The Guardian • Issue #2054


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2054
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Skye Dannaher

On Tuesday 11th April, the Western Australian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation was compared to Hitler at an Industrial Relations Commission hearing, simply because they refused to follow an unjust order that disallowed them from going on strike. While not seeking the previously threatened deregistration of the union, this was a disgusting attack on a union largely composed of women and queer people, reflecting the demographics of the industry.

This mirrors attacks on workers in other industries dominated by women and queer people, such as early childhood education and teaching, with politicians and the media claiming that the burden on the rest of society is too high for the workers to strike. They’ll say that striking teachers and early childhood educators care more about money than the children in order to undermine the public’s view of their plight.

But why are the media and politicians able to play up this idea that it’s selfish for workers in these industries to demand better pay and working conditions so that they can live comfortably and care for people as best as possible? I believe that it’s at least partially because these industries are viewed as an extension of the unpaid, often thankless domestic labour that is seen as the duty of women and queer people under capitalism. Nurses, who do the majority of work tending to patients, making sure that they’re comfortable and healthy, and early childhood educators and teachers, who raise our children just as much as their families do, are either consciously or subconsciously seen as simply fulfilling the roles that they were born into.

This further reinforces the idea that it is women and queer people’s duty to do unpaid domestic labour for cisgender* men. People see that women and queer people are expected to carry out thankless caring roles in their work life and extend that attitude to the home. Cisgender men see how they are cared for by their nurses and how they were raised by their teachers and expect women and queer people to do the same labour, that was paid, at home for free.

The mutually reinforcing nature of labour in caring industries being seen as an extension of domestic labour and that labour being devalued by the devaluation of the labour done in caring industries means that this exploitation of women’s needs to be challenged on two fronts: the home and the workplace.

On the home front, we need education and cultural change. We must be teaching children in schools both to value domestic labour and that domestic labour is not the realm of women and queer people but of all people. We must also institute programs that reshape the public’s view of domestic labour, though literature and art that upholds a progressive view of domestic labour.

In the workplace, we must combat the idea that workers in caring industries are selfish for demanding better compensation and conditions. This can only be done by ensuring that the voices of workers are heard through continued strikes and union campaigns.

*Cisgender: someone whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.

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