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Selma James (born 1930) is the author of the women's movement classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign and coordinator of the Global Women's Strike.


Socialist activist

Selma James was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1930. As a young woman she worked in factories and then as a full-time housewife and mother. At the age of 15 she joined the Johnson-Forest Tendency, one of whose three leaders was CLR James.

In 1952 she wrote the classic 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. Unusually at the time the newspaper had pages dedicated to giving women, young people and Black people an autonomous voice. James was a regular columnist and edited the Women's Page. In 1955 she came to England to marry CLR James, who had been deported from the United States during the McCarthy Period. They were together for 25 years and were close political colleagues.

From 1958 to 1962 James lived in Trinidad where, with CLR James, she was active in the movement for West Indian independence and federation. Returning to England after independence, she became the first organising 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.

Wages for housework

In 1972, the publication Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (authored with Mariarosa Dalla Costa) launched the "domestic labour 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. The 1983 publication of James' Marx and Feminism broke with established Marxist theory by providing a reading of Marx's Capital from the point of view of women and of unwaged work.

In 1972 James founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign which demands money from the State for the unwaged work in the home and in the community. A raging debate followed about whether caring full-time was "work" or a "role" — and whether it should be compensated with a wage.

A number of autonomous organizations were formed in 1975—Black Women for Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians, the English Collective of Prostitutes and some years later WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities). James is the first spokeswoman of the English Collective of Prostitutes, which campaigns for decriminalization as well as viable economic alternatives to prostitution.

From 1985 James co-ordinated the International Women Count Network which won the UN decision where governments agreed to measure and value unwaged work in national statistics [1]. Legislation on this has since been introduced in Trinidad & Tobago and Spain, and time-use surveys and other research are underway in many countries. In Venezuela, Article 88 of the Constitution recognizes work in the home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces wealth and social welfare, and entitles housewives to social security.

Recent activity

Since 2000 James has been international coordinator of the Global Women's Strike, a network of grassroots women, bringing together actions and initiatives in many countries. The Strike demands that society "Invest in Caring Not Killing", and that military budgets be returned to the community starting with women, the main carers everywhere. She has been working with the Venezuelan Revolution since 2002.[2]

She is general editor of Crossroads Books.

She lectures in the UK, US and other countries on a wide range of topics including Sex, Race & Class, What the Marxists Never Told Us About Marx, The Internationalist Jewish Tradition, Rediscovering Nyerere's Tanzania, CLR James as a political organizer, and Jean Rhys: Jumping to Tia [3].

In April 2008, James (along with Edinburgh based Ralph Ibbott & Noreen Ibbott, active Britain Tanzania Society[4] couple members who were in Tanzania in the 1960s), visited Edinburgh on the Anniversary of Tanzania Muungano Day[5] that falls on the 26th April. She gave a talk in a session hosted by Tanzania Edinburgh Community Association (TzECA)[6] on NYERERE'S UJAMAA (SOCIALISM) IN 1960s IN TANZANIA with reference to the subject of Ruvuma Development Association (RDA)[7] and the Tanzania Arusha Declaration[8]. The session took place at the Waverley Care/Solas.

In May 2008, James signed the Letter of British Jews on 60th anniversary of Israel published in the Guardian explaining why she will not celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary.


  • The Power of Women & the Subversion of the Community (1972)
  • Sex, Race & Class (1974)
  • Women, the Unions and Work (1972)
  • Marx & Feminism (1983)
  • Hookers in the House of the Lord (1983)
  • The Ladies & the Mammies: Jane Austen & Jean Rhys (1983)
  • Strangers & Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration (1985)
  • The Global Kitchen (1985, 1995)
  • The Milk of Human Kindness: Defending Breastfeeding from the Global Market & the AIDS Industry (2003)
  • Introduction to Creating a Caring Economy: Nora Castañeda & the Women's Development Bank of Venezuela (2006)
  • Introduction to The Arusha Declaration, Rediscovering Nyerere's Tanzania (2007)
  • Forthcoming publication: Editor of Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners Vs the USA by Mumia Abu-Jamal


  • The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, The Falling Wall Press, Bristol, October 1972 (2nd edition February 1973, 3rd edition September 1975);
  • Waging the War Over Wages, Los Angeles Times 7 May 1987;
  • Labours of Love, or Maybe Just a Rip-Off, The Times 19 Feb 1992;
  • Home Truths for Feminists, How Should the Work Women do as Mothers be Rewarded?, The Guardian, 21 February 2004;
  • An Antidote for Apathy, Venezuela's president has achieved a level of grassroots participation our politicians can only dream of, The Guardian 13 August 2004;
  • Interview in the Tribune

External links



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