnard Center for Research on Women. 1975. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  7. ^ Tait, Vanessa (2005). Poor Workers' Union: Rebuilding Labor from Below. Boston: South End Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0896087149.
  8. ^ a b c "The International Wages for Housework Campaign" (PDF). Freedomarchives.org. The Freedom Archives. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  9. ^ Hendrix, Kathleen (May 1987). "Waging the War Over Wages: Fight for Homemaker Pay has Seen Ups, Downs". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  10. ^ Love, Barbara (2006). Feminists Who Changed America, 1963–1975. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. p. 368. ISBN 978-0252031892.
  11. ^ Hendrix, Kathleen (28 July 1985). "Campaign Catches On: L.A. Pair Seek Wages for Women's Unpaid Work". Newspaper. Retrieved 22 October 2015 – via Los Angeles Times.
  12. ^ a b "US PROS Collective". US PROS Collective. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  13. ^ "The Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund, the 1970s through 1990s". outhistory.org. Out History. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  14. ^ Myers, JoAnne (2009). The A to Z of the Lesbian Liberation Movement: Still the Rage. Plymouth: Scarecrow Press. pp. xxxvi. ISBN 978-0810863279.
  15. ^ Love (2006). Feminists Who Changed America, 1963–1965. p. 463.
  16. ^ Overs, Cheryl (2012). "'No Bad Women, Just Bad Laws': Three Decades of Sex Work Law Reform Advocacy" (PDF). HIV and the Law. Criminalize Hate Not HIV. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  17. ^ Dalla Costa, Mariarosa (21 October 2010). "A General Strike".
  18. ^ Himmelweit, Susan F; Mohun, Simon (1977). "Domestic labour and capital". Cambridge Journal of Economics. 1 (1): 15–31. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.cje.a035348.
  19. ^ Zoë Fairbairns, "Wages For Housework", New Internationalist, issue 181, March 1988.
  20. ^ Perkins Gilman, Charlotte (1898). Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. United States: Small, Maynard & Company.
  21. ^ a b c Freedman, Estelle (2007). The Essential Feminist Reader. Modern Library. ISBN 9780812974607.
  22. ^ Ravetz, Alison (1965). "Modern Technology and an Ancient Occupation: Housework in Present-Day Society". Technology and Culture. 6 (2): 256–260. doi:10.2307/3101078. JSTOR 3101078.

External links[edit]