Monday, November 9, 2009

Feminism and the Wage

I was reading through CSO statistics for Ireland (as one does on rainy days) and come across the following for 2008:

Males On Home Duties: 6,700
Females On Home Duties: 526,300

The way the statistics office looks at employment and unemployment stems from the classification of who is "in the workforce". Those that are not seeking jobs, are not in the workforce. Now, this point has been made often enough by voices on the left regarding the fact that it hides unemployment of those who have given up seeking employment. The statistic above brings out another aspect. The unemployment figures of women are low, not because they have given up looking for work, but because they are working without pay.

Capitalism has an incessant drive* towards the expansion of commodification. The commons was conquered by the need for profit and we see capital trying continually to press the realm of information into it's sphere.

However, not everything has been commodified. There are still large sections of human social relations which do not use exchange. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most important of these realms is the reproduction of the labour force itself.

The reproduction of the labour force is done with unpaid labour. Labour which exists outside of the rest of the sphere of commodity exchange. This creates some very strange dynamics. Indeed, thought it is impossible even to acquire food without money for exchange, and though the reproduction of the labour force requires it, there is no compensation for the production of labour.

This means that those who work in the reproduction of the labour force, the greatest lynch pin of the entire capitalist edifice, must be subordinate to: a) Husbands, who will be the arbiters of how their wages should be distributed internally to the family, and more recently b) The state, which acts as a great arbitrary and derelict husband.

I think as can be read quite clearly by the statistics above, women are the vast, vast majority of this labour force. The myth of the emancipation of women by liberal feminism strikes out in bold in these numbers. The vast majority of these women are at the whim of their husbands or the state. There has truly been no end to patriarchy.

Now, not only should we see this and see how bankrupt liberal feminism is and how capitalism inevitably perpetuates patriarchy, but we should also see it as a cautionary tale for any future world we might conceive.

Those who speak of economic democracy (Parecon, Economic Democracy) have a duty to explain to us how to deal with this issue. Will we bring labour reproduction into the sphere of the market? Will the polity act as employer of last resort for reproduction?

If instead we imagine a world based on the principle of fair access to the social product of labour, the issue disappears entirely. I believe that the abolition of the wage entirely is most consonant with the feminist project.

* This is a very teleological view of capitalism. I like telelogy and somewhat resent the dismissal of it by most of the modern science community. I think such statements are true in the same sense that directed behaviour is true of humans. Rather than being anthropomorphic to say that something "wants" something, I think it's quite the opposite. It expresses a sort of directed constrained behaviour, and as such the mechanistic processes which bring about teleology in humans are of the same kind as those that cause behaviours such as: "nature abhors a vacuum" or "the bacteria moves towards food". It is in fact anthrocentric to believe that humans somehow do something quite different. Likewise, processes underly the behaviour of capitalism, yet capitalism has aggregate behaviours with time dependent tendencies which can be expressed clearly as "final cause".

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