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Sylvoa Federici and Wages for Housework

A clear but simple intoduction to the Wages for Housework movement can be found in the article in the magazine "n + 1", by Dayna Tortorici, where it appeared in the Fall 2013 issue.

More Smiles? More Money
Published in
Issue 17: The Evil Issue
Publication date Fall 2013


Silvia Federici. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle.PM Press, 2012.

Martha Rosler. Meta-Monumental Garage Sale.The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012.

The essay opens with a discussion of the work of the artist Martha Rosler but then turns to the work of Sylvia Federici.

The full article can be found at
More Smiles? More Money

How does this relate to climate change? The Wages for Housework movement is against work. Against work in general. Less work ultimately means a reduction in GHG emissions. Read on and discover how.

Hwere is a taste from the long essay:

THE WAGES FOR HOUSEWORK Campaign first formed in Padua, Italy, in the summer of 1972. It grew out of an organization of twenty or so women called the International Feminist Collective, founded by Selma James, Brigitte Galtier, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and Silvia Federici. James, a full-time housewife and Marxist activist, had been living in England with her partner, the radical intellectual C. L. R. James. Galtier, in France, was involved with the group that published the autonomist journal Matériaux pour l’intervention. Dalla Costa, an academic and activist from Italy, had come from operaismo, an intellectual movement inspired by a resurgence of factory strikes in northern Italy. In its rereading of Marx, operaismo argued that it was workers, not factory owners, who determined the shape of social relations under capitalism, and that workers themselves could produce a crisis in capitalism through direct action in the service of their own partial interests. Operaismo saw the wage as central to the struggle for worker control: it was a way of returning surplus value to the worker, and of redefining how much one worked, and for what pay.

This emphasis on the wage was crucial to the formation of Wages for Housework. As Selma James and others brought with them lessons from the anticolonial, civil rights, and student movements, Dalla Costa brought to Wages for Housework the operaisti’s sense of the wage as both economic compensation and political tool. Equally critical to the early thinking of Wages for Housework was Mario Tronti’s concept of the “social factory.” In the movement journal Quaderni rossi, Tronti argued that as social relations are subsumed by capital, society itself becomes a “factory” that organizes and supports production and circulation. Dalla Costa and the women of Wages for Housework deduced from Tronti’s theory what their male comrades had failed to: If all society had been made a factory, wasn’t housework also factory work? If so, why wasn’t it rewarded with a wage?

These ideas were not entirely new. Women had been arguing for wages for housework since at least the early 20th century; Crystal Eastman called for “a generous endowment of motherhood provided by legislation” in her opening address to the First Feminist Congress in 1919. The idea that the work of raising children should be recognized and remunerated as well as any other job surfaced again among American welfare-rights activists in the 1960s, who demanded that welfare be dignified with the title of a “wage.” These efforts built upon Engels’s observation in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State that while the first historical division of labor was one based on sex — leaving the responsibility of household management to women — it was only with the rise of private property and the patriarchal monogamous family that this division became hierarchical, devaluing the social contributions of women. As the communistic household dissolved, Engels wrote, domestic work lost its public character: “It no longer concerned society. . . . The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife.” Feminists’ demand for payments to mothers and housewives was an attempt to free women from the “domestic slavery” of dependency on the male wage and to return the private struggle of women to public concern.

But Engels’s observations were also misleading, and Marxist tradition throughout the 20th century largely took the wife being “excluded from all participation in social production” to mean that household work had no bearing on production — that it existed outside the capitalist market. Wages for Housework made this assumption its primary target. Its proponents insisted that the binary between work and home, “productive” and “reproductive” work, was not only a fiction, but a necessary fiction at the basis of capitalism. Capital accumulation depended on unwaged household work: giving birth to the future workforce, yes, but also feeding husbands, children, and parents, cleaning up after them, placating them when the world frustrated their ambitions, and so on. Seeing this more clearly than its predecessors, Wages for Housework understood how much damage a refusal to do unwaged labor could inflict on a capitalist system. In her 1970 pamphlet “Women and the Subversion of the Community,” Dalla Costa wrote, “women are of service not only because they carry out domestic labor without a wage and without going on strike, but also because they always receive back into the home all those who are periodically expelled from their jobs by economic crisis. The family, this maternal cradle . . . has been in fact the best guarantee that the unemployed do not immediately become a horde of disruptive outsiders.”

In a career-spanning essay collection, Revolution at Point Zero, Silvia Federici recalls reading Dalla Costa’s pamphlet for the first time. “By the time I read the last page,” Federici writes, “I knew that I had found my home, my tribe, and my own self, as a woman and a feminist.” Federici, born in Italy in 1942, moved to the US in 1967 to study philosophy at SUNY Buffalo. She wrote on theory and left politics, often from the perspective of operaismo; she contributed a critique of Althusser to an early issue of Telos and cowrote with Mario Montano the first-wave autonomist text “Theses on the Mass Worker and Social Capital” under the pseudonym Guido Baldi. She had been ambivalent about the women’s movement; “likely,” she deadpans, “after having for years pinned all my hopes on my ability to pass for a man.” But in 1972, after encountering Dalla Costa’s work, Federici joined the International Feminist Collective and helped see Dalla Costa’s ideas through as a leader of the Wages for Housework campaign. The following year, Federici started Wages for Housework groups in the US. In 1975, the year Wages for Housework opened an office in Brooklyn, she published “Wages Against Housework,” one of the most elucidating texts on the movement’s intentions.

It begins with a chant — or what looks like a chant, in dramatic verse, written for an invisible chorus:

They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.

They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism.

Every miscarriage is a work accident. . . .

More smiles? More money. Nothing will be so powerful in destroying the healing virtues of a smile.

Neuroses, suicides, desexualization: occupational hazards of the housewife.