I’ve been thinking and blogging a bit about social reproduction lately and the commodification of reproductive labor and/or making reproductive labor into waged labor. There’s a lot more to say about this, including that the distinction between reproductive and non-reproductive labor is one of degree more than kind, since anyone involved in getting necessary means of subsistence (all of those words broadly understood) to people is engaged in an aspect of reproduction of a sort. There’s a tendency (on my part and I think on others) to construe reproductive labor more narrowly as care, that makes sense for the most part. I’ve also been thinking about ethical issues in caring work, waged and unwaged. Eric was recently uneasy about my suggestion that there are ethical obligations involved with regard to workplace struggles in caring work; if I remember right Eric suggested that this was risky stuff because such principles could be used against workers and that that’s especially something to be easy about because care is typically feminized. I think Eric’s offbase here personally; I don’t see why the principles he implies (about workers and women) trump other ones involved in care. I do a significant amount of childcare, if I stopped doing that my daughter would suffer greatly. The fact that my caring work will eventually benefit some capitalist (who will get without compensating it all the abilities my daughter will have when she enters the labor market) is not an argument against doing that care. In some sense, the idea of a strike of care is one that needs to be greatly nuanced to have any clear and defensible meaning, it can’t be simply “don’t do care.” All of this struck home with particular force tonight, as my grandmother has fallen very sick, she’s in the ICU and will not be allowed to come home, she needs 24 hour nursing care of a sort that requires she be in a facility for the rest of her life. This makes me sad for sure. And whoever cares for her in the facility should do their job, do it well, do it better than the company requires.

I like this quote a lot from the Precarias a la Deriva, that “in jobs with a repetitive content (telemarketing, cleaning, textile workshops), the subjective implication with the task performed is zero and this leads to forms of conflict of pure refusal: generalized absenteeism, dropout-ism, sabotage (….) On the other hand, in jobs where the content is of the vocational/professional type (from nursing to informatics, to social work to research) and, as such, the subjective implication with the task performed is high, conflict is expressed as critique: of the organization of labor, of the logic that articulates it, of the ends toward which it is structured (….) Finally, in those jobs where the content is directly invisibilized and/or stigmatized (the most paradigmatic examples are cleaning work, home care, and sexual work, especially – but not only – street prostitution), conflict manifests as a demand for dignity and the recognition of the social value of what is done.”

It seems to me that for certain populations there’s a risk (or perhaps a reality) of an industrialization of care, where care-provision for these people comes to be performed in settings “with a repetitive content” which is both dehumanizing to the recipients and where, to quote the Precarias again, “the subjective implication with the task is zero” such that purely negative refusal becomes more appealing. There are I think elements of this in much food service work, which while not care per se is still reproductive labor. This negative refusal can be a serious problem for capitalists and capitalism but that doesn’t mean it’s something to be just in favor of. Disparaged CNA recently posted on her blog about CLR James and the idea of a new values and moments of struggle that contain seeds of a new society, it seems to me that this is key to understanding issues of both obligation and struggle in reproductive labor/caring labor.