Few voices have been as consistent and eloquent in speaking out about the importance – indeed the centrality – of domains and spheres of labor that are presented to us as peripheral, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa. In her first essay (one of three in the latest issue of the wonderful journal The Commoner), she begins
I began to pose to myself the issue of the land as a crucial question at the end of the eighties, on the heels of a trajectory which, during the end of the sixties and seventies, had as its crux the factory as the space of waged labour and then the home as the space of unwaged labour within which the former finds its roots. The labour, therefore, involved in the production of commodities and that of the reproduction of labour power, the labour of the factory worker and the labour of the housewife within the Fordist organization of society. At that time we said that the employer with one paycheck in reality bought two people, the worker and the woman behind him. Agricultural labor, or the labour of the land, which reproduced life for everybody, remained in the shadows however.
I love reading Dalla Costa because of her ability to so concisely illuminate the interconnectedness and mutual penetration of different domains of oppression. Read the above again and note how she indicates that the exploitation of waged labour depends on the ability to further exploit unwaged labour. Capitalism depends, in that instance, on the further oppression of women by men, and farms that oppression out to male workers, some of whom accept the charge.
Similarly, in the industrial age, the focus on factory production has allowed the rulers to present agricultural production as a peripheral activity, rather than that which makes everything else possible. The regimes of monoculture which decimate local food security and render entire regions vulnerable to price shocks – followed by demands from the World Bank and others to engage in Structural Adjustment Programs and then to actually take over a country’s economic policy – oppress the farmers. The oppression of farmers, in turn, depends on the oppression of the land, and what I think of as theft from the future.