Brooklyn’s Selma James is the founder of the International
Wages for Housework Campaign and coordinator of the
Global Women’s Strike. This text, first published in 1973,

quickly became a classic of anti-racist women’s movement. It
addresses the economic basis of the power relations within the
working class internationally.


petroleusepress.les pétroleuses were the sex .com || petroleusepress@gmail. and lady-proles of the paris commune whose ‘love of riot’ burnt paris to the ground. witches.

locked within the contradiction between the discrete the less powerful that when workers in a stronger position (that is. . the relation of women to capital and [the] kind of struggle we [can] effectively wage to destroy it” (p. Unless oth- erwise stated. the replay to “Avis Brown. that Avis Brown was a pseudonym for A. I wrote the paragraph Institute of Race Relations. I hope to show in barest outline. And so we have learnt by bitter experience that nothing uni. London. it has been clear that capital rules and develops through the wage. is harder to discern. virtually all that remains questions which the class faces today. Since Marx. inseparable. 18-19).” it may not be a victory that power. 28) 1 “The Colony of the Colonized: notes on race.4 led “. defeating us. thereby allowing capital to play on proven themselves to be not separate. Race and Class. and draw throughout on the How the working class will ultimately unite organizationally. one of the basic Yet if sex and race are pulled away from class. The writer refers to The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James (Falling Wall Press. Turin. Beginning know. That they have vided from the less powerful. That redefinition was based on the unwaged labour of the house- include us. that is.e. race. first. This exploita- tion has been even more effective because the lack of a wage hid it . Where women are concerned their labour appears to be a personal service outside of capital. was first published in Race Today. a subjective divi. this division. . provincial. Second. January 1974. The question is. or whites with working class power and at the same time the creative energy to achieve a higher wage than Blacks) gain a “victory. We put it this way: fied and revolutionary will be formed until each section of the exploited will have made its own autonomous power felt. we don’t experience of the struggle against capital by Black people. Where Lenin divided the is the truncated. class movement is something other than that Left have ever envisioned the more powerful and the less powerful. 1975.” Avis Brown. For in the disparity of power within the class is precisely the strength of In our pamphlet which Avis Brown so generously referred to. that is. June 1973. that the working sion. 14 3 . in fact.. and class have confronted each other as separate and even conflicting entities. that the foundation of capitalist society Power to the sisters and therefore to the class! was the wage labourer and his or her direct exploitation. anti-nationalist and anti-sexist) point of view-the point of view. Bristol 1972).5). . We do know that up to now many of us have been told to forget with the female (caste) experience. . for the weaker and even may represent a defeat for both. (i.1 we tack- capital.” quoted here. of struggle-is to discover the organizational weakness which permits the most powerful sections of the class to be di- T here has been enough confusion generated when sex.” The third edition was published as a book in 1975. all quotations are from Power of Women.) Sex. ropolitan Left. Sivanandan. Musolini. we redefined class to include wom- our own needs in some wider interest which was never wide enough to en. 1972 (pp. (p. That they are separate entities is self-evident. Race Today. a man who is now head of the reprinted in L’Offensiva. It is the experience of it to be. class and sex. sectarian politics of the white male met- class between the advanced and the backward. we see the division along the lines of capitalist organization. entity of sex or race and the totality of class is the greatest deterrent to men with a wage in relation to women without one. as “brilliant. wife. (We were later to learn 4 From a letter by Lotta Feminista and the International Feminist Collective. What has been neither clear nor assumed by the organizations of the work- ing class movement is that precisely through the wage has the ex- ploitation of the non-wage labourer been organized.

housewives. . with white women. service those who are daily destroyed by working for wages and who need to be daily renewed. The anti-racist 4 13 . under the law of division of labour. In strategy does not yet anywhere exist. their activities are facets of capitalist production and its divi- sion of labour. the other in the school. They were once (and in tribal society for example supported. The subordination of the wage of the man to women. is the meaning of school. reality. then ultimately the working class internationally as we now perceive and define it. That. what Marx calls labour power. this mystification is not unique job outside of their homes. Where children are It is widely presumed that the Vanguard Party on the Leninist model concerned. (p. let us take an apparent diversion. and pursue the struggle for. Per- way of others’ more “productive” labour or only to indoctrinate haps the theoreticians have not. The traditional attack on the immigrant worker. especially but are being prepared to work when they grow up. profitable to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital.” not because the antagonism of race is overcome. No its rule. Is their powerlessness a class question? Is their struggle against We don’t agree with Avis that “the Black American struggle failed to school the class struggle? We believe it is. not exclusively if he or she is Black (or Southern Italian). sent them to school not only because they are in the as a class both at once-to redefine class and the class struggle itself. the organizational unity of to function in ways that are if not immediately. fulfill its potential as a revolutionary vanguard . one in express the experience and interest of. Since the Leninist model assumes efit. with neither) to make that struggle. . with the movement. but be- still are) accepted as an integral part of the productive activity of the cause we both need the autonomy that the wage and the struggle for the community. and to clarify the central problem of our age. It has used the “specificity of its experience”-as a nation and Capital . any the home. it bears no relation to the reality we have been describing. Exactly the same is said about women in relation to men. and they care for and discipline those who . their labour appears to be learning for their own ben. Let me quote finally from a letter written against one of the organiza- tions of the Italian extra-parliamentary Left who. They and attacked us physically. Only as a vanguard could that struggle have begun bodied person to function.But if the relation of caste to class where women are concerned pres. children are taken away from others in the community and one else can know. when we had a femi- One. are involved in the production and (what is the same nist symposium in Rome last year and excluded men. against which the number of rebels is growing daily. but then they must never be confused them. The work they did was part of the total social labour and wage can bring. appear to be outside of the capitalist other section. mystified form. Before we confront race. and regardless of race. Black women will know in what organizations (with was acknowledged as such. Schools are institutions orga. The rule of capital through the wage compels every able. fundamentally. . . embodies that organizational unity. “supported” or “un- wage labour society. if by “vanguard” nized by capital to achieve its purpose through and against the child. called us fascists thing) reproduction of workers. is that her presence threatens the gains of the native working class.”. . in the home and the subordinating nature of that labour weaken the woman wherever else she is working. The formal organizational expression of a general class wage labour relation because the workers themselves are wageless. . Where capital is extending or has extended Black men. where no one section of the class can So here are two sections of the working class whose activities. 28) a vanguard expressing the total class interest. is meant the basic propellant of class struggle in a particular historical situation. Housewives working without a pay packet in the home may also have a ents itself in a hidden. also unwaged in a basis for Black and white women to act together. Here is the The least powerful in the society are our children. forced to go to schools.

for labour power to be reproduced in the form of we offer the most privileged women: power over their enemies.” The Black working lution? How can the wageless struggle without the lever of the wage class were able through this nationalism to redefine class: over- and the factory? We do not pose the answers-we can’t. Calcutta. especially the discipline of working. Frankfurt were still chanting variations of “Black and white unite and fight. But we pose the whelmingly Black and Labour were synonymous (with no other questions in a way which assumes that the unemployed have not to go group was Labour as synonymous-except perhaps with women). appears at first not to be about class. clear- ing away the debris of appearances. as we have said. Nor do we seek to convince men of our feminism. the racism of white male-dominated groups. (and elsewhere) also began by can be shunted from industry to industry. A mass move- forced labour in the factories and in the home itself. Her position in the wage structure is low especially will say more of this later. We demand from this international capitalist division of labour to expose women’s wages for the work we do in the home. Secondly.S. What is their role in the revo. that great revolutionary. Whether she also works for wages out. which was hidden by the particularity of from the State is. And that demand for a wage and children’s class position. were both national- Port of Spain. the Mexican towns south of the US ists. Ultimately they will be “convinced” by our power. tells it like it is. Black experience. she remains defined as a choosing the street sweepers now. who are trained in homes. Why? Because as long as most women are house- wives part of whose function in reproducing labour power is to be the Those of us in the feminist movement who have torn the final veil away sexual object of men. It is not that it is written down anywhere (though we discovered out of the home. to work in order to subvert capitalist society. or “Negroes and Labour must join together. Just as the women’s movement being “for” women and the rebellion tive is founded on the least powerful-the wageless. In addition. based on the to perform a certain kind of work. learnt a good deal of this from the Black move- we are now dependent. This perspec. And even if she is relatively well placed in a seven-year-old sum up her son’s education with precision: “They’re the hierarchy of labour powers (rare enough!). The other. It is here in this strategy that the lines between the revolutionary Black and the revolutionary feminist movements begin to blur. from country to country. ment teaches less by words than by the power it exercises which. of being exploited in order to be able to eat. a demand to be autonomous of men on whom their caste position. however. adopting what appeared to be only a caste position in opposition to The Third World is the most massive repository of this industrial re. For no man can represent us as care and discipline. they must be disciplined and trained The strategy of feminist class struggle is. in what would seem to some a strange place). London. The phrase class weighs her down. Intellectuals in Har- serve army. first. the identity of specific sets of workers. in schools and in front women any more than whites can speak about and themselves end the of the telly to be future workers. we demand money without working ment. But this has two aspects. (The second most massive is the kitchen in the metropolis. her labour of producing and reproducing the working work. children. but for now let the West Indian mother of but not only if she is Black. We offer them what In the first place. the destiny.” sexual object of men.) lem and Malcolm X. 12 5 . no woman can escape that identity. these children must be coerced into accepting discipline and price is an end to their privilege over us. The labour that capital wants done wageless woman in the home. Reinforcing capital’s of children being “for” children. Algiers. We even have time. is divided and each category parceled out internationally as the life side the home. both appeared to place colour above class when the white Left border are the labour power for shitwork in Paris.” and the farms of California and Florida. international division of labour is a standing army of unemployed who The Black movement in the U. weakens her capacity to struggle-she doesn’t often used to describe this is the international division of labour. and open for the first time the possibility of refusing later it was. The children.break down the power relations among us on which is based the hier. are those who from birth are the objects of this archical rule of international capital.

1976. was the power of the Black trained always to do for others. The parallels that are drawn between the Black and women’s move- 2 For an analysis of the antagonistic relationship between workers and trade unions ments can always turn into an 11-plus: who is more exploited? Our see S. interweaving of forces which is the working class. It appears often that the interests of Blacks are contradicted by the plantation. history tions. We found that redefining class went hand-in-hand with re. He was a leading Aboli- men are working class. chy of struggle. whether we knew it or not. for example.” as Avis says. The Black slave who not in the factory. which these form are layers whose struggle tends to be aimed at mov- ing up in the capitalist hierarchy rather than at destroying it. three. Women. ex-slaves like Sojourner Truth. to speak contradicting the other. The Unions and Work. Labour parties. Falling Wall Press. There was a male speaker. It was a movement for class struggle. The real bind was that this formed the Abolitionist Movement and organized the Underground Left assured us they spoke in the name of Marxism. we are seeking to 6 11 . as women. if the struggle’s petus from the exercise of power by Black people. They had to defend their right. . Why? the home. The struggle by workers against organizations they formed there repeated itself-almost. they confronted more sharply the class interest when there seems not one but two. They threatened Railroad for the escape to the North also gave white women-and again that if we broke from them. and all women expressed in the day-to-day rebellion in sink into our consciousness. children or Black for women’s rights. and it is similar with men and women. who suffered There were deeper reasons too why caste and class seemed contradic.2 liberation. they called their own conference. This time it was not for the vote but for a very and in the society generally . each their own situation. left their homes not to free themselves- movement. James. it’s not the class struggle. republished with a new Postscript. Another source of confusion is that not all women. . There is no class “purity. . According to them. We are seeking to describe that complex lished in 1972. the women’s movement came into being. Many did. four. etc. By 1848 at Seneca Falls. 8) main in the hands of the white male power structure. This is only to say that within the movements tionist. But once those white women had taken their first de- the interests of whites. limitations in which the female personality was imprisoned. organizationally or politically. But power would re- were the most comprehensive working class struggle . as capital had in the hierarchy of labour power. in public against slavery. because. couraged by Black women. seating at the in theory and practice. fearless of the consequences. Bristol. They had to re- nounce the privilege even to strike out for power. They were refused. New York. Women.” not even in shop floor organiza. And so And when young white women headed South on the Freedom Ride within each movement there is a struggle about which class interest the buses in the early 60s of this century and discovered that their male movement will serve. or what is not to be unions. His name was Frederick the different goal that they formed a movement. is one of the most difficult revolutionary tasks. they had been the breeders of labour power on tory. an occasion to transcend the breaking with Marx and scientific socialism. Abolitionist conference of 1840 in London because they were women. What gave us the bold. the demands of Blacks and the forms of struggle created by Blacks tached to that salary which was not their own. One reason is because some of us wore the blinkers of the white male It is not the first time either that a women’s movement received its im- Left. being women. we were the more privileged of them-a chance. (p. first pub- purpose here is not parallels. that would have been outrageous-but to free “the slave.” They were en- discovering a Marx the Left would never understand. that confront us. ness to break. It was the class struggle and this took a while to in the streets. But this is the history also of white male workers’ (white and Black) comrades had a special place for them in the hierar- movements. On the It is not then that the Black movement “wandered off into the class tide of working class power which the Black movement had expressed struggle. To grasp cisive step out of the feminine mould. He had been a slave.

Exactly the opposite is the case. inhuman. your race. Oh yes. Black woman? Is it auxiliary to the class struggle (as the white Left has it) or is it more fundamental to the class struggle (as Black nationalists It is not an accident because when constituted power was confronted.” (Here I think Avis is con. how cold she feels at the bus stop and then how hot in the crowded bus.) The Black movement has. there are those who talk about this “dividing the working class. Hutchinson. of the Black movement or the autonomy of the women’s movement. to be organizationally au. women and their movement over decades or centuries may appear to deny that society’s relation to had also to be autonomous of that part of the “hierarchy of labour international capitalism. it made a way for the rest of the working class everywhere to From where does this culture spring which is so different from a man’s move in its own specific interests. We women moved. marriage to a man with a good 3 For the best demystification of culture I know which shows. salary would be rewarded by a fine house to be imprisoned in. a new possibility opened for all women. and even Beyond a Boundary. and radical feminists have it) because it is special to your sex.The women’s movement was the next major movement of the class in Let’s put the relation of caste to class another way. whites. Culture is also the shrill the lowest levels of the hierarchy must themselves find the key to their of the alarm clock that rings at 6a. For Blacks it was but one basic point can be quickly clarified. ceasing to wear mini-skirts and class to unite in spite of the divisions which are inherent in its very taking to trousers instead. a Black servant. It is a subject too wide to go into deeply here powers” which capital used specifically against them. yet they are often taken as identical. The life-style unique to themselves which a people develop once they Strange to think that even today. The most powerful at home and abroad. they would have privilege for as long as they were at- 10 7 .” down the centres of that metropolis and challenged all constituted au- thority. you meanwhile thinking what to make for tea that night. how West Indian cricket has carried in its heart racial and class conflicts. in the United States chal. Like the Black movement before it. For women it was men. Culture is the plural society” (though many of its “leaders” have). in response to and in rebellion against it. This is neither an if you are a woman and different too from a white woman’s if you are a accident nor the first time events have moved in this sequence. A national culture which has evolved tonomous of capital and its institutions.” Strange To delimit culture is to reduce it to a decoration of daily life. your nationality and the moment in time when you are these of men to whom was delegated some of this power saw through the things? noble mask of education. when confronted with the autonomy are enmeshed by capitalism. James. The word “culture” is the metropolis to find for itself a power base outside the factory as well often used to show that class concepts are narrow. philistine. Culture is fusing white working class struggle with trade union/Labour party making the tea while your man watches the news on the telly. when a Black woman in London weakness. For Black women it is both. For example. the daughters your age. wishing your life away. Culture is how you feel on Monday morning at eight when you The Black movement has not in our view “integrated into capitalism’s clock in.m. on the contrary. it has not “been speed of the line or the weight and smell of dirty hospital sheets. and subsumed to white working class strategy. And culture is an “irrational woman” walking out of the kitchen into lenged and continues to challenge the most powerful capitalist State the sitting room and without a word turning off the telly “for no reason in the world. Culture is point and shatter it.R. the clash between the soul of Black Baptism structure-factory versus plantation versus home versus schools-those at and the guilt and sin of white Protestantism. medicine and the law for which their moth- ers had sacrificed their lives. see C. When it burnt at all.L. as in it. must themselves find their own modes of struggle. for example. must themselves find the strategy which will attack that wakes her children to get them ready for the baby minder. strategy. They are mortal enemies. London 1963.3 Culture is indeed when our experience has told us that in order for the working plays and poetry about the exploited. cannot be understood at all except as the totality of their capitalist lives. wishing it was Friday.

They are the particularized forms of indirect rule. working class organizations have been able so to mediate the struggle ism. on the other hand. . These power vidual labourers are appropriated and annexed for life by a limited relations within the working class weaken us in the power struggle be- function. 8 9 . develops a hierarchy of labour powers. “con. Race. more money. then. office. And so people assume that this national division of labour is posed as power relationships within the was the intention of workers in demanding. sexism. A hierarchy of labour powers and scale of wages to correspond. is that we have.” which they identify as white. espe- struggle. But house- expense of all others. to which The social power relations of the sexes.Our identity. It is Volume I of Marx’s Capital. So planting cane or tea is not a job for white people with the white male power structure in the metropolis is an “exotic and changing nappies is not a job for men and beating children is not historical accident. to participate in its society. not class. working class. white Left eyes. nations and generations there corresponds a scale of wages. we are divided international division of labour. internationally. If.” The work you do and the wages you receive are not merely cially if they are trade union eyes. . determinants of social power. from the rest of ers who are wageless.” in the words of Marx. he lectively as a class. The unskilled white male worker. an exploited human being who is increasingly disconnected from capital’s perspective for him to work.” Divided by the capitalist organization of society violence. school. identity-caste-is the very substance class into “economic determinants”-greater capitalist control for a pit- of class. however. male and over 21. more wages. Blacks. which there corresponds no wage at all. who are dependents. To be liberated from them (or is not the working class but organizations which claim to be of and for through them) appears to be independent from our liberation from that class which reduce the continual struggle for social power by that capitalist wage slavery. Our feminism bases itself on a hitherto too by the very institutions which claim to represent our struggle col- invisible stratum of the hierarchy of labour powers . the Black movement was the first section of the class To proceed on the basis of a hierarchical structure among waged and massively to take its autonomy from these organizations. see race. plantation. have been told that their confrontation mutual relations. each an indispensable element of the into factory. age. exclusively on the economic determinants of the class Black workers burn the centre of a city. than pay the capitalist back for the rise. Here is where the inter. sex. workers from the Third World. tance more a week.the housewife . racist and sexist though he and sexism training us to develop and acquire certain capabilities at the is. the indi. . are precisely. nation. us. tween the classes. recognizes himself as the victim of these organizations. p. Racism to vote. home and street. class. Then these acquired capabilities are taken to be wives. One of the reasons why these so-called In two sentences is laid out the deep material connection between rac. It nected from our capitalist functions. 349) imposing its own will on us all. for example. either through inflation or through more in- Here is the “strange place” where we found the key to the relation of tense exploitation (often in the form of productivity deals) which more class to caste written down most succinctly. Wage rises that unions negotiate often turn out to be standstills or even cuts. and fix also the quality of our from the definition of class. more “universal social power. and to break unwaged slavery is not. In the metropolis. the various operations of the hierar. on the one hand. the way we are seen. When centrating . away from the containment of the struggle only in the factory. “economic” but social determinants. . In my view. Manufacture . particularized forms of class relations. races. excluded our nature and fix our functions for life. young people. national chauvinism and the chauvinism of the genera. chy are parceled out among the labourers according to both their one section of the class colonizing another and through this capital natural and their acquired capabilities. our social roles. allowed them to isolate “the working tions who are working for wages against children and old age pension. appears to be discon. (Moscow 1958. as Avis accuses the working class of doing.