Posts Tagged ‘childcare’

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I’ll admit I’m of two minds about all the positive references to European socialism these days. I’ve read enough police procedurals by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall to know all is not well in the kind of social democracy that many countries in Europe managed to build in the postwar period. More seriously, I think we’re setting our sights too low if our horizon is limited to what some sectors of some European countries have been able to achieve (and, of course, what they’ve left untouched)—not to mention the forms of austerity European socialists have been attempting to manage after the crash of 2007-08 and their unwillingness to deal with the current massive inflow of refugees.

On the other hand, there’s something useful in challenging the constraints imposed on discussions in the United States by referring to the kinds of life and work people have been able to create in Western Europe. Bernie Sanders, to take one prominent example, refers to universal healthcare, free public education, better childcare, and higher wages in Denmark and Sweden as examples Americans might emulate.

And then there’s Chantal Panozzo’s description [ht: sm] of the differences between working in the United States and in Switzerland.

A hiring manager at an American company who interviewed me recently for a permanent position asked me how much vacation I wanted. When I said four weeks, which is the legal Swiss minimum, she paused and said O.K., but then informed me that I would need to check my phone and email during this time.

I responded that checking my email on vacation wasn’t my definition of a vacation. She didn’t know what to say. Finally, she grudgingly said they could write it into my contract that I wouldn’t have to check my email during vacation. But the situation made me wonder, once again, if a country that bred this kind of culture was a place where I wanted to spend the rest of my working life.

Later, when I asked a different American company about the possibility of working part time, four days a week, they said they didn’t know how that would work. I tried to explain how I had successfully worked part time in several jobs overseas — even creating television commercials while doing so, but it was no use. I was fighting a culture that was not ready for my “radical” Swiss ideas. The fact that it was my own culture — supposedly so advanced and creative — only made things worse.

So, what role does European socialism play in our current debates about life and work? Well, it shows, in a very concrete way, that things in the United States don’t have to be the way they are. “Look,” we can say, “they manage to do it over there. And we’re an even richer country. Imagine what we could do here.”

But then we can also say, there are more far-reaching changes we can make to enhance the life and work of the majority of the population—even more than European socialism has thus far been able to achieve.

 

Whatever happened to the idea of providing affordable, professional, on-site childcare for America’s families?

Yes, such childcare [ht: sm] did exist—for a few years (1943-45), in a few enterprises (the Kaiser Company shipyards in Oregon and California). The workers in those shipyards paid a nominal fee to leave their children (initially, from the ages of 2 to 6—but then expanded down to 18 months and up to 12 years) in Kaiser Centers, where they received food, exercise, and an education provided by trained staff who were paid the same as workers in the yards [pdf].

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Now, of course, few employer-sponsored childcare centers exist—and the price of decent childcare is beyond the reach of many U.S. households.

We did have it once, as the Kaiser Centers prove. And we could have it again—either as an employer-provided benefit or, even better, as a universal, government-sponsored program.

But workers would have to demand it—in the name of their children—as a useful way of capturing and spending a portion of society’s surplus.

 

*No, I’m not trying to channel The Simpsons’ Helen Lovejoy.

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occupy feminism

Do Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Princeton professor Ann-Marie Slaughter adequately represent the contemporary face of feminism?

Not for Catherine Rottenberg [ht: ng], for whom what is troubling is “how little emphasis either Slaughter or Sandberg ultimately places on equal rights, justice or emancipation as the end goals for feminism.”

The move from a discourse of equal rights and social justice to “internalising the revolution” or, in Slaughter’s case, “a national happiness project” is predicated on the erasure or exclusion of the vast majority of women. Put differently, the feminist project these women advocate does not and cannot take into account the reality of the vast majority of US women. A national project it is not. . .

Figures show, for example, that in 2009, 27.5 percent of African-American women, 27.4 percent of Hispanic women and 13.5 percent of white women in the US were living below the poverty line. Moreover, 35.1 percent of households headed by single moms were food insecure at some point in 2010, meaning that they did not have enough food at all times for an active, healthy life.

Many working mothers in the US are working double shifts, night shifts or two to three jobs just in order to provide for their families.

Given these blatant class and race-biases, there is something profoundly illiberal – and fundamentally incongruous – in the re-envisioning of liberated womanhood as a reorientation of affect and as a better balancing act. US women do not need to change their attitude; they need, first, job security, good childcare, livable wages for the work they do, and physical security.

It’s time, it seems, to lean in, demand it all, and to occupy feminism for the 99 percent.