Four Labor Reforms Feminists Should Be Fighting For This Year

Wages for Housework

If you’re a woman and you’re reading this, chances are you already understand how much extra work we do. Many of us leave our houses to go to work, only to come home to more work: housework. This work is culturally expected of women, unpaid, and generally not considered “real work” —more of a labor of love. The international wages for housework movement married feminism and Marxism in the fight for women’s autonomy at work in the shop and at work in the home, against both their bosses and their husbands (who control their housework.)

Housework makes all other work possible. It allows workers to leave the home for waged work, and it contributes millions of dollars to our economy on its own. When we refuse to pay the (mostly women) workers for this work, we’re ignoring their contributions to our economy—in any other industry, it would be considered wage theft. Wages for housework is still a radical idea, yes, but it would be liberating for half the population.

Women who work only at home, whether temporarily or permanently, would be able to have their own income—paid for by the state, unrelated to a partner—and have financial independence from their spouse.

Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

Speaking of valuing domestic labor, here is an idea that is gathering momentum right now. There are over two million domestic workers in the US, and the vast majority of them are women—and many are immigrants, Black women, and women of color. But none of them are covered by the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantees the most workers access to basic protections in the US. This exclusion of domestic workers (and farm workers) can be traced back to slavery, when Black people were forced to work in homes and on land for free.

Because domestic workers primarily work inside of other people’s homes, their work is often invisible to other people. This, coupled with the fact that their work is undervalued as “women’s work,” means that domestic workers have an uphill battle fighting for dignity and respect—including paid vacation, sick days, and basic legal protections from harassment and exploitation.

But the National Domestic Workers Alliance (for transparency: my employer) is bringing domestic workers together to make big, visionary changes. Thanks to power organizing, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to expand labor protections for nannies, house cleaners, and caregivers. Other cities can and should do the same.

Ending the Tipped Minimum Wage

Every piece of research on the tipped minimum wage, which applies to service industry workers and has racist origins, points to the obvious: workers who are paid a separate and lower minimum wage are poorer than workers who are paid the regular minimum wage. It also, of course, maintains and prolongs gender inequality — women represent more than ⅔ of tipped minimum wage workers. And when your pay is dependent on someone finding you interesting, funny, kind, and of course, conventionally attractive, it means women do a lot of emotional labor to pay their bills, along with their “paid work” of bartending or serving.

Tipped minimum wage workers’ livelihoods are dependent on the benevolence of strangers. Even though restaurant owners are required to ensure that tipped workers receive at least the regular minimum wage (if they’re not getting good tips or their shift is slow, etc.), many employers ignore this law, leaving workers to scrape by, unable to depend on a stable paycheck. Their paycheck of the absurdly low $2.13 per hour often amounts to a big fat zero after taxes and other withholdings. To immediately raise standards for women workers, the tipped minimum wage should be abolished – and while we’re at it, the regular minimum wage should be bumped to $15 per hour.

Four-Day Work Week

The four-day work week is actually a mutually beneficial arrangement. Not that I care about the boss, but examples from companies who have tried this show that moving from a five-day work week to a four-day work week is a win for both employers and employees (alternatives include a 6-hour work day). Workers are happier, obviously, and job performance remains the same. Although all workers would benefit from a shortened week, women, particularly mothers, have a unique perspective. Many mothers return to work from maternity leave for part time hours (and part time pay), while doing full time work. This would help lessen their work while raising their pay—and giving them more time to do their domestic work (see above). 

But for workers of all genders, a shortened schedule means we have more time with our friends, our families, and our hobbies—including fighting for a world in which none of our labor is exploited. So until we have socialism, we’ll take the four day work week— as long it’s five days of pay!

Mindy Isser is a labor organizer in Philadelphia.  

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