Labor without Ends

Anna E. Clark

My Brilliant Friend (2012) The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), The Story of the Lost Child (2015), by Elena Ferrante, Translated by Ann Goldstein, Europa Editions.

In her 1975 essay “Wages Against Housework,” feminist activist Silvia Federici argues that “housework”—cooking, cleaning, care, sex, kids—should be acknowledged as work, as something taken from the person who performs it and put to ends that are not her own. Part of a collective of Marxist and post-Marxist feminists working across Europe and North America, Federici had recently helped to launch “Wages for Housework” (or WfH), a campaign premised on the assertion that any attempt at class struggle must first contend with the unwaged domestic work expected of women. Written at time when New Left activists were accusing WfH of sidelining the interests of the industrial proletariat, Federici’s essay is both a rallying cry and a defense. Wages are not an end in themselves, she asserts; rather, they’re the only proof under capitalism that labor has taken place. “Exploited as you might be,” Federici explains, wages allow you to show that “you are not that work.[1]

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