Having been raised in a working class, left-wing, trade unionist, family I have been treated to practical and theoretical exposure to 'radical' politics. Not in a Ralph Miliband North London socialist academic kind-of-way. More in a baked beans again for dinner for Mum and Dad so the kids could eat properly; and Dad shovelling snow for a living after losing his job, while Mum worked full time with a commute to break the best of them, desperate to be at home with her family.
She missed those early years where she had been able to look after us, cook thoughtful meals; look after the home; and keep on top of the laundry pile. You know, real every day concerns for those without cleaners, people who collect the ironing, or au pairs. And they still are every day concerns; and they're still looked down on by the political elite, the professional classes and the academic heads-in-clouds who write a good walk. Such women, they're not at all 'aspirational' or 'hardworking' (those new buzz words). They're a bit too 'housewife' and unambitious. Petty, basic and far removed from the boardroom and the broadsheet, where the 'real' battle is taking place for women and equality.
A huge issue facing mothers is Snobbery - in both directions. The class system is alive and well, yet no one mentions it any more, do they? It's the elephant in a banquet hall. Problem is, snobbery has a bedfellow of old: Sexism. Not just sexism against women (that's getting plenty of press and plenty of champions, male and female) but sexism against mothers; not just in the workplace but in life, in practice. When you combine it with its current bed-buddy, snobbery, you have a pretty miserable combination for those mothers - and there are many - who either desperately wish to be raising their family at home instead of working out of the home, or struggle by at home, having sacrificed an income. Critics of 'paying for other people's children' must have missed the memo: the State is chucking money at 'hardworking families' to subsidise childcare for couples earning up to £300,000. So, actually, they're objecting to paying the mother; and that is fundamentally sexist.
Mothers are seen as a problem to be solved and a class to be crushed. Mothers have a status to be removed and disappeared, photo-shopped from existence, transplanted into jobs where they can do 'real work' and receive 'respect', and their activities otherwise dissolved into 'parenting'. Child rearing is still seen as a burden to be lifted from women - despite a third of employed women wishing they could be doing it, and many many more wishing they could reduce their hours to be in with a chance of enjoying more family time and caring for their families themselves.
Are we reaching the point (as the Government Family Test showcased in 2014) that the word 'Mother' is erased, the new untouchable? Are we experiencing a prevailing public discourse which undermines, at every turn, the opportunity for a mother to remain at home with her family, and slanders her competence in doing the actual job - for which the growing childcare industry is gladly seeking to pick up the imaginary slack?
Having spent an afternoon this week with some amazing women, including Global Women's Strike's Selma James and Nina Lopez, discussing a living wage for care, feminism, and barriers against mothers proclaiming proudly 'I demand the right to support to do the important work of family', I remain firmly of the view that the new radicals are not men demanding this and that through their unions, or the Green Party pushing anti-austerity or a universal income, nor the female politicians seeking boardroom participation, nor those advocating ending poverty in this country by forcing mothers out to work (as though maternal employment is the only solution) - rather, they are those who challenge accepted, inherently sexist, standards and definitions of what constitutes 'work', what is 'valuable', what is worthy of respect and protection. They are those who dare speak the words 'love', 'care' and 'maternal bond'.
They are those who support a very unfashionable right: the right of a mother to care for her child and to do the work of family.
That is a right which is diminishing with every 'full female employment' target of the EU, national governments, and the UN, necessarily implying that caring is not work; that caring is not valuable; that caring for children is worthless and best left to the childcare sector.
If you want to read something radical today, here is what Global Women's Strike (see their website and petition HERE) say about the notion of a living wage for carers, and have been saying for decades:
- "Every worker is entitled to a living wage. Women do 2/3 of the world's work - in the home, on the land and in the community - but most of this work is unwaged.
- Women are the primary carers everywhere in the word, fighting for the survival and well-being of children and sick, disabled and elderly people, in the home and outside, in peace as in war.
- Women grow most of the world's food.
- Most carers, starting with mothers, get no wages and aren't considered workers.
- Many carers are themselves disabled; many are children caring for younger ones or for their disabled parents; many are grandparents leaving retirement to care for their children's children.
- Caring is demanding work but the skills it requires are undervalued even in the job market - domestic work, homecare, childcare and even nursing are low paid.
- Valuing caring work would help to close the income gap between women and men. It would also draw more men into caring.
- Financial dependence when caring work is unwaged often traps women in violent relationships.
- Many mothers do several jobs and have to fit time with their children around their job - this is exhausting and stressful for all.
- When mothers are impoverished and overworked, children suffer: hunger, ill-health, violence and exploitation.
- Mothers who have to return to work soon after childbirth are less likely to breastfeed.
- Workers who take time off to care for children, or other loved ones, lose pay, promotion, social security and future pension.
- Devaluing caring work devalues people, relationships and life itself.
- Investing in carers redirects economic and social policies towards survival, health and well-being for every individual and for the planet which sustains us all."
So here's a challenge to the Government, to the Green Party, to the Labour Party, to the newly formed Women's Equality Party and politicians generally: if you want to capture the imagination of millions of people in employment with young families who are currently trapped in feeling that 'something's got to give', consider expanding your ideas of what 'equality', 'work' and 'value' means. Equality of regard for the work mothers do (by choice, for many, if only there was the opportunity) is a fundamentally ignored issue, worldwide. Objections since the 1970s to Global Women's Strike's demand for wages for care have consistently let women down - we are no better off, our families are no better off, and many are now shackled in employment against our wishes, suffering double and triple shifts and facing intolerable pressure, pushed out of our homes by increasing bias towards commercialised care.
So. An income for Care. Ain't it radical?