I am reading this piece by Maria Mies, a chapter called “Social Origins of the Sexual Division of Labour”. Mies discusses production for life – or productive labour – a concept used by political economists such as Adam Smith to discuss the surplus value creating labour that workers create when they work – or more specifically waged workers. Marx uses this term in the same way, although he critiques this idea and calls it bad luck to be a productive laborer under capitalism – versus the ideas of political economists who make capitalism, and all workers within it, to be natural.
Mies takes this idea of productive labor and expands it to include non-waged laborers as well. She states that “In contrast to Marx, I consider the capitalist production process as one which comprises both: the superexploitation of non-waged labourers (women, colonies, peasants) upon which wage labour exploitation then is possible. I define their exploitation as super-exploitation because it is not based on the appropriation (by the capitalist) of the time and labour over and above the ‘necessary’ labour time, the surplus labour, but of the time and labour necessary for people’s own survival or subsistence production.” She goes on to say “It is not compensated by a wage, the size of which is calculated on the ‘necessary’ reproduction costs of the labourer, but is mainly determined by force or coercive institutions.” (p48).
I think back to reading about the struggle over wages for housework where housewives would demand a wage for the reproductive work they do in the home. Where Marx discusses productive labor as that which creates surplus value, I believe we can look at non-waged labor the same way. Without it the waged labor could not take place. The reproductive labor is transformed into productive labor at the job, it is only hidden by being unwaged, seen as less valuable, and labeled as “natural” work, and who naturally tends to this work? Women of course! The “natural” caretakers of the world.
We as non-waged laborers must smash the divide between waged and non-waged labor and fight as what we all really are: workers.