Care and a shorter working week

Submitted by martin on 21 September, 2021 - 7:31
Nancy Fraser image

The editorial in Solidarity 606 highlights well the need to fight for a bold programme for social care, funded by taxing the rich. There is a further area worth considering in the fight for liberatory and humanistic social care, wider carework, and society.

Nancy Fraser, in After the Family Wage: A Postindustrial Thought Experiment, argues persuasively for welfare states geared towards a “universal caregiver” model:

“to induce men to become more like most women are now, namely, people who do primary carework... a welfare state[‘s] employment sector would not be divided into two different tracks [i.e. part-time and full-time employment, which remain heavily gendered]; all jobs would be designed for workers who are caregivers, too; all would have a shorter workweek than full-time jobs have now; and all would have the support of employment-enabling services. [H]owever, employees would not be assumed to shift all carework to social services. Some informal carework would be publicly supported and integrated on a par with paid work in a single social-insurance [non means-tested] system. Some... in households by relatives and friends, but... not necessarily [in] heterosexual nuclear families. [Some i]n state-funded but locally organized institutions”

This seeks to undercut forces behind restrictive and unequal gender roles, while responding to contemporary capitalist crises of care. This would improve the situation of women and of gender and sexual minorities in particular, as well as recipients of care who could receive more flexible support from family, friends, lovers if preferred. (I would recommend the 2020 docudrama The Mole Agent for moving insights on the latter point.) The fight for a shorter working week is a fight for freedom beyond the direct oversight of our bosses and the ruling class.

Fraser’s approach is limited: she relies overly on something like a “Universal Basic Income”, as against “Universal Basic Services”. She wrongly sees the state, more than the working-class, as the most important agent of change. Still, the fight for both shorter working-weeks across the board, and for support of flexible “informal” carework should be part of our vision for social care.

Mike Zubrowski, Bristol

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