Care Work and the Commons

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  • Special Issue of the Commoner. Issue 15, Winter 2012



Massimo de Angelis:

"Preface: Care Work and the Commons

It is becoming increasingly clear that the current economic, social and environmental crises are degrading the conditions of everyday life for a vast range of people in many parts of the world, and are even posing apocalyptic threats to our social and ecological reproduction. It is also clear that the global elites’ answers to these crises cannot provide any solutions to these problems. Indeed, short of a dramatic paradigmatic change in their strategic horizons, we find no hope on this front. It is not just that governments continue to cut social spending and entitlements to bail out the banks. As the struggles against the policies employed to deal with the crisis of neoliberalism intensify, we witness the rise of a post-modern form of fascism. The brutal attacks by militarized riot police against the occupy movements of the US and Europe, the endless butchering of civilians whose bodies now pile up in morgues throughout the Middle East, are all different modulations of this trend. Yet, new social movements are mushrooming everywhere with renewed creativity in their organisational forms. Even the moderate media, despite its cynicism towards the constituent powers expressed by these movements, is beginning to acknowledge the rationality of these popular revolts, now circulating from New York to Athens, from Cairo to Madrid, often drawing parallels between diverse instances, highlighting unfamiliar alliances (such as that between army veterans, workers and students), and beginning to acknowledge “the outrage of the mainstream.”

In this context, there is an urgent need to construct non-capitalistic ways to reproduce our life, other than those provided by states and markets. From the beginning of the history of this journal, we have referred to these alternative as “the commons.” We were not alone in this endeavour. Many today think of the commons as the seeds of a radically new social system in which reproduction stems from the direct participation of communities of producers reclaiming, sharing, and pooling resources of various types, driven by values fundamentally opposed to those embedded in the capital circuits: solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation, respect for human being and the environment, horizontalism and direct democracy. But what has distinguished this journal is the recognition that the commons must exist today in a world in which the social and ecological metabolism is dominated by capital’s priorities and the threat they pose to social reproduction. Thus the commons – their development, their networking, their survival – must be conceived within fields of power relations, and viewed not only as sites of alternative ways of reproducing life, but as sites of struggle, as well as potential targets of cooptation and enclosure.

This implies two things. First, the present global crisis urges us to engage in the constitution of alternatives to life under capitalism, and the construction of more autonomous forms of social reproduction. As neither the state nor the market can guarantee our survival, we need to embark in a journey of transformation built on the power of the commons. For this, however, we need to go beyond the logic of "survival" – ours and that of the ecosystem – as the social relations that we construct to reproduce ourselves are the true source of our power vis-àvis capital. Ultimately this journey implies a “commoning” transforming our subjectivities.

Second, as the commons develop within a field of power relations, the character and social space of their autonomy are necessarily negotiated with capital. But negotiation can only occur on the basis of of the commons’ constituted power, which is the power of reproducing with dignity and freedom the life and bodies of all involved in a process of reproduction. Here is the crucial importance of this issue of The Commoner, edited by Camille Barbagallo and Silvia Federici. The analyses and stories it weaves together force us to look at the power of the commons power from the perspective of the labour required to reproduce human beings as well as labour power: child-care, housework, sex work and elder care, both in the form of waged and unwaged labour. Its objective is not only “to examine how the neo-liberal restructuring of the global economy, over the last three decades, has reshaped the organization of this work” transforming “our bodies and desires” and reconfiguring “our homes, our families and social relations.”

Most importantly, this issue wants to highlight the struggles that domestic-care workers (mostly women, but also men) are making in response to the new conditions of reproductive labour. For these struggles pose the need for and invent new forms of commoning, building bridges between and beyond roles, such as employees and employers, clients and service providers, parents and nannies. These forms of commoning are vital for us, not only in order to overcome the crisis of reproduction we face, and refuse to have those most socially vulnerable – women, children, the elders, immigrant workers – pay the price for it, but also to begin to mold a new society and reconstitute the common/s. For the articles in this issue demonstrate that the power of the common/s begins with the social powers we deploy to materially reproduce and affectively care for ourselves." (


1. Introduction 1

2. Women and the Subversion of the Community 23

3. On The General Strike 70

4. Wages Against Housework 74

5. On Sexuality as Work 88

6. Reproduction and Emigration 95

7. Starting From the Social Wage 158

8. The Unfinished Feminist Revolution 184

9. Women’s Autonomy & Renumeration of Care Work 197

10.On Elder Care 234

11.Sex as Work & Sex Work 261

12.Is Housework Soluble in Love? 277

13.Of Feminists and Their Cleaning Ladies 286

14.Nuclear Housework 306

15.Fukushima: A Call for Female Leadership 314

16.Energy and Social Reproduction 336

17.Domestic Workers United 353

18.Interview with Priscilla Gonzalez 359

19.A Male Domestic Worker 385

20.The Regeneration Manifesto 395

21.The Triumph of the Domestic Workers 400

22.Servicio Domestíco Activo 404

23.Interview with Liliana Caballero Velasquez 412

24.Interview with Victoria Mamani 416

25.Socialist Feminist Collective 420

26.Interview with Ana Rosario Adrián Vargas 425