The International Wages for Housework Campaign was a global social movement co-founded in 1972 in Padua, Italy by author and activist Selma James. The Campaign was formed to raise awareness of how housework and childcare are the base of all industrial work and to stake the claim that these unavoidable tasks should be compensated as paid wage labor. The demands for the Wages for Housework formally called for economic compensation for domestic work but also used these demands to call attention to the affective labors of women, the reliance of capitalist economies on exploitative labor practices against women, and leisure inequality.
The International Wages for Housework Campaign grew out of the International Feminist Collective in Italy, founded by Selma James, Brigitte Galtier, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and Silvia Federici. The group published a Marxist autonomist journal, Matériaux pour l’intervention. Dalla Costa, one of the members of the group in Padua came from the intellectual movement operaismo, which developed around factory strikes in Northern Italy in the 1970s. The Wages for Housework Campaign took the idea from operaismo of wage as central to the struggle for worker control and rights of industry. Operaismo encouraged workers to act in their direct interests when it comes to demanding compensation for their labor and exploitation in the factory.
The campaign included aspects of student protest, feminism, civil rights, community workshops, and direct action protest. Several publications grew out of its ideas, which expanded on the claims of the original group and of more general topics in labor and exploitation. In Italy, Quaderni rossi, published by Raniero Panzieri, and Mario Tronti, dealt with a variety of topics relating to the class struggle.
Feminist arguments were also key in the Wages for Housework movement, and its members wrote widely on topics in affective labor. Some of the demands of the Wages for Housework groups also included women's right to work outside of the home, unemployment benefits for all women, and equal pay.
In 1973, Federici helped start Wages for Housework groups in the US and in 1975, the Wages for Housework opened an office in Brooklyn, New York at 288 B. 8th St. The New York group was called the "Wages for Housework Committee." Flyers handed out in support of the New York Wages for Housework Committee called for all women to join regardless of marital status, nationality, sexual orientation, number of children, or employment. In 1975 Federici published Wages Against Housework, the book most commonly associated with the movement.
Branches of the Wages for Housework Committee appeared in other cities across America. They were organized in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Tulsa, and Cleveland. Along with these committees, other autonomous organizations that fall within the Wages for Housework campaign began to organize within the United States. For example, in 1974 International Black Women for Wages for Housework was founded by Margaret Prescod and Wilmette Brown in New York City. Prescod also founded the Black Women for Wages for Housework in Los Angeles alongside Sidney Ross-Risden in 1980. The Black Women for Wages for Housework focused on not only unpaid housework for the average housewife, but specific issues of black and third world women. They called for reparations for "slavery, imperialism and neo-colonialism."
Both San Francisco and Philadelphia were home to Wages Due Lesbians, an organization that was first created in Britain in 1975. Wages Due Lesbians called for wages for housework along with extra wages for lesbians for "the additional physical and emotional housework of surviving in a hostile and prejudiced society, recognized as work and paid for so all women have the economic power to afford sexual choices." Wages Due Lesbians also worked alongside The Lesbian Mothers' National Defense Fund, founded in 1974 and based in Seattle, which aimed to help lesbian mothers who were a part of custody cases after coming out.
San Francisco was also home to the U.S. PROStitutes Collective (US PROS). US PROS was created in 1982 to help decriminalize prostitution and also prevent men, women, and children from being forced into prostitution. Likewise, Tulsa housed the No Bad Women, Just Bad Laws Coalitions. It was founded by Ruth Taylor Todasco in 1981 and also focused on the decriminalization of sex work.
Social wage campaigns
Wages for Housework is part of more general social wage campaigns in the 1970s interested in late capitalism. These campaigns used analysis of Fordist compromises during the twentieth century to argue that family wages or social security payments had amounted to wages paid for housework in the advanced capitalist West. A number of other autonomous organizations interested in compensation for domestic labor were formed in 1975: Black Women for Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and some years later WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities).
In recent years, the demands of the Wages for Housework Campaign have been applied to many more recent debates in the gendered aspects of labor including, reproductive rights, sex work, and demands for women in leadership roles in business.
Silvia Federici and several others from the early campaign have continued to publish books and articles related to the demands of Wages for Housework including Fererici's 2012 book, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle.