During the Covid-19 outbreak I have been doing research about my family history. If it is teaching me nothing else, it is that I come from generations of men who worked in dirty, dangerous, low-wage work to support their families; from generations of women who worked in low-paying wage jobs until they married and took on ‘unpaid domestic labour’ as their full-time occupations. Some of them had up to twelve children (that lived). Old widows and widowers lived with their children’s families.
When I first encountered the words “unpaid domestic labour” in the census results I was stunned – were they slaves in other people’s homes? – was a fleeting question in my mind. No, they were slaves in their own homes.
While some made money from the cotton mills and ships and coal-mines, my family worked in them. Profits were skimmed off the top to support those who didn’t have to work so hard, or at all. Fair remuneration, or rather the avoidance of it, is the foundation of the accumulation of wealth. And it has to be pretty extreme to overcome the generation of resources of a family who work together and contribute to one another. Perhaps it could even be said that in essence, the factory owners and ship builders and coal mine owners actually made their fortunes on the backs of those ‘unpaid domestic workers’ who contributed the fruit of their wombs, their time, their energy, and their creativity to create and serve those who were exploited in the workplace. Who were born, lived, and died in poverty and hardship so others could live a life of leisure and enjoyment of the finer things in life.
Seems like some things haven’t changed much.