Our series on new books in labor and working-class history continues. An English translation of Louise Toupin’s Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972-77, was co-published this fall by UBC Press and Pluto Press. Toupin, a retired lecturer in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal, answered questions from Jacob Remes. Her answers were translated from the French by Xandi McMahon.
[Jacob Remes] What can labor historians learn from the history of the movement for Wages for Housework?
[Louise Toupin] Through the Wages for Housework movement, labor historians have learned that the “classic” job market–the factory and the office–is only one face of human work. Hidden behind the work of producing goods, there was another face: all the invisible, free work of reproduction and the renewal of labor power, work generally assigned to women and subordinate to the production of goods. This invisible work hides the exploitation of women’s reproductive labor in the home, which in turn becomes much greater exploitation outside the home. This work constitutes part of the reproductive cycle of capitalism and contributes to the accumulation of capital in a crucial way. This work of social reproduction effectively allowed the capitalist economy to rely on an enormous amount of unpaid work, carried out by unwaged, or poorly waged, women. Capitalism benefits from this free labor–it is used to supply a “ready-to-work” labor force–but it doesn’t have to pay for it. This was one of the important contributions of the Wages for Housework perspective on the concept of work, formulated in 1972 by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James in their book The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. […]