The world’s largest workforce is on call 24-hours-a-day and receives no wages.
Domestic workers and carers for children, ageing or ill members of society or those with disabilities are usually women living within family units. They are most often the partners, mothers or daughters of the people for whom they provide this care.
Most of these tasks are performed out of love for their family members. But female carers and domestic workers are often deprived of freedom of choice in their living and working conditions.
Factors that can keep women locked into unwanted domestic arrangements include: limited or no independent income; lack of employment and childcare options; lack of alternative accommodation; social and moral pressures; concern for the welfare of the people who they care about; and even threats of violence.
As with all occupations, female carer and domestic workers need to organise and find a voice.
Their working arrangements do not lend themselves to traditional union organisation. But full-time mothers and those with part-time employment often meet during the working day.
Previous generations of women married and bore children in early adulthood, and were discouraged from voicing opinions. But an increasing number of carers and domestic workers now enter this occupation after years of work, study and exposure to the ideas of feminism and trade unionism.
They often have access to childcare, transport and internet communication. Some have supportive networks that enable them to meet day or night.
As with all workers, female carer and domestic workers are exploited by capitalism. The world’s largest workforce produces the most precious commodity, the next generation of workers, as well as helping to maintain the existing workforce and caring for those who are unable to work.
Socialists, trade unionists and other progressives can support female carer and domestic workers by encouraging these workers to organise and articulate their concerns, and by championing their demands.
Capitalism distorts and exploits kinship and sentimental relationships to harness free labour to produce the next generation of workers. But socialists wholeheartedly support all women’s family lifestyle choices in the same way that we support a woman's right to choose how to dress.
The only way most women can now engage in the occupation of carer and domestic worker is through establishing a family unit and performing this work without pay. The work these women perform should be valued.
At the same time, socialists also oppose all state, religious, media or social coercions for women to enter or remain within traditional family roles. We must support women being able to leave these relationships in safety and dignity and with realistic opportunities to re-establish new lives.
Like any workers, carers and domestic workers need educational and recreational opportunities, opportunities to earn an income, access to childcare or respite services and legal rights.