By Waltham Forest Left Unity member Susan Pashkoff.
Originally published at: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/03/15/1371096/-Anti-Capitalist-Meetup-24-hour-Childcare-A-Revolutionary-idea-that-is-an-obtainable-reform on 15 March.
Today is Mother’s Day in Britain (aka “Mothering Sunday”) and this topic is extremely appropriate. The idea of accessing 24 hour childcare is an old one … the questions that arise are why this is an important issue and why we should we be advocating for it? The next obvious question is how can we actually obtain it, in other words, what policies can ensure that this is viable and offers a positive transformation (that offers fulfilment to women and children where their needs and wants are covered) rather than a negative one?
How do we understand the oppression of women? Is it something that can be easily solved with reforms within the system (e.g., unequal pay, equality under the law, access to education and work)? Or does our oppression derive from the nature of class societies, property ownership, and our role in social reproduction? For me, it is the latter and that is why I do not think that reforms are sufficient, but they certainly can be done and must be done, if only to address inequality. These reforms may not affect our oppression much (which will require the overthrow of class societies based upon property), but they will make our lives easier and they will also get allies to understand the nature of our oppression. I do not know about you, but I simply refuse to wait until the revolution for women’s oppression to be understood and inequality to be addressed. We are raised in the context of our societies and if we do not address this before we transform society, then, I am certain that those raised in these societies will never understand the need for change (or it will always be put off as there are other more immediate things that need to be addressed, as usual).
The Seven Demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Britain)
I found these demands rather impressive and wanted to share them with people. We can actually see the evolution of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s (the second wave of feminism) with the added motions.
Something that I found rather depressing was contemplating how many of these demands have come to fruition … by my reckoning very few and yet these demands are obvious and needed. They will not eliminate women’s oppression, but they would go a long way towards addressing inequality. Also, I think that some of them need to be updated as we can see that it is not only equal pay that is relevant, we need to address wealth accumulation, we need to address caring for the sick and elderly which falls under women’s social reproduction.
We should begin with women’s role in social reproduction which will explain the need for 24 hour childcare.
Social reproduction is not only physical reproduction of giving birth to children; even those who have not done so understand that the physical birth is just the beginning of the process. It includes education and socialisation, nursing and loving care of the child, ensuring they are clothed, fed, clean, and able to develop as individuals irrespective of what potential role they have in our societies. Social reproduction involves a whole series of activities to ensure that children can survive in the societies in which we live. Moreover, social reproduction includes caring, nursing and support for the elderly (just as they cared for you, you do the same), for the sick (children and extended family), and for those with infirmities (the vast majority of caring is done by family members). In the vast majority of cases, this is done by mothers, by daughters, by wives and partners.
This work is predominately undertaken by women; usually mothers of the children and in cultures which have a strong extended family, sisters, aunts and grandmothers share this responsibility. Moreover, this work (which involves a wide variety of tasks and skills: cooking, cleaning, sewing, teaching, nursing, caring, socialisation – think what would happen if children are not toilet trained for example or that children do not know that fire can be dangerous, or that they do not understand the terms “safe” or “dangerous”) is not seen to be work, but falls under the name of social responsibility and there is no financial compensation for this work, it is essentially unpaid labour.
Social reproduction in the context of a modern nuclear family is a task primarily done by women at home. Moreover, this preserves the absurd idea that women’s paid labour is only “pin money” as it is men that are the primary “bread-winners.” Women are viewed (incorrectly) as only working to supplement income, but not as supporting the household.
This is absurd in many senses, the stagnation (and lowering) of incomes throughout the advanced capitalist world requires both parents to work (if there is a couple) to cover needs (our incomes are not dispensable), single mothers’ earnings are the main support for her family, and hey, guess what, sometimes women actually have the larger income … so a reality check is in order. We are not living in the past and we need to understand, yes, that women actually work. Moreover, most of us actually want to work (the horror!).
Now, maybe it was me, but my mother could not wait to get back to work (I really don’t think it was me; as she told me how much she loved me but that she was bored to tears. I went to the library, after-school activities and played with the kids in the neighbourhood). She worked part-time as a teacher’s aide until I was old enough to come from and go to school on my own and then switched to full-time working as a paraprofessional in Special Education. She didn’t do this for pin money, she did this for the satisfaction of working, contributing to our household’s income and for her own financial independence (it was her money and she did not have to ask my father for money if she wanted to do something) (see: financial independence in the 7 demands of feminism). And, even after working, what did she come home to do? She came home and then cleaned the house, cooked dinner, and looked after me and my father (all without being paid for it). That is the double burden that women have and this is the case for all but the wealthy (who can get servants to do it for them).
As this traditional women’s labour is deemed “women’s work,” if it is done for payment, invariably, skills and importance to society are underrated and wages are low. There is still significant gender job segregation both in terms of type of employment and whether it is full-time or part-time. It is assumed that anyone can do it, that skills are low level, and hence there is a surfeit of people that can do this labour. Add to that the fact that the majority of this work is unpaid labour done at home, then why should they hire people to do it?
What is important to understand is that this work is necessary; it is extremely important (it is downright essential) and in its absence, society cannot be reproduced (and we are not only talking about the labour force here). As such, it is socially necessary labour (labour that is required to reproduce the society and for that matter, the working class). However, it is a form of work where there are serious limits to profits that can be obtained (that means that it is not “productive” of a surplus product; everything is consumed and there is not extra produced; as such, it is not “productive” labour where more than is needed to reproduce things exactly is needed; you can think of this as producing subsistence if the term unproductive or not productive is distressing). Sometimes it is a luxury good affordable to the wealthy only (i.e., nannies), but most often it is considered low skilled labour done by women. Think about sweated labour in the garment trades doing sewing, while tailoring was considered a skilled job.
Exchange value and use value of labour power
One important issue that we need to understand is that, like commodities, the labour power of human beings which is sold in the market has two components: its use value and its exchange value. The use value relates to whether a skill or a type of labour actually produces something that satisfies needs. The exchange value relates to whether this labour produces goods and services that enable capitalists to obtain a product (or its value) over and above costs (a surplus or surplus value) which (when the product produced is sold) can be realised as profits. In the absence of the latter, the labour is not hired by employers as their sole interests are current and future profitability. One thing we need to understand about social reproduction and whether it will be taken up by the private sector depends upon its potential profitability. This means that if we want to ensure that social reproduction is to be done outside of the family itself, it is not to the private sector that we should turn.
The reasons for this are two-fold: 1) profit maximising criteria means that cost cutting is essential and that will fall inevitably on workers; so wages will remain low; 2) we are talking about our children here, we want them to have the best possible experience (both to play, to learn, to have support and care. That means that we must be in control over what is offered and not have it determined by what is profitable for private providers.
Why is there a need for 24 hour childcare?
While many have addressed this question relating to flexible work hours and women’s ability to do paid labour outside the home, there are additional issues that are relevant that we must take into consideration.
Sweden has introduced 24 hour childcare; hopefully, we can learn positive lessons and avoid the negative ones from their experiences. With a maternal working rate of 76.8% (2012) and a female labour force participation rate of 71.8%, and flexible working arrangements, Sweden has tried to coherently address the issue of ensuring women’s participation in the workforce while not sacrificing motherhood in the process.
But let’s start with the ability to do paid employment if one needs it and also wants it. These are two separate things: one needs to work to have a higher level of income (beyond what you could receive as benefits) to keep a roof over your head, clean water and energy in the house, clothes on your back and food in your bellies. In a society in which those are not given for free, paid employment is required to get them. Social Welfare benefits only afford a low level of these (and everyone wants the best for themselves and family) and your ability to obtain these is dependent upon politics (as those facing austerity have discovered to their misery). Some women do not need to work (independent wealth, sufficient income provided by partners), but want to do it for the satisfaction, contribution to society and financial freedom.
Women are over-represented as part-time workers and that is in large part due to their family responsibilities. Also, given working hours and the fact that there are different shifts; we need to be able to know that are children are covered. So if we need to be at work at 7, that means that we need to be able to leave our children at childcare earlier. Those working second and third shift, need to know that their kids have a safe place to go to or to be watched at home safely and with care.
However, there is more to the issue. Women also want to have leisure time, they may want to get additional education (one friend mentioned learning a language), they may want to go to groups (e.g., political, sports, dance, reading) to participate, they may want some “me time”; they also need support (this is especially the case of those that care for elderly, sick and infirm members of society (of all ages) — that is also part of social reproduction). Those that think caring for children, the elderly, the infirm and the sick is easy have clearly never done it. It is hard work, it requires patience and support and it should not be the responsibility of women to do it on their own without support and assistance. Even the most loving, selfless and generous person needs a break; that is really not too much to ask.
Let’s also talk about socialisation. A nuclear family in which gender roles are strictly defined reproduces women’s role in society and that is where children are raised and where they learn about these gender roles. A different form of child rearing and socialisation where gender roles are not reproduced (as this can be done by men as well as women) can lead to a different perception of gender roles in society and how people fit into society. We can teach cooperation and community solidarity and support rather than individualism and competition. Things can change, the issue is how do we want to change things and how do we want society to be?
How can it be done?
There are women that do want to stay home, and look after home and children, and that is a valid life choice. There are women that are forced into employment as they need the money and would rather stay home and care for their families. Then there are women that want to work and also want to be certain that their children and home are clean, safe, secure, loved and appreciated (useful data on maternal working rates in Europe). The way in which the system functions is that women are often forced to be one or the other as to choose to be a mom means that you are unable to do other things (working full-time, getting an education), while those that decide to pursue careers often have to give up being a mother; in some countries these are mutually exclusive choices. Child-care exists and is expensive if privately run which means that you are often working to cover its costs; if provided by employers and the state, it does not cover those times where you are not working day shift.
We could argue that since women’s labour at home is unpaid, that they receive wages for housework which was advocated by Selma James, Brigitte Galtier, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and Silvia Federici who founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign. This will provide an income for stay-at-home moms. However, that will only cover those that want to stay home and take care of family and homes. Not all women want to do this …
What about those that want to work, go to university, go to a movie, or go out with friends, or on a date? What about those that need assistance and support with caring responsibilities? How can we cover them? This is where the idea of 24 hour childcare (and for that matter, socialisation of caring comes in to the picture). The scheme is non-compulsory, so you do not have to take it up if you do not want to. Nobody is forcing you to work, put your children into child-care, or forcing you to get education and training.
The idea is that it exists for those that want it. That is simple. You do not have to take it; you do not have to give up your home and family. If you want it, you can access it.
It will not be done by the private sector that prioritises profitability over human needs; it will instead be done in communities, in Crèches, it can be done in your homes (if that is preferred); the funding will be provided by the government and trained professionals will do the work, if they are wanted by women in the different communities.
It will not be an institutionalisation of caring for children; no one wants to take your child away from you, no one wants the horror of the “orphanages” of Romania under Ceaușescu caused by inaccessibility of birth control and abortion (I am sure that I am not the only person shivering in horror at the thought). What we want and need is a supportive and caring environment of childcare to fulfil the needs of parents and children. We want women and children to have the best of all possible worlds. This does not mean putting your child into 24 hour childcare and abandoning them; instead it is the opposite.
Throughout the piece, I have been talking about socialisation of caring. I want to go into a bit of detail on this as it is a generalisation of 24 hour childcare in many senses.
Women’s role in social reproduction means that they bear primary responsibility for caring for the young, the sick, the infirm and the elderly. They are unpaid; in those cases where social assistance is available to carers it is a small amount of money. Moreover, as the news over in Britain keeps reporting, we are entering a situation where people are living longer; families cannot provide the care that is required for their elderly members and we need to ensure that the elderly can live full and contented lives where they never feel like a burden on their family or society in general. This is a situation that is not going to go away. Not all elderly people need care and support, but those of advanced age probably do. Insufficient savings to provide for old age means that if/when the family cannot care for them, they are either alone or dependent upon charities.
In terms of those caring for family members with disabilities, that is an issue that needs to be discussed seriously. What is happening in Britain is that carers received money if those they cared for obtained Disability Living Allowance (which is meant to help those with infirmities to cover the extra needs caused by their disabilities). The assessment tests of whether you are eligible for DLA has caused people to lose their DLA and that means that their carers have lost the income as well. They are still caring for the individual, but they are no longer able to access benefits. So those with disabilities have lost the income that they need and those that care for them lost their income as well. In both cases, the situation of the disabled individual has not changed; but the private company doing assessments has decided that they are not disabled enough … whatever that means … (it means that they will essentially free to starve to death)
The idea of socialisation of caring is an old one; it appears in Kollantai’s work (see e.g., Society and Motherhood, 1915) , it appears in Angela Davis’s work (The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework, 1981).
If instead of the majority of caring being done by female relatives that are not being paid, what about we actually bring this into paid employment? How about we actually pay people by their contribution to fulfilling the needs of society (that is, their use value) instead of how much profit can be made off their labour? Even more so, would taking this out of unpaid labour in the home and instead making it paid employment break down the gender stereotyping of traditional women’s work? If the cost is covered by the state, we do not have to worry about profitability. People that want to do this work (men and women) would have decent wages that could be negotiated through trade unions with good working conditions. Moreover, we can reduce unemployment, gender segregation in jobs and break down the use value and exchange value inequality in pay. The idea behind purple job creation is to socialise traditional women’s labour so that it is not done by women at home (for no pay) on top of the paid unemployment that they are already doing or being unable to do additional things beyond taking care of home and family; this is childcare, cleaning, cooking, care for the sick, infirm and elderly. This should not only be the role of women, it is a necessary and important job and it is about time that it is treated as such.
Caring should be a collective responsibility, a social responsibility where members of society take care and help each other, where the responsibility and the pleasure of caring is shared amongst all members of society.