Women and Super-Exploitation: An Illustration Through Basic Marxist Economics

This article was developed by Comrade Stella B. as a basic illustration of some of the theoretical concepts which the comrade discusses and refers to inThe Super-Exploitation of Women and Developing a Revolutionary Mass Line (Part I)”.  Also see the comrade’s Glossary of Terms, another accompaniment to her theoretical document.

You can download this in PDF along with the Glossary here.

-R.I. Editorial Note.

by Stella B

Maria is a 37 year old woman living in Winnipeg with her 2 children, Mario age 14 and Maricella age 12, and her husband Rey. Nine years ago Maria moved to Winnipeg as a domestic worker through the live-in caregiver program. For the first three years Maria worked for a professional couple caring for their young children, living in their basement and working long hours, suffering through loneliness and family separation. Over the course of the following four years Maria was able to obtain her permanent residency, to pick up extra evening work at Tim Horton’s, rent an apartment in a shared house. After 7 years of separation, Maria was finally able to bring her children and her husband to live with her. Now, Rey works nights as a delivery driver and Maria continues to work as a nanny and a server at Tim Horton’s.

UntitledFrom 7:00 am until 4:00 pm from Monday to Friday Maria works as a nanny for a middle-class professional family who have three children ages one, four, and seven years old. It is Maria’s job to get the three children out of bed in the mornings, to dress them, and prepare their breakfast and pack a lunch for oldest child. Maria walks the older child to class, drops the middle child at pre-school, and takes the baby to the park or the library. Maria then picks the middle child up from pre-school, prepares lunch for the smaller children, and puts them down for nap. During nap Maria does laundry and tidies the house. After nap, she takes the two small ones to school to pick up the older child, bringing them all home again for snack. While the children have their snack, Maria starts dinner preparations based on the recipes her employers have left her, and ensures that everything is ready for when her employers arrive home between 4:00 and 4:30.

This type of domestic and caregiving work is called reproductive labour. It is the work that is mostly done by women in individual households within the family, or within the community. When women do this work for free for their families and communities, it is considered to have no value in the market economy, since no products or services are bought and sold. In this type of interpersonal relation only use-values are produced, food for the family to consume and domestic chores that ensure the ability of the family to function, such as shopping, laundry, and caring for children. Reproductive labour becomes commodified when middle and upper class families can afford to pay a domestic worker or a nanny to do this work in exchange for a wage or in slave-like conditions such as those required by the live-in caregiver program, or can pay the high daycare fees to send their children to a licenced daycare centre or family-run daycare. When reproductive labour is commodified it is considered unskilled and the workers are paid very low wages.

Untitled2From 5:00 – 9:00 pm Maria then goes to her evening shift at Tim Horton’s where she earns minimum wage preparing sandwiches and pouring coffees. Maria works alongside other working class folks in a process of social production, meaning that working class folk work together making products which are then sold for profits by the owners of the company. Under the capitalist mode of production, the two major classes, the working class and the bourgeoisie, engage in social relations; capitalists own the means of production and hire workers to produce commodities for exchange or sale. The workers are exploited in that they earn far less than what the exchange value of the commodities they produce is really worth. The working class has no way of making money except to sell their labour power for wages. Exploitation is robbery of the working class on an individual and on a grand scale, as surplus value (profit margin) is added to all commodities produced by the working class, and the bourgeoisie just outright takes this profit margin without having to do any of the actual work!

Workers are paid a wage which is barely sufficient to meet their basic needs in a capitalist society. Constant capital is the term used to describe the physical things that are needed to produce commodities. Physical things are called constant capital because they remain at their original value until transformed by workers into commodities. At Tim Horton’s this would include coffee beans, flour, sugar, ovens, coffee urns, etc.; they don’t increase in value until made into things to sell for profits. Variable capital refers to the wages paid to workers, and it called variable because this is where capital adds new value; it is Maria’s labour that turns coffee beans into coffee, which is sold for a profit – the actual cost of making the coffee is far less than the price that the consumer pays because surplus value is added to make up the exchange value. Maria and her co-workers at Tim Horton’s are exploited when they are forced to sell their labour power for a wage which is a pittance compared to the profits pocketed by those who own the company.

Untitled3Maria’s family back home was pushed off their traditional lands as mining companies stole indigenous lands and displaced people. Maria’s family moved into the city to find work as labourers. Unable to sustain their family, Maria sought work abroad in order to send money back to her family. Now in Canada, Maria remains an exploited worker, sending what money she can back home to her parents and siblings. In Canada, Maria and her co-workers are forced to live under social relations of exploitation; their lives are structured around being subject to the control of the bourgeoisie.

When Maria gets home from her very long day at two jobs, her work is not done! Maria has her own children to care for, and a husband who must work nights. This means that after working all day for minimum wage, Maria comes home and Untitled4works in her home for free. She prepares meals, washes clothes, helps her children with their homework, and does her best to provide a loving environment despite the many challenges her family faces. This type of work is considered to have no value for capitalists, despite the fact that it is women like Maria who provide the most profits for capitalists, migrating as a cheap and deskilled labour force, working long hours for minimum wage, and working for free at home raising a new generation of workers. Maria’s story is a typical illustration of super-exploitation.

But who cares for Maria? How does capitalism repay her for her endless efforts and sacrifices? Maria is able to access a few state-run programs and services to help her family get by, such as the child tax benefit which gives Maria and Rey an extra $236/month, and the community centre afterschool program where Maria’s children can do their homework and play games with other kids while Rey sleeps before going to work. But overall Maria’s relationship to the state and ideological superstructure is oppressive. The government and state structures in the imperialist countries are infused with structural racism and patriarchal ideology, from initial colonial contact to today.

Untitled5State-run temporary foreign worker programs import cheap labour from Third World countries under strict and oppressive conditions. Legal structures of citizenship and immigration are designed to help those who have capital, wealth, and privilege; the gates of immigration open for the bourgeoisie and shut for the working class. Access to financial institutions for loans and mortgages increases as wealth and privilege increase; the poor are stuck in shoddy rental housing without security. The dominant culture and ideology of society is that of the ruling classes and their legal, media, professional and academic allies. The exploitation of the working class and the super exploitation of working class women are structural and can only be overcome by revolution and social transformation!



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