This week has seen several moments: Labour Day, International Press Day, and the leak of a document threatening to criminalise abortion in the US. Of course, they share the same face: resistance against forces that are policing bodies and workers. If we don’t resist this now, it will only get worse as the climate crisis worsens. Let’s get to the bottom of it all.
Labour Day’s Roots
This labour day, let us take a moment to also celebrate what has been achieved, and honour those who struggle against oppression by putting their bodies on the line every day. May Day’s roots lie in the first Congress of the Second International, held in pairs. The Congress passed a resolution calling for an international demonstration by workers on the same day, demanding the enforcement of what we now have as an eight-hour workday.
What began as a protest for an eight-hour workday in the 19th century has grown into a global force. May Day is the yearly expression of these common demands of workers. But what about those who are not even recognised as “workers” in the capitalist system? Silvia Federici writes, “the unwaged condition of housework has been the most powerful weapon in reinforcing the common assumption that housework is not work, thus preventing women from struggling against it, except in the privatised kitchen-bedroom quarrel that all society agrees to ridicule, thereby further reducing the protagonist of a struggle. We are seen as nagging bitches, not workers in struggle.”
This labour day, let us also acknowledge that much more needs to be done: there is still no equal pay for equal work across genders in most countries. Still no paid sick leaves. Or child endowment and maternity allowances. But even before all that: where is the recognition of housework of our mothers, grandmothers and ancestors?
Climate Justice Means Workers’ Rights
Houseworkers, who contribute the least to climate change, and who benefit the least from the capitalist system, should not be made to bear the brunt of the crises unfurling in this decade. In what Nancy Fraser called the Crisis of Care, we see more and more people (predominantly women) having to perform even more laborious care work during the pandemic. She calls this the “contradiction of capital and care.” In addition to this, we must also tackle ableism in climate change discourse.
When we talk about a car-lite world, for example, we must recognise that there are people who rely on cars and taxis to get around, we must commit to ensuring that public transportation and pathways are accessible. We need to realise that the logic that is willing to regard some bodies as “unproductive” and therefore unworthy, is the very same logic that is willing to relentlessly extract from our Earth and exploit workers. To solve these problems, we have to solve them together. We need climate action that works for us all, and that prioritises housework, extractive labour that will only increase as the climate crisis worsens.
Capitalism also depends on domestic labour
Labour of love: Reproductive Work
In a podcast with Latin Media, Silvia Federici, a feminist writer, teacher and militant, speaks about her book, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. In that, she powerfully notes: “the full range of reproductive work most women do have been doing is work that has not only reproduced our lives but has also reproduced the works force and people’s capacity to work on a day to day basis. Far from being unimportant, this work has actually been the pillar, the foundation, of every other form of capitalist work. And we have denounced that employers have gotten away with lots of free labour because without that person reproducing the worker on a day to day basis, reproducing wage work, every place of employment would shut down.” We need to raise the consciousness that we live in a society that is committed to the devaluation of this work, to make this work invisible.
It is important to recognise that when we speak of housework we are not speaking of a job like other jobs but very manipulative violence that capitalism has perpetuated. When you are a worker, you can still bargain for better rights but the difference here is that housework, and reproductive work, are *imposed* on people as something that fits their natural attributes (femininity, biology, a “natural calling”). Capitalism has convinced women across the world that this is a natural, unavoidable and even fulfilling activity that must remain unwaged. This hits the poor hardest: by denying housework a wage, capital has gotten a lot of work done for free and has made the housewife financially dependent on the sole breadwinner who is then disciplined and trapped into returning to the factory, to the (work)place of exploitation.
As Silvia writes in Wages Against Housework, “Women have always found ways of fighting back, but always in an isolated and privatised way. The problem, then, becomes how to bring this struggle out of the kitchen and bedroom and into the streets.” She continues, “It should be clear, however, that when we struggle for a wage we do not struggle to enter capitalist relations, because we have never been out of them. We struggle to break capital’s plan for women.”
A Revolutionary Demand
To demand wages for housework does not mean people will continue if they are paid. On the contrary, it means being paid (as in, being visible in the capitalist system) is the first step to refusing work by exerting their own agency. Being visible in the exploitation their bodies, minds, and hearts go through on a daily basis. This is only the beginning. After establishing that this work is work, houseworkers will be able to demand better working conditions. And, more importantly, be united with everyone that capital tries so hard to keep divided. The logic of division is not in our favour. One of the first steps to visibility is abortion care and disability justice. Abortion work is care work. The work of caring for pregnant people who want and need to terminate pregnancies is sacred.
For poor and working-class women, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and brown, overturning Roe won’t mean that abortions will end. It will mean that safe and sound abortions in health-care facilities will move further out of reach. https://t.co/6cSyBFCjhO
— Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) May 4, 2022
Abortion Justice Cannot Wait
In case you missed it: yesterday, a document was leaked (also called the SCOTUS leak), suggesting millions of US people (abortion doesn’t affect just women!) could lose their legal right to abortion. The Supreme Court’s chief justice then went on to confirm the validity of the draft (it does not, however, mean a final decision has been made). We are shaken and raging.
Yesterday was also World Press Freedom Day and it is this very “freedom” that allowed the leak to happen. Whistleblowing, now more than ever, is critical to our fundamental rights. In a recent piece, Molly Taft looked at the ways the oil industry has supported senators who consistently vote for ultra-conservative justices—a good reminder that polluters play a role in restricting bodily autonomy.
Criminalising abortion, or restricting reproductive healthcare does not stop people from accessing abortion, it only makes it even more dangerous. Pregnant people have been getting abortions for centuries. It is and always will be vital reproductive healthcare. Defunding it, criminalising it or creating barriers to access will only end up with people having to use pills at home with no healthcare support or resorting to unsafe methods to induce an abortion. And let’s be clear, wealthy people will always have access to medical needs. This tweet puts it best: “Ending Roe is an attack on the autonomy of poor and working-class women.” Abortion bans do not protect life, they attack and incarcerate the poor. In fact, one historian of abortion argues that abortion stays at pretty much the same rate per capita over time whether it’s legal or banned. What changes when you make it illegal is how many women die from it.
Here are a few ways you can take action:
1. Donate to local abortion funds in the 13 states with trigger laws ASAP: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Link to Twitter thread with more details here. Donate to Natl Network of Abortion Funds directly on ig – just $5 helps.
2. Talk about abortion with your friends, family and community. For tips, check out the National Network of Abortion Funds’ Heart-to-Heart Conversation Toolkit.
3. Learn about Self-Managed Abortion with Pills. For more information check out @reproaction
4. Get involved with abortion care locally. There are existing funds, transportation and practical support networks in your city or state that could use your help.
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