It’s no secret that women, and particularly women of color, are often the most under-valued, exploited and lowest paid members of our workforces. Often reproductive laborers, these workers experience disproportionately high rates of labor inequality.
This means that throughout history they have often had to be at the forefront of the strikes, fights and struggles for better working conditions for all. Today, on May 1st, we celebrate International Workers´ Day and pay tribute to all the activists who have fought for workers and worker’s rights movements around the world, and to all reproductive laborers in particular, whose work is overlooked and undervalued.
Reproductive labor is often associated with domestic work or housework. In fact, it goes far beyond that. Reproductive labor includes collecting garbage, cleaning food, caring for people, and providing education. It is fundamental to the functioning of society.
In the 1970s, Marxist feminists, such as Margaret Benston and Peggy Morton, came to the realization that male workers were able to work in factories and earn money in no small part thanks to the labor by women who supported them. These women remained at home, providing all fundamental labor: cooking, cleaning, washing, giving birth to and caring for future workers. This labor was, however, invisible. It was completed at home and workers did not receive financial compensation. No longer accepting this as the status quo, Marxist feminists began demanding wages for housework from state governments and companies, arguing that they were engaging in the exploitation of women.
It’s important that we replace terms such as domestic work or housework with reproductive labor. Reproductive labor is more all-encompassing, and helps us to answer some important questions. Such as why people who do this labor have been systematically exploited, who has exploited them, and how this labor and people who do this labor should be centered in society.
This International Workers’ Day, let’s remember that labor equality is not a given. There are still battles to fight and solidarity needed!
If you are interested and willing to learn more on Reproductive Labor, feel free to check out the brilliant Center of Reproductive Labor, an educational platform on reproductive labor in solidarity with migrant domestic workers in the Netherlands and abroad.