The campaign for a living wage has taken off internationally led by cleaners, McDonald’s employees, caretakers, hospital and other workers. But will mothers and other carers be included or will we continue to be treated as ‘workless’ scroungers?
The International Women’s Conference, Caring, Survival and Justice vs the Tyranny of the Market, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 November will address this and more.
Forty years after all the women of Iceland went on general strike and brought the country to a halt, women still do two-thirds of the world’s work, including growing most of the world’s food. We remain the primary carers everywhere: for children and for sick, disabled and elderly people, in the family and outside, in war as in peace. Without caring work society cannot function. Yet far from being supported, women are the poorer sex and carers are not considered workers.
When Nadiya Jamir Hussain won the Great British Bake Off she said she was ‘proud to represent stay-at-home mums’ and spoke about the ‘negativity’ she faced in an age when mothers are expected to prove their worth by going out to work: ‘As a mum that was quite tough’.
Selma James, co-ordinator of the Global Women’s Strike, will open the conference, pointing to the neglect of the carer and the people who need care as the basis of sexism. ‘They don’t want women to have the power that our reproductive work should earn. We are told that a job, any job, is better than caring, and the skills it requires are undervalued and underfunded even in the job market – domestic work, homecare, childcare and even nursing are low paid’.
The economic and social priorities that dismiss the carer are determined not by people’s health and well-being, or even the survival of the planet which sustains all life, but by the global market. In 90 per cent of UK families the primary carer is a woman. Yet austerity attacks carers and those we care for first of all. While the 1 per cent more than doubled their income in the last 10 years, and the arms trade has risen by 22 per cent, 1 billion children worldwide live in poverty, 3.7m in the UK and 176,565 surviving on food banks.
Michelle Dorrell spoke for many on BBC Question Time when she attacked government plans to take away tax credits. ‘I can hardly afford the rent I have to pay. I can hardly afford the bills I’ve got to do, and you’re going to take more from me. Shame on you!’ Many go without so their children can eat. Many do three or four low-paid jobs. Many do sex work to pay the rent. Even junior doctors (60 per cent of whom are women under 30) are being targeted: pressured to work longer for less and to lose their maternity protection.
Speakers and participants will include women from Greece, Haiti, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Scotland, Spain, Thailand, USA, and men who share our perspective. We will be able to exchange experiences, and discuss strengthening our campaigning: from our right to asylum from war and starvation, to opposing racism and other discrimination, to defending the environment. Caring is also justice work: fighting for loved ones when they are sacked, raped, killed, imprisoned or detained for trying to survive, for blowing the whistle, for organising.
Caring is not just an industry profiting from our needs, but the perspective of a movement which is demanding that the market be at the service of people rather than people at the service of the market.
We have got used to measuring sexism by how many women have made it to the commanding heights of the economy and politics. Professor Alison Wolf (keynote speaker) has attacked as a ‘betrayal of feminism’ this ‘modern obsession’ with women at the top, while the poorly paid mainly women shift workers on which these ‘golden skirts’ depend, are ignored.
Working with Women, the policy of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, recognises caring as skilled work; the SNP promises to raise carer’s allowance; and the Greens propose a basic income for all. And what about technology cutting the working day rather than wages so we all have time to care? What about redirecting economic and social policies by paying all workers, including mothers, a living wage? See the petition for a living wage for mothers and other carers.
The event is organised by Global Women’s Strike, Women of Colour in GWS and Payday (network of men working with GWS). Please buy tickets in advance. Conference venue: WAC Arts, Hampstead Old Town Hall. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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