Selma James

Wednesday, November 7, 2007Selma James Poster
7:00 p.m. – Stern Center, Great Room

Sex, Race and Class

Selma James, activist, author strategist. How can we defeat sexism, racism, and other violent destructive power relations among us all internationally? What are the economic connections and what do they have to do with class? A development of Sex, Race & Class, her classic of the anti-racist women’s movement. Co-sponsored by the anthropology and sociology departments.

Issue in Context
Should women be paid for their housework duties? According to the United Nations, women do two-thirds of the world’s total labor, from raising children to working in hospitals, yet they only receive five percent of the world’s assets. In a recent interview, Selma James explained that women are working even harder today than in the past, “Women are the carers, the nurturers, put the food on the table, make sure that shirts are clean for the next day, keep the children alive and have them lined up when the men come home. But still their work is not included in the GNP (gross national product). It still doesn’t count.” As the Coordinator of Global Women’s Strike, James continues to struggle for the recognition of women’s lives and work around the world.
In spite of their struggles for economic equality, women in capitalist and developing nations are still paid less than men. Those in the Wages for Housework Campaign argue that much of a woman’s time, energy, and resources are spent on household jobs, which still remain unpaid and undervalued. In her publication Sex, Race and Class, James tackles the economic basis of the power relations within the working class internationally. In addition, James examines the friction that exists between sex, race, and class which hinders the attainment of working class power. She declares that if all minorities in the working classes unite, they might more effectively achieve their goals.

About the SpeakerSelma James Pic
World renowned activist, author, women’s rights, and anti-racist campaigner, Selma James is currently the international coordinator of the Global Women’s Strike. Her husband was C.L.R. James, a Trinidadian journalist, historian, critic, socialist theorist, and writer who authored The Black Jacobins a widely acclaimed history of the Haitian revolution, which would later be seen as a seminal text in the study of the African Diaspora. James’ first pamphlet A Woman’s Place formed the seeds of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, which she founded in 1972 and 30 years later is still based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town.
When James launched the Campaign in 1972 to demand wages for housework from governments, a raging debate followed about whether caring full-time was “work” or a “duty” and whether it should be compensated with a wage. Now, after decades of women demanding payment and pensions for work at home and taking their case to the United Nations where some governments have agreed to measure and value unwaged work, the movement of caregivers is spreading across the world. Selma James works closely with grassroots women in the Venezuelan Revolution who have recently won Articles 87 & 88 in their Constitution that recognize “the work at home as an economic activity that produces social welfare and wealth” and establish a stability fund for housewives and domestic workers.
Selma James has written numerous texts, including The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1973), Sex, Race, and Class (1975), Women, the Unions, and Work (1976), Strangers and Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration (1985), Women’s Unwaged Work – the Heart of the Informal Sectors (1994), and The Global Kitchen: The Case for Government’s Measuring and Valuing Unwaged Work (1995).

Recommended Readings:

The Milk of Human Kindness: Defending breastfeeding from the global market & the AIDS industry, Solveig Francis, Selma James, Phoebe Jones Schellenberg, Nina Lopez-Jones, 2002
The Ladies and the Mammies Jane Austen and Jean Rhys, Selma James, 1983
The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, 1972
The Global Kitchen – the case for counting unwaged work, Ed Selma James, 1995
Sex, Race and Class, Selma James
Marx and Feminism , Selma James

Related Links

Global Women’s Strike website:
Livable Income for Everyone: Women, Unions and Work or … What is not to be done and The Perspective of Winning article by Selma James, 1972.
New Beginnings – A Journal of Independent Labor: Selma James and the Wages for Housework Campaign, article by Shemon Salam
United Nations’ report on the status of woman across the globe
Solidarity – Women in the Venezuelan Revolution