Introduction to the Archive of Feminist Struggle for wages for housework. Donation by Mariarosa Dalla Costa


This text intro­duces the Archiv­io di Lot­ta Fem­min­ista per il salario al lavoro domes­ti­co, which con­tains a wealth of mate­r­i­al col­lect­ed from the 1970s to the present, all gra­cious­ly donat­ed by Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta after years of work as a mil­i­tant in the Fem­i­nist Move­ment and as a schol­ar of the con­di­tion of women. The archive, based in Pad­ua, Italy, col­lects a broad range of inven­to­ried mate­r­i­al from a strand of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment which, in Italy, first called itself Movi­men­to di Lot­ta Fem­minile (Women’s Strug­gle Move­ment), then lat­er Lot­ta Fem­min­ista (Fem­i­nist Strug­gle) and final­ly Movi­men­to dei Grup­pi e Comi­tati per il Salario al Lavoro Domes­ti­co (Move­ment of Groups and Com­mit­tees for Wages for House­work), hence­forth SLD. In Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­tries it is called the net­work of Wages for House­work (hence­forth WFH) although, undoubt­ed­ly, groups aimed at claim­ing pay for house­work have used oth­er names. One exam­ple is the Pow­er of Women Col­lec­tive in Lon­don. Even in Italy there have been vari­a­tions on the name, such as the Col­let­ti­vo Fem­min­ista Napo­le­tano (Neapoli­tan Fem­i­nist Col­lec­tive) for the SLD in Naples, the Fem­i­nist Group Immag­ine (Image) for the SLD of Varese.  A sep­a­rate case is the Fem­i­nist Group of Pescara which, hav­ing always col­lab­o­rat­ed on ini­tia­tives of the SLD cir­cuit, was includ­ed in the direc­to­ry of the SLD cir­cuit in the news­pa­per “Le operaie del­la casa” (House­work­ers). Since it was impos­si­ble to con­tin­u­ous­ly update the lists, there were groups for the SLD that arose which did not appear in the direc­to­ry of the paper, such as the Fem­i­nist Group for the SLD of San Dona di Piave and oth­ers. Also in Milan there was an SLD pres­ence which then became part of a broad­er Col­lec­tive at the city lev­el; and in Rome there were two groups for the SLD which strange­ly did not appear in the news­pa­per. Even more so, it was almost impos­si­ble to keep track of the WFH groups that arose abroad. The paper did, how­ev­er, take into account the prin­ci­pal groups. Many oth­er groups became known when, with the repres­sion of the late ‘70s, numer­ous telegrams of sol­i­dar­i­ty arrived which, along with oth­er sup­port­ing doc­u­ments in the archive, con­sti­tute an impor­tant source, giv­ing an idea of the real expan­sion of the SLD / WFH net­work. In Pad­ua, Lot­ta Fem­min­ista would in time con­sti­tute the moment for launch­ing the for­ma­tion of oth­er fem­i­nist groups that were orga­niz­ing them­selves autonomous­ly; one such exam­ple is Grup­po Fem­min­ista Medie (Mid­dle School Fem­i­nists Group).

It was, there­fore, a fem­i­nism of an inter­na­tion­al, mil­i­tant, anti-cap­i­tal­ist dimen­sion, lead­ing to big strug­gles in view of a rad­i­cal change of the exist­ing con­di­tion. The mate­ri­als con­tained in the archive are main­ly relat­ed to the ‘70s, hav­ing been designed for imme­di­ate use in the work of prac­ti­cal inter­ven­tion (leaflets and brochures); but there are also more ana­lyt­i­cal mate­ri­als which were for the polit­i­cal for­ma­tion of activists (small books), as well as more thor­ough study mate­ri­als con­cern­ing issues con­sid­ered cru­cial. Even after the ‘70s, this over­all pro­duc­tion con­tin­ued along the var­i­ous paths of the expo­nents of the net­work, mod­u­lat­ing with the new evo­lu­tions of the dis­course of its ini­tia­tives and the nodes con­sid­ered impor­tant. Col­lect­ed here is what was pos­si­ble to attain up to now, with the inten­tion of inte­grat­ing it fur­ther. The archive also includes paper doc­u­ments pro­duced after the ‘70s that tes­ti­fy to mil­i­tant activ­i­ty in var­i­ous coun­tries, even though, as the era of new infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies takes over, the fly­er and brochure tend to dis­ap­pear. There are also mul­ti­me­dia mate­ri­als.

In Italy, the foun­da­tion and the start of Lot­ta Fem­min­ista took place in June of 1971, when Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta who, with her expe­ri­ence of years in operais­mo (the work­ers’ move­ment), and hav­ing begun a polit­i­cal rela­tion­ship with Sel­ma James in Lon­don, con­vened a meet­ing in Pad­ua. She asked some of her female com­pan­ions to come to this meet­ing and put to their atten­tion a doc­u­ment she had draft­ed. Her writ­ing dealt with unpaid house­work as work that affects the lives of all women and invit­ed women every­where to launch var­i­ous forms of strug­gle to make it cost. The per­spec­tive in which the sub­ject mat­ter was treat­ed cor­re­spond­ed with that of oth­er strug­gles for wages that were led in fac­to­ries, in uni­ver­si­ties and through­out the ter­ri­to­ry by work­ers and stu­dents. The lat­ter group was fight­ing against the author­i­tar­i­an­ism of pro­fes­sors and par­ents, against the cost of study­ing, and was also ask­ing for a grant for the work of train­ing their work­force. This archive also con­tains doc­u­ments about the strug­gles of the stu­dents as well as those of tem­po­rary employ­ees of the uni­ver­si­ty.  With regard to house­work, women want­ed to make it cost; they would require a sys­tem of ser­vices that allowed time off for the house­wife, not just for the woman employed out­side the home; they would require a halv­ing of out­side work time so that every­one, men and women, could devote time to repro­duc­tion, time for duties but also for an emo­tion­al exchange.

With­in the Ital­ian area of inter­est, from which most of the mate­r­i­al archived here comes, some things should be clar­i­fied. The SLD strand of which we speak rep­re­sents one of the two great souls of fem­i­nism, the oth­er being that of auto­co­scien­za (rais­ing con­scious­ness). This one shared sig­nif­i­cant feel­ings with the Amer­i­can prac­tice of rais­ing con­scious­ness and favored small groups of women who recount­ed and com­pared their sto­ries in the first per­son. Bar­ing one’s per­son­al expe­ri­ence to oth­ers was a way of deny­ing an imposed iden­ti­ty, fixed in the role of wife and moth­er, and try­ing to build anoth­er iden­ti­ty.  One of the aspects that emerged more dra­mat­i­cal­ly through the expe­ri­ence of the small group was the dis­cov­ery of vio­lence that women expe­ri­ence. In the strand of rais­ing con­scious­ness there were groups with dif­fer­ent names which were par­tic­u­lar­ly strong in Milan and in oth­er large cities. In the ear­ly ‘70s this strand was also in touch with Psy­ch­analyse et Poli­tique (Psy­cho­analy­sis and Pol­i­tics) a psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic group in Paris head­ed by Antoinette Fouqué. The rais­ing con­scious­ness strand had lit­tle sym­pa­thy for demon­stra­tions and, even on large issues of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment such as abor­tion, it some­times pre­ferred not to par­tic­i­pate.  It reject­ed what it called “exter­nal com­mit­ments.”

That is how the two great char­ac­ter­i­za­tions in the Ital­ian Fem­i­nist Move­ment were delin­eat­ed, often labeled as the “psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic” strand and the “polit­i­cal” strand.

They did, how­ev­er, find com­mon ground in the break with the dis­course of eman­ci­pa­tion, in not hav­ing any inter­est for the dis­cus­sion on equal­i­ty since it was taint­ed by the vice of homolo­ga­tion, and in their refusal to have any­thing to do with the insti­tu­tions.

Lib­er­a­tion,” not “eman­ci­pa­tion” (a tir­ing and lim­it­ed con­quest of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions) was the new stan­dard that was always being filled with new con­tent as women advanced in their jour­ney and claimed their human rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms as well as their cit­i­zen­ship rights. They want­ed to be free from male author­i­ty, free from eco­nom­ic depen­dence on man, free from hav­ing to suf­fer vio­lence, free to decide about sex­u­al­i­ty and pro­cre­ation, free to exer­cise self-deter­mi­na­tion in every aspect of their lives.

The “dif­fer­ence” was the oth­er big state­ment against the dis­course of equal­i­ty. The dif­fer­ence being the speci­fici­ty of the con­di­tion of women, a dif­fer­ence that should emerge and which required spe­cif­ic answers.

The SLD strand of Lot­ta Fem­min­ista saw the dif­fer­ence as it fit into the cap­i­tal­ist sex­u­al divi­sion of labor. Men were paid for their work in the pro­duc­tion of goods, women were not paid for the work of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er. This was the unbear­able con­tra­dic­tion: an unwaged work­er in a wage econ­o­my. This was the hier­ar­chiz­ing dif­fer­ence between man and woman. This was the unbear­able con­di­tion, being a house­wife (Italy at the time had a par­tic­u­lar­ly high rate of house­wives) oblig­ed to con­tin­u­ous­ly sup­ply work to repro­duce the entire fam­i­ly but depen­dent on a man for sup­port, and by this depen­den­cy ham­pered in all her life choic­es.

Break­ing this con­tra­dic­tion meant launch­ing strug­gles every­where in order to make house­work cost. But it was also a great cul­tur­al awak­en­ing. The theme of house­work assert­ed itself across the Fem­i­nist Move­ment in place of eman­ci­pa­tion through work out­side the home, even in those cir­cuits that did not seek to require its salariza­tion. Women increas­ing­ly reject­ed a fem­i­nin­i­ty made ​​of end­less will­ing­ness to repro­duce oth­ers for free.

If the first signs of a fem­i­nist awak­en­ing date from the sec­ond half of the 1960s, undoubt­ed­ly, in Italy, a Fem­i­nist Move­ment that saw thou­sands of women take to the streets, demon­strate, orga­nize fights, dates to the begin­ning of the 1970s in a con­text already char­ac­ter­ized by oth­er strug­gles waged force­ful­ly by work­ers, stu­dents and tech­ni­cians, with the very active pres­ence of an extra-par­lia­men­tary left.  From this con­text came numer­ous mil­i­tant fem­i­nists who were soon joined by many oth­ers that had no pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence of mil­i­tan­cy. Var­i­ous women from the strand of Lot­ta Fem­min­ista came from years of mil­i­tan­cy in Potere Operaio (Work­ers’ Pow­er). They knew that a great change that offered new and con­sis­tent solu­tions to the prob­lem of human repro­duc­tion could not take place unless women’s deter­mi­na­tion could be heard. Their path, there­fore, would tend to build strug­gles on house­work and its con­di­tions, not only in homes and neigh­bor­hoods, but also at work­places out­side the home where they want­ed to make vis­i­ble the exis­tence of house­work, which all oth­er work depends on. So there were actions like bring­ing young chil­dren to the office, or strug­gles like those of the sec­re­taries of pro­fes­sion­al firms in Tri­este who refused to con­tin­ue to per­form addi­tion­al tasks that were asked of them only because they were women. Or strug­gles like those in the Solari Fac­to­ry in Udine which sought to reduce the time of repro­duc­tion that women had to spend on them­selves for treat­ment and med­ical check-ups. They asked the man­age­ment to orga­nize a ser­vice with a doc­tor who would come into the fac­to­ry. This would save the work­ers work-days that oth­er­wise would have been lost to bureau­crat­ic paper-work and med­ical vis­its. And they got what they asked for. The exam­ple then spread to oth­er fac­to­ries. Of course these, like many oth­er strug­gles and moments of mobi­liza­tion, were doc­u­ment­ed first and fore­most in the news­pa­per “Le operaie del­la casa” and in oth­er archived mate­ri­als.

If, in Italy, the claim to have house­work cost, to expect ret­ri­bu­tion for it start­ing with the most bur­den­some part, that is rais­ing chil­dren, seemed unre­al­is­tic, abroad, instead, there were sub­stan­tial exam­ples to which the mil­i­tant SLD-WFH net­work looked: pri­mar­i­ly the Fam­i­ly Allowances in Eng­land, the Fam­i­ly Allowance Funds in France, the allowances giv­en to Wel­fare Moth­ers in the Unit­ed States, all of which rep­re­sent­ed a first con­crete lev­el of ret­ri­bu­tion for this long fatigue.

But mobi­liza­tion on the mat­ter of house­work was inter­twined with mobi­liza­tion on all those aspects, those rights denied to fem­i­nine life that pre­vent­ed the woman from emerg­ing as a per­son. This, in fact, was the great process that was set in motion with the Fem­i­nist Move­ment. Want­i­ng to emerge as a per­son meant want­i­ng to emerge as an autonomous sub­ject, with all rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms, a sub­ject who claimed the abil­i­ty of self-deter­mi­na­tion in all areas of her life, start­ing from sex­u­al­i­ty and pro­cre­ation, affirm­ing that female sex­u­al­i­ty is not only in func­tion of the needs of man and is not only in func­tion of pro­cre­ation.  It was a hot top­ic in those years, one that was con­stant­ly inter­twined with that of the right of women to knowl­edge of their bod­ies, with that of health, with that of vio­lence, with that of abor­tion. In Pad­ua, a tri­al on abor­tion held on June 5, 1973, was used for the first time as a moment of polit­i­cal mobi­liza­tion in which the whole Move­ment par­tic­i­pat­ed. It was the first act over a course of years that would lead to the legal­iza­tion of abor­tion (Law 194/1978).

The open­ing of the dis­course on sex­u­al­i­ty, includ­ing the right to be able to live one’s sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, con­tributed, both in Pad­ua and on a nation­al lev­el, to cre­at­ing a ter­rain for debate where it became eas­i­er to take the floor for the male homo­sex­u­al move­ment as well. A full set of their mag­a­zine “Fuori” (Out) was donat­ed to the Augus­to Finzi Archives at the pub­lic library in Marghera by Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta a few years ago when the pos­si­bil­i­ty of build­ing this archive in Pad­ua had not yet mate­ri­al­ized. How­ev­er, even in the dis­course on sex­u­al­i­ty with peo­ple of the same sex, what mat­tered to the SLD net­work was to high­light that even a gay lifestyle, although in this case the divi­sion of labor is less fixed and hier­ar­chi­cal than in a het­ero­sex­u­al cou­ple, does not solve the prob­lem of house­work.

There was also a broad com­mit­ment to pro­mot­ing women’s infor­ma­tion on what today would be called “repro­duc­tive health” and urg­ing the State to do it.  The amount of work that was ded­i­cat­ed to build­ing knowl­edge about every­thing relat­ed to women’s health, which was spread through small pam­phlets, mimeo­graphs and books, is amaz­ing. In truth, the books are small and this shows that there was lit­tle time to write them and lit­tle time to read them, since much of the time was devot­ed to orga­ni­za­tion and action. And pub­lish­ers could not make big invest­ments so the books had to be of lim­it­ed size and essen­tial­ly sold. Two such exam­ples are the Mar­silio series enti­tled “Salario al lavoro domes­ti­co – strate­gia inter­nazionale fem­min­ista” (“Wages for House­work - Inter­na­tion­al Fem­i­nist Strat­e­gy”) and the book Un lavoro d’amore (The Work of Love), by Gio­van­na F. Dal­la Cos­ta, a fun­da­men­tal essay on the rela­tion­ship between phys­i­cal sex­u­al vio­lence and the gra­tu­ity of house­work, pub­lished by Edi­zioni delle Donne in Rome in 1978.  Keep in mind that this build­ing of anoth­er knowl­edge by the Fem­i­nist Move­ment was part of a hori­zon of con­struc­tion of oth­er knowl­edge con­duct­ed in the ‘70s by var­i­ous move­ments. In Pad­ua in 1974, the Com­mit­tee for the SLD that had tak­en over from Lot­ta Fem­min­ista opened the first self-man­aged fam­i­ly plan­ning clin­ic which would be fol­lowed by oth­ers in oth­er cities.  In this clin­ic many women and doc­tors will­ing­ly pro­vid­ed their ser­vices for free. The law (no. 405) estab­lish­ing fam­i­ly plan­ning clin­ics would come in 1975 while pre­vi­ous­ly, in 1971, the leg­is­la­tion (art. 553 c.p.) pro­hibit­ing the adver­tis­ing of con­tra­cep­tives had been declared uncon­sti­tu­tion­al by the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court. The num­ber of these clin­ics, how­ev­er, would always remain far below what was expect­ed and defi­cient in their func­tions of pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion and pre­ven­tion. Much effort was made on the issue of child­birth to return it to the con­di­tion of a nat­ur­al event, as opposed to its exces­sive med­ical­iza­tion, and to return to the woman the lead role with the right to have at that event the com­fort of a trust­ed per­son. The Move­ment paid par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the mater­ni­ty wards in hos­pi­tals and the strug­gle at the St. Anna of Fer­rara hos­pi­tal remains famous. But over­all, the whole field of gyne­col­o­gy was indict­ed, being still large­ly in the hands of male doc­tors, often author­i­tar­i­an and rough in their rela­tion­ships with patients.  Inquiries were also held in pub­lic clin­ics where women, often pos­ing as patients, went to test the qual­i­ty of the ser­vice. All around mater­ni­ty there was a hum of fem­i­nist research: the Move­ment for active birth was out­lined; Andria, a nation­al coor­di­na­tion of obste­tri­cians, gyne­col­o­gists and mid­wives who were par­tic­u­lar­ly atten­tive to the les­son of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment, was formed; Andria’s mouth­piece Istar, a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary jour­nal on birth, was estab­lished. The same cir­cuit would be very impor­tant lat­er in the ‘90s when the ques­tion of hys­terec­to­my abuse was raised.

In 1974, the ref­er­en­dum on divorce was won, there­by allow­ing this rel­a­tive­ly new insti­tu­tion to be part of Italy’s legal sys­tem. In 1975, the new fam­i­ly law focus­ing on equal­i­ty between spous­es entered into force. In fact, the insti­tu­tion­al response to the needs of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment was artic­u­lat­ed accord­ing to the clas­sic form of eman­ci­pa­tion and, from 1972-79, the num­ber of women involved in paid employ­ment would increase by 1,500,000. Things were more func­tion­al now that women could decide every­thing regard­ing their fam­i­ly and employ­ment out­side the home on an equal foot­ing with their spouse.

The oth­er major issue addressed was that of pros­ti­tu­tion. In 1958 the Mer­lin Law (no. 75) had abol­ished the reg­u­la­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion. Hence­forth, pros­ti­tu­tion would not be a crime while the exploita­tion of the pros­ti­tu­tion of oth­ers was. Con­se­quent­ly, the State could no longer prof­it from this activ­i­ty.  In the ‘70s, pros­ti­tu­tion itself was no longer a crime in many Euro­pean coun­tries, but in prac­tice it was crim­i­nal­ized in var­i­ous ways. Fur­ther­more, male vio­lence was often a com­mon prac­tice that was rather tak­en for grant­ed by the insti­tu­tions. In 1975, the mur­der of yet anoth­er pros­ti­tute in Lyon induced her street com­pan­ions to occu­py church­es and begin to orga­nize them­selves as a move­ment. On June 16th, 1976, the pros­ti­tutes held their first meet­ing at the the­ater “La Mutu­al­ité” in Paris. In the same year in the Unit­ed States, in New York, fre­quent raids led pub­lic opin­ion to think that lock­ing up pros­ti­tutes in Eros Cen­ters would be the ide­al solu­tion. Fre­quent raids also occurred in San Fran­cis­co, so even there the pros­ti­tutes rebelled and, from the Atlantic to the Pacif­ic, began to assert their rights, first of all to not be exploit­ed by oth­ers, to not suf­fer vio­lence from clients and police, and to keep their chil­dren with them. The big break­through that hap­pened was that pros­ti­tutes decid­ed to speak in the first per­son, appear­ing in pub­lic, refus­ing invis­i­bil­i­ty, vic­tim­iza­tion and ghet­toiza­tion. But above all, they refused let­ting oth­ers dis­cuss their choice in only moral terms and instead insist­ed dis­cussing it as a job. Since then the term sex­work­ers was coined and used uni­ver­sal­ly.  Even in Italy there would be meet­ings in which pros­ti­tutes spoke in the first per­son and, through their ini­tia­tive, com­mit­tees for the rights of pros­ti­tutes would be born. But above all, speak­ing of pros­ti­tu­tion in terms of work would put more light on the poor choic­es of women forced into being either eco­nom­i­cal­ly depen­dent on a man or hav­ing to hold two jobs for very low pay. So much so, that some inter­na­tion­al cir­cuits of pros­ti­tutes would pro­nounce them­selves in favor of wages for house­work. And there is doc­u­men­ta­tion of all this in this archive. But com­pared to the sit­u­a­tion in which this asser­tion of rights was giv­en, first among which the right not to be exploit­ed by oth­ers, neolib­er­al glob­al­iza­tion would put women from poor­er coun­tries, in con­di­tions of weak­ness and black­mailed by crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions, on the streets of the first world.

In 1975, the ever more impetu­ous growth of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment in var­i­ous coun­tries led the Unit­ed Nations to pro­claim 1975 the Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Year, to announce a con­fer­ence in Mex­i­co City on “Women, Devel­op­ment and Peace” and to devote the new decade to the same top­ic. At that Con­fer­ence, North­ern women would meet with South­ern women and dis­cov­er they had dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties. Pover­ty, not dis­crim­i­na­tion, was the first prob­lem for those who came from “devel­op­ing” coun­tries. But even this con­fer­ence would be per­ceived with a cer­tain indif­fer­ence by the Fem­i­nist Move­ment which was nev­er enthu­si­as­tic in front of insti­tu­tion­al events, espe­cial­ly if a high insti­tu­tion was involved. So there is almost no trace of this in the lit­er­a­ture of the Move­ment.

In 1979, the Gen­er­al Assem­bly of the Unit­ed Nations approved the Con­ven­tion Against All Forms of Dis­crim­i­na­tion against Women (CEDAW), which would go into effect in 1981. Con­ceived in only “neg­a­tive” terms, that is, by list­ing the areas in which there must not be dis­crim­i­na­tion against women and, on the oth­er hand, com­mit­ting states to take action if it does hap­pen, CEDAW cov­ers every aspect of a woman’s life and remains the most impor­tant char­ter on the sub­ject of dis­crim­i­na­tion. But for the Fem­i­nist Move­ment, even this char­ter would remain a dead let­ter, vir­tu­al­ly unknown, although lat­er it would be the char­ter that oblig­at­ed sig­na­to­ry states, includ­ing Italy, to take a series of steps regard­ing this dis­crim­i­na­tion. Its fault, if any­thing, is that it did not express­ly con­tem­plate vio­lence as a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Yet vio­lence, after house­work, was the oth­er big issue that emerged in the fem­i­nism of the ‘70s, in par­tic­u­lar sex­u­al vio­lence. In Italy, the Roc­co code still ranked sex­u­al vio­lence among the offens­es against pub­lic morals and decen­cy. It was a dif­fi­cult preg­nan­cy, that of the Move­ment, that want­ed to give birth to the woman as a per­son and then expect­ed that vio­lence against her be count­ed among crimes against the per­son. Var­i­ous bills have been pre­sent­ed since 1979 when the first pop­u­lar ini­tia­tive was pre­sent­ed. Even the Com­mu­nist Par­ty in 1977 pre­sent­ed one but the House did not ini­ti­ate dis­cus­sion on it. The Fem­i­nist Move­ment, how­ev­er, was a bit embar­rassed because it did not want to help define penal­ties. Instead, it mobi­lized in con­fer­ences defined as inter­na­tion­al tri­bunals like the one on crimes against women held in Brus­sels from March 4-8, 1976, involv­ing about 2,000 women from all over the world. And in that con­fer­ence a res­o­lu­tion pre­sent­ed by the activists of the SLD / WFH net­work from Italy, Cana­da, the Unit­ed States, Great Britain was vot­ed almost unan­i­mous­ly in the final gen­er­al assem­bly. The res­o­lu­tion says: “that unwaged house­work is rob­bery with vio­lence; that this work and wage­less­ness is a crime from which all oth­er crimes flow; that it brands us for life as the weak­er sex and deliv­ers us pow­er­less to employ­ers, gov­ern­ment plan­ners and leg­is­la­tors, doc­tors, the police, pris­ons and men­tal insti­tu­tions, as well as to men, for a life­time of servi­tude and impris­on­ment. We demand wages-for-house­work for all women from the gov­ern­ments of the world. We will orga­nize inter­na­tion­al­ly to win back the wealth that has been stolen from us in every coun­try and to put an end to the crimes com­mit­ted dai­ly against us all.” (Doc­u­ment 01467, May 1976)

The Fem­i­nist Move­ment also mobi­lized around the tri­als of men who used vio­lence against women. Its pres­ence ensured, first of all, that the vic­tim was not trans­formed into the accused. In 1975, the mobi­liza­tion around the tri­al for the Circeo mas­sacre, the case of two women who had been raped and tor­tured, one of whom died while the oth­er sur­vived by pre­tend­ing to be dead, marked the start of this mobi­liza­tion and being present in tri­als for vio­lence. But obvi­ous­ly the Move­ment took a num­ber of oth­er ini­tia­tives on this issue, from pub­licly report­ing the names of rapists, to torch­light pro­ces­sions, to much more. It also took the ini­tia­tive of sol­i­dar­i­ty by offer­ing its homes as a first source of shel­ter for women who want­ed to leave their homes because they suf­fered vio­lence. In Italy, it wasn’t until the ear­ly ‘90s that there were insti­tu­tion­al ini­tia­tives such as the first anti-vio­lence cen­ters or homes for women (who suf­fer vio­lence), while in dif­fer­ent Euro­pean coun­tries they arose at the end of the ‘70s.

As for the law on sex­u­al vio­lence, 20 years would pass before it would go into effect. It would be law no. 66 of 1996. Final­ly, the crime of sex­u­al vio­lence rede­fined and artic­u­lat­ed in the case stud­ies that con­sid­ered this would be placed in the con­text of crimes against the per­son and no longer against pub­lic morals and decen­cy.

Here, too, a pas­sage that took place at the lev­el of the Unit­ed Nations three years ear­li­er must be remem­bered. At the Con­fer­ence on Human Rights held in Vien­na from June 14th to 25th , 1993, the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of Vio­lence against Women was pro­duced, which would be approved by the UN Gen­er­al Assem­bly in Decem­ber 1993. It was the Char­ter that gave the most com­pre­hen­sive def­i­n­i­tion of gen­der vio­lence to which nation­al stan­dards refer.

Arti­cles 587 and 544 of the Crim­i­nal Code were repealed in 1981, the for­mer refer­ring to the so-called “hon­or killing,” the lat­ter to the “shot­gun wed­ding.” But the Fem­i­nist Move­ment deserves cred­it for hav­ing first dis­cov­ered and brought to light the extra­or­di­nary courage of Fran­ca Vio­la in Alcamo (Tra­pani), who, in 1965, hav­ing been kid­napped by her reject­ed suit­or, refused a “shot­gun wed­ding.” In 1968, the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court estab­lished the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of Arti­cle 599 of the Crim­i­nal Code which con­sid­ered adul­tery as an offense when com­mit­ted by the wife, but not by the hus­band. In the same way, in 1971, the same Court, as men­tioned above, would declare the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of Arti­cle 553 of the Crim­i­nal Code which pro­hib­it­ed the adver­tis­ing of con­tra­cep­tives.

In 1965, Social­ist deputy Loris For­tu­na pre­sent­ed a bill to par­lia­ment intro­duc­ing divorce in Italy, which would go into effect in 1970. These flash­es in the sec­ond half of the ‘60s and the dawn of the ‘70s indi­cat­ed that some will­ing­ness to change the rules and cus­toms that reg­u­lat­ed the sphere of repro­duc­tion was brew­ing in the Ital­ian social and insti­tu­tion­al fab­ric. In this con­text, the behav­ior of Fran­ca Vio­la could be seen as a fore­run­ner of a behav­ior that would be mul­ti­plied with fem­i­nism.  But we would have to go through the explo­sion of 1968, in which young peo­ple achieved a new lifestyle, and through the mass strug­gles of the late ‘60s and ear­ly ‘70s, for the con­di­tion of women to be thrown into ques­tion with­in a project of great trans­for­ma­tion of which the Fem­i­nist Move­ment was the her­ald.

The great trans­for­ma­tion … this was the project that under­lay all the action of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment of the ‘70s, just as it under­lay the action of the oth­er move­ments of the peri­od. On the one hand, it was a demand which aimed to achieve bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions, more free time, a widen­ing of the sphere of wel­fare; on the oth­er hand, there was an ambi­tion to gath­er such force as to cause a great change.

The ter­ri­to­ry as a social fac­to­ry, strug­gles on wages by the var­i­ous enti­ties that inhab­it it, all this was already a fun­da­men­tal assump­tion of work­erism. But the Fem­i­nist Move­ment revealed that women work behind the closed doors of the home; that the home is a pro­duc­tion cen­ter, it pro­duces and repro­duces labor pow­er dai­ly; that cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion pass­es through two great poles, the fac­to­ry and the home. There­fore, the woman is the main sub­ject of the social fab­ric. But there is no house­work in Marx. This was the dis­cov­ery of those most accus­tomed to han­dling Cap­i­tal.

Also keep in mind that it was work­erism which had pro­mot­ed the direct rela­tion­ship between mil­i­tants and the works of Marx. At the Uni­ver­si­ty and in oth­er places, con­tin­u­ous lec­tures were made ​​on Cap­i­tal; chap­ters 8, 24 and 25 of the first book were high­light­ed, deal­ing with the work­day, orig­i­nal accu­mu­la­tion and the mod­ern the­o­ry of col­o­niza­tion (or the­o­ry of sys­tem­at­ic col­o­niza­tion) respec­tive­ly. Such issues would come back to the fore­front with the attack on com­mon goods deployed around the plan­et by neolib­er­al glob­al­iza­tion. Numer­ous stud­ies on the var­i­ous stages of cap­i­tal were car­ried out. The dis­cov­ery that there was no house­work in Marx led to that set of analy­ses, by this cir­cuit of schol­ars, which aimed to reveal the hid­den phase of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, that of the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er. Here we should men­tion, above all, the text L’arcano del­la ripro­duzione (The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion), by L. For­tu­nati, (Mar­silio, Pad­ua, 1981). So, also, we should men­tion the essay Il grande Cal­ibano (The Great Cal­iban), by S. Fed­eri­ci and L. For­tu­nati, (Fran­coAn­geli, Mlano, 1984) that, rel­a­tive to the peri­od of orig­i­nal accu­mu­la­tion, rereads and rein­ter­prets the tri­als of the witch hunts from a polit­i­cal point of view. This is just a first, brief men­tion of the fun­da­men­tal texts but there are many oth­ers, rep­re­sent­ing stages of the ana­lyt­i­cal effort that was sus­tained, that are in the archive, rep­re­sent­ing essen­tial com­po­nents of the the­o­ret­i­cal pat­ri­mo­ny of the fem­i­nist strand we are deal­ing with.

For com­plete­ness with respect to the type of mate­r­i­al donat­ed, it must be said that the archive also hous­es a remark­able col­lec­tion of fem­i­nist mag­a­zines from oth­er groups, as well as news­pa­per sheets or jour­nal issues or oth­er papers com­ing from dif­fer­ent sub­jects. This is explained by the fact that oth­er active orga­ni­za­tions felt that a mutu­al under­stand­ing of what was pro­duced was inter­est­ing and so sent us their mate­ri­als.

In the same way, it should be men­tioned that some com­pan­ions formed the Musi­cal Group of the SLD Com­mit­tee of Pad­ua which com­posed and sang at events. These beau­ti­ful songs that they wrote and record­ed on two albums, recent­ly repro­duced on CD, are kept in both ver­sions at the archive. A the­ater group, which belonged to the same Com­mit­tee, was also formed and per­formed the show “L’identità” (The Iden­ti­ty), adapt­ed from a text by Maria Vit­to­ria Arciero. The cre­ativ­i­ty, the need to express them­selves in new forms, was in fact an essen­tial need that explod­ed across the move­ment, even among men. The strug­gle was accom­pa­nied by joy­ful gath­er­ings; it was accom­pa­nied by a social­i­ty with­out bound­aries.

The repres­sion in the late ‘70s end­ed a decade of activism on the part of var­i­ous sub­jects, includ­ing fem­i­nists. Equal oppor­tu­ni­ty poli­cies as an insti­tu­tion­al response to the needs of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment replaced the prob­lem of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment with that of dis­crim­i­na­tion between men and women, direct­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion to cir­cum­scribe their ana­lyt­i­cal effort to that effect. The ‘80s were years of social nor­mal­iza­tion, the launch of neolib­er­al­ism, the dras­tic appli­ca­tion in many coun­tries of struc­tur­al adjust­ment poli­cies. For var­i­ous mem­bers of the fem­i­nist cir­cuit in ques­tion, the impos­si­bil­i­ty of con­tin­u­ing a dis­course in the advanced areas pushed them toward the oth­er end of devel­op­ment, to spend­ing peri­ods of time, work­ing even, in coun­tries of the south­ern part of the world where the neolib­er­al glob­al­iza­tion of the ‘90s would bring new cru­cial nodes to their atten­tion: first and fore­most, the rela­tion­ship between the expan­sion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions and sub­sis­tence economies, the ques­tion of land, water and seeds as fun­da­men­tal com­mon goods, the poli­cies of food, the glob­al oper­a­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion and low­er­ing the cost of labor, of which glob­al­iza­tion and restrat­i­fi­ca­tion of the work of car­ing is an extreme­ly sig­nif­i­cant out­come.

Renewed stud­ies on the theme of orig­i­nal accu­mu­la­tion there­fore return in the read­ings of neolib­er­al glob­al­iza­tion. Repro­duc­tion, in a broad­er sense, is inves­ti­gat­ed not only for how it depends on human activ­i­ties and the sup­plies of the state, but also for how it depends on the health of the plan­et Earth.

In a con­text in which all kinds of dis­as­ters that open lethal wounds in the bal­ance of life on earth and in the sea are becom­ing more and more dra­mat­ic and fre­quent, not only are stud­ies being con­duct­ed but new ini­tia­tives are being tak­en. The over­all work of the mem­bers of the Fem­i­nist Move­ment that was the sub­ject of this illus­tra­tion there­by meets new gen­er­a­tions and helps to cre­ate new cir­cuits of analy­sis and mil­i­tan­cy.  A good wit­ness to this is the online mag­a­zine The Com­mon­er and the com­plex of mate­ri­als housed in this archive.

– Trans­lat­ed by Rafael­la Capan­na

The Archive’s address and con­tact infor­ma­tion is: 

Bib­liote­ca Civi­ca (Civic Library), Cen­tro Cul­tur­ale San Gae­tano

Via Alti­nate 71, 35121

Pado­va, Italy

Con­sul­ta­tion Hours: Mon­day and Thurs­day, from 8:30 to 17:30

Tel. + 39 049 820 4811, fax +39 049 820 4804


Author of the article

is an Italian feminist, a former member of Lotta Femminista, and cofounder of the International Feminist Collective. She is an associate professor emerita at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Padua, and devotes her theoretical and practical activity to understanding the condition of women through an updated reading of capitalist development. Among many other works, she is the author of The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, with Selma James.