Global Labour University

Centring Care Work: Debates, Strategies, and Policies for a Transformative Future

Care work encompasses all paid and unpaid work involved in caring for others. Caring occurs within homes, communities,  and both public and private institutions, with workers in each setting performing caregiving roles under vastly different conditions. Reflecting on its inherently gendered inequalities, academic feminists and activists have sought to conceptualise the relationship between patriarchy, capitalism and the social organisation of care. Following the growing demand for paid care labour in some countries, feminists have also shed light on the phenomenon of care imperialism, with growing streams of women emigrating to act as formal and informal caregivers in other countries’ hospitals, care homes, and families.

Cutting through these theoretical debates, there is a consensus on the societal importance of care, which constitutes the basis on which societies and economies, hence capitalism, are built. The COVID-19 pandemic further reinforced this consensus. Centring care work transcends mere economic considerations, representing a political determination of how societies organise their care systems, whether under public, private or mixed systems. It also encompasses issues such as workforce composition and working conditions.

Gender inequality is a pressing concern for the labour movement as it engages with the care economy, whose socially constructed subaltern character has historically underpinned the low wages caring jobs typically attract. Engaging these issues necessitates further exploration and action to address disparities and promote progressive visions for alternative ways to organise care provision, both within households and in the public sphere.

The Global Labour Column calls for contributions that analyse the various dimensions of care work, with a focus on activist struggles (including case studies of workers and care recipients organisations), theoretical debates and research findings. Contributions based on action research methods and concrete experiences of community-based organisations are highly welcome, as well as those exploring the relationship between these struggles and trade union mobilization.

Potential guiding questions are:

  1. How is care work conceptualised? What are the political implications of different definitions, such as “social reproduction work”, “care economy”, “purple economy”, and others? How do these inform different forms of social organisation of care?
  2. What is the vantage point of workers on care provision? What strategies do they employ to advocate for improved working conditions and rights? What relationship, if any, do they have with trade unions?
  3. What are the implications of the gendered character of caregiving professions for job quality and wages, particularly for women of different racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds?    
  4. What are the specific challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people, both as caregivers and care recipients? How do they collectively organise?
  5. How do these discussions on the politicization of care work intersect with arguments for just transition and environmental sustainability? What lessons can be learned from collective initiatives by care workers in this regard?     
  6. What reforms are needed, and what alternatives are being shaped at present in the wake of the pandemic?

Please submit your contribution by July 1, by sending it to GLC Editor:

Consent Management Platform by Real Cookie Banner