[OPE-L:5111] Re: the creation of labour-power

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sun, 25 May 1997 08:52:39 -0700 (PDT)

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Chai-on wrote in [OPE-L:5106]:

> I think the nuclear family is the product of the capitalist development.
> Large patriarchy system was necessary when it a production agent for the
> domestic production of bread, clothes, etc. Since after those conveniences
> were subsumed under the capitalist production and thus were able to be
> bought easily on the market, the large family became unnecessary. On top of
> this, the private property system transformed the unnecessary large family
> into the nuclear family.

I think, historically, the development of the nuclear family and
patriarchy preceeded the development of capitalism (at least, in Europe
where capitalism originated).

A number of random notes on this subject of the "creation of
labour-power" that we can pursue in further discussion:

1) I think we all agree that the decision to have children can not be
simply reduced to the imperatives of the capitalist economy. I.e. while
the reproduction of labour-power is a prerequisite for the reproduction of
capitalism, working-class families decide to have children for reasons
that are not entirely economic.

2) In a capitalist economy where there is still a significant peasant
economy, having children may be viewed _partially_ as economic in the
sense that children have the capacity after a certain age of being "field
hands" and, thereby, increasing family income. In many specific cultures,
peasant families may come to depend critically on this form of labor.
While this might be anticipated to decrease in importance with the
accumulation of capital and the proletarianization of labor, it
nonetheless remain important within some capitalist social formations.

3) Within many cultures, there is a perceived advantage to having boys
rather than girls. For instance, boys have traditionally been seen as a
family "asset" in the sense that they can be put to work in the fields
whereas girls may come to be viewed as a "liability". I think the
practice of "dowries" embodies this patriarchal concept. I.e. the family
of the "bride" is expected, by custom and tradition, to give a large
percentage of family wealth to the "groom" in exchange for his agreeing
to assume the "financial liability" of taking care of the "bride." Viewed
from that perspective, families may, in particular cultures, have an
incentive for having boys but _not_ girls. Thus, we have seen in recent
years (e.g. in India) infantcide where new-born girls are put to death.
(relatedly, this was an unanticipated consequence of the "one-child
family" policy in rural areas of China). Also in India, a recent
development (primarily in wealthy families) is where ultrasound testing
and abortion has been used to select the gender of children. I.e. after
pregnancy, the woman has ultrasound testing and, if it is determined
that the fetus is male the family has a a joyous celebration whereas if
the fetus is determined to be female the family goes into mourning and
the woman has (in all too many cases) an abortion!

4) With the development of transnational corporations and "free trade
zones", many corporations have come to depend on female labour for
employment. Since these firms typically pay wages based on local labour
market conditions, they can realize tremendous labor cost reductions by
paying these women very low wages and little or no benefits. Given the
lack of job options for these women, they are frequently at the mercy of
the firms (and this makes it easier to control the labour force and
increase the intensity of labour). It also seems that some corporations
select women because of perceived gender (social) characteristics, e.g.
docility, respect for authority, obedience (as well as possible physical
characteristics including dexterity and endurance). Given the extent of
poverty that exists in many parts of the world and lack of other job
opportunities for women, these women are under the gun and at the mercy
of the firms. In some cases, employers consciously use the family
patriarch to put pressure on their daughters to conform and obey factory
discipline. Moreover, since many of these families come to rely heavily
on the extra income from the daughter, both parents and wage-earner
realize that the financial success, perhaps existence, of the family
depends on the wage-earner maintaining her employment.

5) Even in some advanced capitalist nations (e.g. Japan), the "extended
family system" is an important aspect of social relations. For instance,
there is a mandatory retirement age in many firms in Japan and,
typically, no firm or state-sponsored pension plans. This means that
after a wage-earner retires, s/he is dependent on lifetime saving and
financial assistance from other members of the family. This, itself,
could provide an incentive to have children. I.e. one's children could be
viewed in this context as a "guarantee" for one's financial (and
physical) survival following retirement. One could argue that this could
also, to the extent that the firms aren't expected -- by custom and
tradition -- to provide a pension plan for wage-earners -- represent a
competitive advantage on world markets for the firms in question.

6) As we all know (even those of us who don't have children, like
myself), the cost of raising children has been skyrocketing in recent
decades. [I am reminded of a poster on a nearby bank from a decade ago
which had a picture of a newborn baby with the statement:
"Congratulations on your $100,000 investment!"). Yet, how can
working-class families in the presence of stagnant real wages, afford
these additional costs? This seems to point towards increasing demands by
workers to have the state bear an increasing cost of the total costs of
raising children. Conversely, it may be one reason why many states have
put increased pressure on working-class families for "population control."

7) As more and more families now require both spouses to work to provide
sufficient income for family needs and as more women enter the labor
force , who will take care of the children while the parents are off
working? This, again, creates pressure for workers to demand (of the
firm and/or the state) day-care facilities. Yet, in the current context
in many cultures, other members of the family (e.g. grandparents) are now
expected to provide a greater role in child-rearing. This is,
especially, the case for poor "single mothers" who can't afford

8) In other parts of the world where there is high unemployment and a
lack of job opportunitiers for women, these women increasingly become
part of the petty-commodity-producing sector, the so-called "informal
sector." Given the level of family impoverishment, the children also
frequently have jobs in the informal sector. Can it be reasonably be
anticipated that these children will succeed in obtaining employment as
wage-earners at a later time? I see no reason for such an optimistic

In solidarity, Jerry