When this book was first published three years ago, it was already clear that the international movement of women had upset basic assumptions on which this society rested. In confronting what happens in the family and on the street, we have had to confront what happens in the factory, the office, the hospital, the school - in every institution of capitalist society.
This book offered the women's movement a cohesive analysis, drawing on the descriptions by the movement of our diverse grievances. It offered a material foundation for 'sisterhood'. That material foundation was the social activity, the work, which the female personality was shaped to submit to. That work was housework.
In singling out the work of the housewife as that for which women are trained and by which women are defined; in identifying its product as labour power - the working class -this book broke with all those previous analyses of capitalist society which began and ended in the factory, which began and ended with men. Our isolation in the family while doing our work had hidden its social nature. The fact that it brought no wage had hidden that it was work.
Serving men and children in wageless isolation had hidden that we were servingcapital. Now we know that we are not only indispensable to capitalist production in those countries where we are 45% of their waged labour force We are always their indispensable workforce, at home, cleaning, washing and ironing; making, disciplining and bringing up babies; servicing men physically, sexually and emotionally.
If our wageless work is the basis of our powerlessness in relation both to men and to capital, as this book, and our daily experience, confirm, then wages for that work, which alone will make it possible for us to reject that work, must be our lever of power. If our need for a wage and our need to break from our isolation have driven us to a second job outside the home, to more work at low pay, then our alternative to isolation and wagelessness must be a social/ struggle for the wage.
This perspective and practice derives directly from the theoretical analysis of this book. But even when the authors understood that Wages for Housework was the perspective which flowed logically from their analysis, they could not know all its implication. (See footnotes 16 and 1 7 on pp.54-55 below.) The book has been the starting point not for 'a school of thought' but for an international network of organisations which are campaigning for Wages for Housework.
Some of those who have disagreed with the analysis, and with the perspective ofWages for Housework that flows from it, have said that the perspective may apply to Italy but not to Britain or North America. The fact that an Italian woman, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, signed the main article, was proof for them of its geographic limitations. In fact, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James wrote'Women and the Subversion of the Community' together, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa herself has said publicly many times. The proof of the international implications of the analysis, however, lies not in the national origins of its authors, but in the international campaign for Wages for Housework which has now begun.
Power of Women Collective,Comitato per il Salano Britainal Lavoro Domestico di Padova July 1975(Padua Wages for Housework Committee)
PUBLISHERS' NOTE We have left the text of Selma James's introduction unchanged, even though, as the above Foreword makes clear, in referring to 'Women and the Subversion of the Community Selma James is in fact referring to an article of which she joint author.