Selma James is a women's rights and antiracist campaigner and author. From 1958 to 1962, she worked with C.L.R. James in the movement for Caribbean federation and independence. In 1972, she founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign, and in 2000 she helped launch the Global Women's Strike whose strategy for change is Invest in Caring not Killing. She coined the word "unwaged" to describe the caring work women do, and it has since entered the English language to describe all who work without wages on the land, in the home, and in the community. In 1975, she became the first spokeswoman of the English Collective of Prostitutes. She is a founding member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (2008). She coauthored the classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community which launched the "domestic labour debate." She has addressed the power relations within the working class movement, and how to organize across sectors despite divisions of sex, race, and class, South and North.
Her other publications include A Woman’s Place (1952), Women, the Unions and Work, or what is not to be done (1972), Sex, Race and Class (1974), Wageless of the World (1974), The Rapist Who Pays the Rent (1982 coauthor), The Ladies and the Mammies - Jane Austen and Jean Rhys (1983), Marx and Feminism (1983), Hookers in the House of the Lord (1983), Strangers & Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration (1985 Ed & Introduction), The Global Kitchen: The Case for Counting Unwaged work (1985 and 1995), The Milk of Human Kindness: Defending Breastfeeding from the AIDS Industry and the Global Market (coauthor, 2005).
Check out Selma James on Democracy Now! "Housework as Work: Selma James on Unwaged Labor and Decades-Long Struggle to Pay Housewives"
Check out Selma James interview with the Free Maroon Campaign
Sex, Race and Class--the Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952–2011 Author: Selma James Foreword by: Marcus Rediker Introduction by: Nina López Publisher: PM Press/Common Notions ISBN: 978-1-60486-454-0 Published: March 2012 Format: Paperback Size: 9 by 6 Page count: 320 Pages Subjects: Feminism, Literary Collection, Politics $20.00
In 1972, Selma James set out a new political perspective. Her starting point was the millions of unwaged women who, working in the home and on the land, were not seen as “workers” and their struggles viewed as outside of the class struggle. Based on her political training in the Johnson-Forest Tendency, founded by her late husband C.L.R. James, on movement experience South and North, and on a respectful study of Marx, she redefined the working class to include sectors previously dismissed as “marginal.”
For James, the class struggle presents itself as the conflict between the reproduction and survival of the human race, and the domination of the market with its exploitation, wars, and ecological devastation. She sums up her strategy for change as “Invest in Caring not Killing.”
This selection, spanning six decades, traces the development of this perspective in the course of building an international campaigning network. It includes excerpts from the classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, which launched the “domestic labor debate,” the exciting "Hookers in theHouse of the Lord" which describes a church occupation by sex workers, an incisive review of the C.L.R. James masterpiece The Black Jacobins, a reappraisal of the novels of Jean Rhys and of the leadership of Julius Nyerere, the groundbreaking "Marx and Feminism," and more.
The writing is lucid and without jargon. The ideas, never abstract, spring from the experience of organising, from trying to make sense of the successes and the setbacks, and from the need to find a way forward.
"It's time to acknowledge James’s path-breaking analysis: from 1972 she reinterpreted the capitalist economy to show that it rests on the usually invisible unwaged caring work of women." —Dr. Peggy Antrobus, feminist, author of The Global Women’s Movement: Origins, Issues and Strategies
“For clarity and commitment to Haiti’s revolutionary legacy…Selma is a sister after my own heart.” —Danny Glover, actor and activist
“In this incisive and necessary collection of essays and talks spanning over five decades, Selma James reminds us that liberation cannot be handed down from above. This is a feminism that truly matters.” —Dr. Alissa Trotz, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies, Director of Caribbean Studies, University of Toronto
Selma James is an activist and a prolific writer on anti-racism and women’s rights, founder of the International Wages for Housework campaign, and current coordinator of Global Women’s Strike. The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, co-authored with Mariarosa Dalla Costa, launched the ‘domestic labour’ debate. It posited that the work that women do – not simply the ‘role’ that they play – outside of the market produces (and reproduces) the whole of the working class and, by extension, the market economy. In 2012, she published Sex, Race and Class: The Perspective of Winning, a collection of her work spanning sixty years. We sat down with Selma, Nina from Legal Action for Women and Laura from the English Collective of Prostitutes at the Crossroads Women’s Centre for a conversation which covered a wide variety of topics and struggles, the majority of which is reproduced here.
Sex, Race, and Class: A Review Race, Poverty & the Environment Vol. 18 No 2. - 2011 pg. 87
This anthology, including work from almost six decades, traces the development of James' perspective in the course of building an international campaigning network. It includes the classic "The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community," which launched the domestic labor debate, an evaluation of the UN Decade for Women, a reappraisal of the novels of Jean Rhys and of Julius Nyerere's Tanzania. Her writings and speeches are steeped in the grassroots movement and the class split in feminism- from Haiti, Venezuela, Egypt and Palestine to SlutWalk and Global Occupy. Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to reviews | Back to top
They Want the Money, So Do We: Sex, Race, and Class in Mute Magazine By Madam Tlank Mute Magazine September 18th, 2012
One of James' great strengths is how materialist she is. She ALWAYS asks where the money comes from? Who gets what? What for? Etc. One of the best pieces in this book, 'Reflections on a Conference', does this so acutely it’s hilarious. 'And so the […] consideration that I felt was missing in the discussion yesterday […] was money. It’s not a dirty word, especially for those of us who don’t have much.'
SEX RACE AND CLASS: THE PERSPECTIVE OF WINNING offers writings from 1952-2011 and packs in social, political and literary observations by a woman who in 1972 set out a new political perspective for women not seen as 'workers' and therefore who were considered outside the class struggle. Six decade of works considers the development of her perspective and interactional activist efforts since, offering writings that are jargon-free and filled with ideas from the fronts of feminist worker organization around the world. A 'must' for feminist and social issues collections alike, this college-level collection provides powerful assessments of evolving women's rights.
A life in writing: Selma James By Becky Gardiner Guardian UK June 8th, 2012
There have been struggles, and triumphs, some of which are documented in Sex, Race and Class. "The UN Decade for Women — An Offer We Couldn't Refuse" tells the story of a painstaking 10-year struggle to force the UN to recognise women's unpaid work. "Hookers in the House of Lords", an account of a prostitutes' occupation of a church in 1982, is a hoot, and has clear parallels with contemporary occupations: "We were very sorry to leave … We were physically exhausted and we craved a bath and bed. Yet we were loath to re-enter the flat atmosphere of daily life. In masks [worn by the occupiers to protect the prostitute women's anonymity] we had glimpsed what could happen: we created change. Taking off the masks, our collective power was as hidden as the reality it had penetrated … It was hard to remember we had won."
As many pairs of shoes as she likes: On Feminism By Jenny Turner The Guardian UK 33, no. 24 December 15, 2011
James’s Wages for Housework movement is now remembered, if at all, as a frippery, a jokey badge pinned to a Wolfie Smith lapel. But actually it was an intellectually ambitious attempt to synthesise Marxism, feminism and postcolonialism, and not with the usual sellotaped hyphenations. Domestic work, while not recognised as work because not paid for, is as necessary to the economy as the waged sort. The workforce needs to be fed, clothed, cleaned for, comforted, as does its progeny, the workforce of the future. "We place foremost in these pages the housewife as the central figure," James wrote with her co-author, the Italian socialist-feminist writer Mariarosa Dalla Costa, in The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1972). "We assume that all women are housewives and even those who work outside the home continue to be housewives. That is, on a world level, it is precisely what is particular to domestic work . . . that determines a woman’s place wherever she is and to whichever class she belongs."
Sex, Race and Class: A Review by Seth Sandronsky Z Magazine June 2012
James explains more fully her position in a 1972 book, excerpted in her current collection of writings, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, written with co-author Maria Dalla Costa. The same year James launched the International Wages for Housework Campaign, to compel governments to direct some of the surplus product (profits from waged workers sustained by unpaid female labor) from capitalist employers to unwaged housewives. We read also about her reasons for playing a part in the emergence of the Global Women’s Strike in 2000. Its mission, in sum, is to force governing elites to invest in “Caring not Killing.” James also writes about her working with prostitutes and sex workers, occupying a church.
Sex, Race and Class: A Review By Angela Cobbinahe Morning Star 08 May 2012
In a time of social upheaval when the word capitalism has re-entered the public discourse and the works of Karl Marx are being revisited, Selma James's Sex, Race And Class is a timely publication.
A collection of essays spanning the past six decades, it is as much about James's own political trajectory as it is an exposition of her political theory about a woman's place in society and social justice in general.