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Selma James

Selma James Selma James[1†]

Selma James (b. Selma Deitch; formerly Weinstein; August 15, 1930) is an American writer, feminist, and social activist. Co-author of "The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community" with Mariarosa Dalla Costa, she co-founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign and coordinates the Global Women’s Strike. She emphasizes the significance of women's unwaged work in sustaining capitalism. Despite criticism, her advocacy for women's rights remains unwavering, leaving a profound impact on feminist discourse and inspiring future generations[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Selma James, born as Selma Deitch, was born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, in 1930[1†]. She was raised in a Jewish household[1†]. Her father was a truck driver, and her mother had been a factory worker prior to having children[1†].

As a young woman, Selma worked in factories, and then as a full-time housewife and mother to her son, Sam, with whose father, a fellow factory worker, she was in a short-lived marriage[1†]. At the age of 15, she joined the Johnson–Forest Tendency, one of whose three leaders was C. L. R. James, and she began to attend his classes on slavery and the American civil war[1†].

In 1952, she wrote the book “A Woman’s Place”, first published as a column in Correspondence, a bi-weekly newspaper written and edited by its readers with an audience of mainly working-class people[1†]. Unusual at the time, the newspaper had pages dedicated to giving women, young people, and Black people an autonomous voice[1†]. She was a regular columnist and edited the Women’s Page[1†].

In 1955, she moved to England to marry C. L. R. James, who had been deported from the United States during the McCarthy period[1†]. They were together for 25 years, and were close political colleagues[1†].

From 1958 to 1962, she lived in Trinidad and Tobago, where, with her husband, she was active in the movement for West Indian independence and federation[1†]. Returning to Britain after independence, she became the first organizing secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination in 1965, and a founding member of the Black Regional Action Movement and editor of its journal in 1969[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Selma James has been active in the field of social activism since 1952[1†]. In 1952, she wrote the book “A Woman’s Place,” first published as a column in Correspondence, a bi-weekly newspaper written and edited by its readers with an audience of mainly working-class people[1†]. Unusual at the time, the newspaper had pages dedicated to giving women, young people, and Black people an autonomous voice[1†]. She was a regular columnist and edited the Women’s Page[1†].

In 1955, she moved to England to marry C. L. R. James, who had been deported from the United States during the McCarthy period[1†]. They were together for 25 years, and were close political colleagues[1†].

From 1958 to 1962, she lived in Trinidad and Tobago, where, with her husband, she was active in the movement for West Indian independence and federation[1†]. Returning to Britain after independence, she became the first organizing secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination in 1965, and a founding member of the Black Regional Action Movement and editor of its journal in 1969[1†].

In January 1971, James made a BBC Radio broadcast in the series People for Tomorrow – using her own experience of working in low-paid jobs and being a mother and housewife, as well as interviews with full-time housewives, and other females working outside the home while still doing most of the household chores – to explore the exploitation of women in society in general[1†].

In 1972, the publication “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community” (authored with Mariarosa Dalla Costa) launched the “domestic labor debate” by spelling out how housework and other caring work women do outside of the market produces the whole working class, thus the market economy, based on those workers, is built on women’s unwaged work[1†].

Her book “Sex, Race and Class—the Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952–2011” is a collection of her writings across six decades, urging unity across the lines of race, class, and gender[1†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Selma James has made significant contributions to feminist literature and activism. Her notable works include:

Each of these works has played a significant role in shaping feminist thought and activism, particularly in relation to the recognition and valuation of unwaged labor.

Analysis and Evaluation

Selma James’s work has had a profound impact on the feminist movement and the discourse around women’s work, both paid and unpaid[4†][1†]. Her advocacy for the recognition and compensation of unwaged labor performed by women has challenged societal norms and influenced many in the feminist movement[4†][1†].

James’s co-founding of the International Wages for Housework Campaign and her role as the coordinator of the Global Women’s Strike are testaments to her commitment to these issues[4†][1†]. The core idea of these movements is that financial compensation for the essential contribution of carers to society would raise millions of women (and anyone doing unpaid care work) out of poverty[4†]. This, in turn, would reduce domestic violence and other forms of abuse based on power dynamics[4†].

However, these ideas were not universally accepted. Some feminists argued that it would merely chain women to the household[4†]. Despite this, the Wages for Housework campaign has grown and now coordinates the Global Women’s Strike, which campaigns for a care income for people of every gender who want to care for others and protect the environment[4†].

James’s work has transformed the capitalist meaning of work and what one is paid for[4†]. Her writings, speeches, and articles have consistently highlighted the central role of “housework” in the reproduction of humanity, and therefore, in the functioning of capitalism[4†][1†].

At age 91 (2022), James is still working on a variety of causes[4†]. Her lifelong dedication to activism and her significant contributions to feminist thought and activism have left a lasting legacy[4†][1†].

Personal Life

Selma James was born as Selma Deitch and later took the name Weinstein[1†]. She was born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, in 1930[1†]. Raised in a Jewish household[1†], her father was a truck driver while her mother had been a factory worker prior to having children[1†].

As a young woman, Selma worked in factories, and then as a full-time housewife and mother to her son, Sam, with whose father, a fellow factory worker, she was in a short-lived marriage[1†]. At the age of 15, she joined the Johnson–Forest Tendency, one of whose three leaders was C. L. R. James, and she began to attend his classes on slavery and the American civil war[1†].

In 1955, she moved to England to marry C. L. R. James, who had been deported from the United States during the McCarthy period[1†]. They were together for 25 years, and were close political colleagues[1†]. From 1958 to 1962, she lived in Trinidad and Tobago, where, with her husband, she was active in the movement for West Indian independence and federation[1†].

Returning to Britain after independence, she became the first organizing secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination in 1965, and a founding member of the Black Regional Action Movement and editor of its journal in 1969[1†].

At age 91 (2022), James is still working on a variety of causes[1†][4†]. She has been an activist all her life, and she can’t recall a specific moment when she decided to dedicate her life to fighting for what she believed in[1†][4†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Selma James has left an indelible mark on the feminist movement and social activism. Her work, particularly the co-founding of the International Wages for Housework Campaign and the co-authorship of “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community”, has revolutionized the understanding of women’s unwaged labor[4†][1†].

Her advocacy for the recognition and valuation of women’s unwaged labor has challenged traditional notions of work and the working class[4†][1†]. The concept of Wages for Housework, though initially met with criticism, has grown into an international movement and continues to be a contentious issue in feminist discourse[4†].

At the age of 91 (2022), James continues to work on a variety of causes[4†]. Her lifelong dedication to activism demonstrates her unwavering commitment to fighting for what she believes in[4†]. Her work has not only transformed the capitalist meaning of work but also highlighted the exploitation of women in society[4†].

James’ legacy is a testament to her tireless efforts to advocate for women’s rights and social justice. Her work continues to inspire and influence future generations of activists[4†][1†][5†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Selma James [website] - link
  2. The Guardian - A life in writing: Selma James [website] - link
  3. PM Press - Rediscovering the Power and Utility of Selma James [website] - link
  4. YES! Magazine Solutions Journalism - 60 Years of Intersectional Feminism: An Interview with Selma James [website] - link
  5. Boston Review - Care Work in a Wageless World [website] - link
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