Buried Treasure: Quotes from Women, the Unions and Work

women, the unions and work cover

Women, Unions and Work or... What is not to be done and The Perspective of Winning
by Selma James, 1972.

This 32 page booklet is available
online at CaringLabor Archive and AKPress.

"...the only thing wrong with unemployment is that you don't get a pay packet."


"This 'double slavery' of being expected to carry the burden of two jobs, one inside and the other outside the home, is the most dangerous response to our rebellion: capital planned it a long time ago, even before the women's movement surfaced..."

"No doubt there are times when it may seem to women that we have no choice but to demand a second job; or demand that at least we have some choice in the second job we take... But if we limit ourselves to this, if this is our programme, our strategy, and we are unable to rise above this level of power, all we are doing is organizing women to be more efficiently and mercilessly exploited.

"It is the threat of closure of the mines that the government thought would keep the mining community quiet. Instead the people from the mine areas made clear from their strike that they didn't consider spending your life in a mine or scrubbing filthy clothes and nursing people with silicosis was an ideal existence. Their strike meant that they were saying: take your mines and shove them. They refused to beg for the right to be exploited."

"...some workers thought that an unwork-in was a better idea than a work-in. No need to say where the unions stand on this when they are desperately trying to shove "we want jobs" placards into workers' hands. You would think it is immoral to be disengaged from exploitation. The only thing 'wrong' with unemployment is that you don't get a pay packet."

"Our concern must be demands with which the movement articulates in few words the breadth of its rejection of the oppression and exploitation of women.:

"1. WE DEMAND THE RIGHT TO WORK LESS. A shorter work week for all. Why should anybody work more than 20 hours a week? Housewives are hesitant to as men after a week of at least 40 grinding hours to see after their own children and their own underwear. Yet women do just that, for themselves and for men. When women are threatened with redundancies, the struggle must be for a shorter work week. (Maybe men will take our lead for a change.)

"2. WE DEMAND A GUARANTEED INCOME FOR WOMEN AND FOR MEN WORKING OR NOT WORKING, MARRIED OR NOT. If we raise kids, we have a right to a living wage. The ruling class has glorified motherhood only when there is a pay packet to support it. We work for the capitalist class. Let them pay us, or else we can go to the factories and offices and put our children in their father's laps. Let's see if they can make Ford cars and change nappies at the same time. WE DEMAND WAGES FOR HOUSEWORK. All housekeepers are entitled to wages (men too).

"3. It is in this context that WE DEMAND CONTROL OF OUR BODIES. If even birth control were free, would that be control? And if we could have free abortions on demand, is that control? What about the children we want and can't afford? We are forced to demand abortion and sterilization as we have been forced to demand jobs. Give us money and give us time, and we'll be in a better position to control our bodies, our minds and our relationships. Free birth control, free abortions for whoever wants them (including our sisters from abroad who are denied even legal abortion-sisterhood is international).WE DEMAND THE RIGHT TO HAVE OR NOT HAVE CHILDREN.

"But childbearing is not the only function of our bodies that capital controls. At work we make them do what they don't want to do: repeated jerks on an assembly line, constant sitting or standing, breathing fumes and dirt. Work is often painful and dangerous. It is always uncomfortable and tiring. After work your body is too numb for you to feel it as something you can enjoy. For this reason it cannot develop sexually. Our physical feeling is further destroyed by the limited kinds of sexuality and the shallow relationships this society promotes and by the scarcity of times and places where we can make love. Our bodies become a tool for production and reproduction and nothing else.



"6. WE DEMAND FREE COMMUNITY CONTROLLED NURSERIES AND CHILD CARE. [...] Children, women and men must be able to learn from each other and break the ghetto existence to which they are each confined. [...] We need time and we need money to destroy the prisons in which our children, our grandparents and our sick people are confined. "

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