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When Work Is Slavery Author(s): Eileen Boris Source: Social Justice, Vol. 25, No.

1 (71), Disdained Mothers & Despised Others: The Politics & Impact of Welfare Reform (Spring 1998), pp. 28-46 Published by: Social Justice/Global Options Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/29767057 . Accessed: 07/01/2014 22:53
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When Work

Is Slavery
Eileen Boris





Medicaid." "I know I would feel better because I'd be getting benefits instead of a paycheck and people wouldn't look down atme like I was crazy anymore." Hargrove was a double causality of a budget-cutting mania that had led to the downsizing of government employment, while forcing welfare recipients to "work" for theirbenefits by undertaking jobs previously performed by public employees. "I don't mind doing the work," similarly reported street cleaner Geneva Moore, a 45-year-old Bronx mother of three."But we are just like a piece ofwaste material the way the stateprogram treatsus. They feel likewe're slaves or something, having towork off our check." Complaining of dangerous condi? tions, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and arbitrary treatment, those WEP spoke of their labor as "slavery" or "indentured servitude."1 enrolled in The requiring ofwelfare participants towork for theirbenefits is not new, nor

a Long Island custodial worker, labored in July 1997 for her old Mineola County Department of Social supervisor at her old tasks for the Services ? but inplace ofwages she ended up each month with a $53.50 welfare check, $263 in food stamps, and no employee protections. Hargrove was partici? pating inNew York's Work Experience Program (WEP), one of the state-level workfare initiatives developed presumably to teach those on public assistance how to labor. If an employee, she explained, "I'd be making more money, and I'd have

is the identificationofworkfare with "slavery." Beginning with 1967 amendments to theSocial Security Act, which established the Work Incentive Program (WIN) that allowed mothers of even small children to participate in employment or training if childcare was available, welfare reform has fought "welfare depen? dence" and poor single mothers have opposed "forced work" at less than the

Eileen Boris, Professor of History at Howard University (301 Gillums Ridge Road, Charlottesville, is the author ofHome to Work: Motherhood and VA 22903; e-mail: ecb4d@faraday.clas.virginia.edu) thePolitics of Industrial Homework in theUnited States (1994), which won the 1995 Philip Taft Prize Historians: The Personal, inLabor History. With Nupur Chaudhuri, she is editing Voices ofWomen 's to be published in 1999 by Indiana University Press for the 30th the Political, the Professional, inHistory. Currently she iswriting a history of Women anniversary of theCoordinating Council for employment and welfare policy since World War II that highlights the voices of mothers and other Committee of 100. The author Women's working people. She was on the steering committee of the Research Center, Howard would like to thankGwendolyn Mink, the staff of the Moorland-Spingarn University, and participants at theAugust 1997 American Studies Seminar, University ofMelbourne, "The American Working Class Today," especially Diane Kirkby.

28 Social Justice Vol. 25, No.

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When Work Is Slavery


income maintenance or minimum wage (Rose, 1972: 109). Linking welfare ? assistance to those in need? with dependency, and mandating work? public as its antidote, welfare reform in the last labor usually performed for a wage ? decades of the20th centuryhas transformedthe meanings of "work" and "welfare" more apparent than with the and therelationship between the two.Nowhere is this now to with Children defunct Aid the Families Dependent politics surrounding (AFDC). We need to understand reform in the 1990s as the triumphof a 30-year reaction against the gains of the 1960s, afterAfrican American women finally shared inAFDC and welfare finally became aright or entitlement.Here I explore contested understandings of "work" and its relation to "welfare." The voices of poor single mothers, organized in theNational Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) from 1966 until 1975, offer an alternative vantage point fromwhich to evaluate currentwelfare "reform." They recognized the necessity of notmerely expanding the definition of work to embrace the unpaid labor of caregiving or work to income. Such a standpoint motherwork, but of refocusing thedebate from shiftsthepolicy question from "are you working?" to "are you earning enough to raise your children in dignity?"2 The Historical Shape ofWelfare

widowed mother, deserving because first major amendments in 1939 separated the her deceased husband qualified for social insurance, from the never-married or divorced mother, judged undeserving because shewas a woman without a man (eitherhusband or father) mediating her relation to the state even from thegrave. Where widows and theirchildren received survivors' insurance after 1939, poor singlemothers received Aid toDependent Children (ADC) [changed toAid to Families with Dependent Children, orAFDC, in 1962]. Unlike the federally set survivors' insurance, ADC consisted of federal funds matched by the states, which ran theirown programs with minimal federal supervision. Initially, funds only covered children, not caregivers. In 1949, Congress authorized a caregiver mother or another adult to grant out of the belief that "it was 'necessary for the be in the home full time to provide proper care and supervision.'"3 State regulations could be parochial, discriminatory, and arbitrary as states gave

New Deal, the recipient ofmothers' pensions was tobe thewhite, Before the worthywidow, the object of congressional paeans when such programs found a federalniche inTitle IV of the 1935 Social Security Act. (In theory, the 1935 law served all single mothers; though therewas no mention of race, labor-market segmentation and local administration led todiscriminatory implementation.) The

differentamounts of benefits, excluded "employable mothers," demanded "suit? able homes," and policed sexual behavior, cutting offwomen with "men in the house." Southern states refused to qualify black women forwelfare or disquali? fied themwhen the cotton crop needed picking (Goodwin, 1997,1995; Gordon, 1994; Mink, 1995; Coll, 1995).

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oftenwithheld by bureaucracies. (From 588,000 families applying forAFDC in 1960, the numbers grew by more than a half to 903,000 in 1966, then jumped millions were obtaining aid.) Legal services threefold from 1965 to 1976, so that and civil rights lawyers overturned "man in thehouse" rules and established aright to a fair hearing to obtain or maintain benefits.4 As part of the Civil Rights Movement, welfare rights organizing took on a black face, even though the majority of women on welfare remained white (Solinger, 1992). Politicians responded by lambastingwelfare "queens" as "lazy parasites" and "pigs at the trough," as did California's Governor Ronald Reagan (Tillmon, 1995: 52). In the public mind, those on welfare were unmarried mothers, sometimes teenagers, and always black. Politicians and pundits scorned black welfare mothers as unworthy. They had stepped outside what society meant for black women todo: theycared for theirown children rather than the children of others; theywere mothers, rather thanworkers.5 From the early 1960s, numerous proposals sought to encourage work by allowing welfare recipients to earn wages without losing all benefits. AFDC-U included unemployed parents, especially fatherswho became obliged "to accept mother would job referrals in order to remain eligible since in those families the be able to remain home to care for her child." The 1962 Community Work and WIN Training Programs were developed primarily for the unemployed fathers.6 wages throughan income disregard; encouraged welfare participants towork for amendments in 1971 "mandated" participation and encouraged states to develop theirown programs. For example, inNew York Work Rules ? upheld by the Supreme Court inNew York State Department of Social Services v. Dublino ? (1973) "employables" not only had to travel to theState Employment Service toobtain their welfare check, but also had "tomake a 'diligent' search forday care for theiryoung children, tofollow up on each and every job 'referral'.. .and., .accept mix of carrots and sticks, any job offer."7 Programs, like this one, varied in their but pushed jobs over education or training;mandatory work programs became institutionalized in theFamily Support Act of 1988. Often, motivational and job search sessions constituted the extent of training, childcare funding never matched need, and the wages ofwelfare lagged behind rises in the cost of living.8 over Work Opportunity Act thePersonal Responsibility and Public discussion of 1996 (PRWO) reiterated theracialist rhetoric thatdisparaged black women, but affected all needy single mothers. This act ended any entitlement towelfare by Needy Families (TANF), includ? replacing AFDC with Temporary Assistance for rules. Under its time limits and work rules, states needed one-quarter of the ing caseloads tobe "working" by fall 1997 or face loss of federal funds.Recipients are

With thepost-World War IImigration ofAfrican Americans from theSouth, more black women were able to obtain welfare in northern and western cities throughout the 1950s (Brown, 1997). The "welfare explosion" of the 1960s developed from a newly rights-conscious group demanding access to resources

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When Work Is Slavery


already receivingwelfare. States need notprovide all eligible familieswith childcare; federal childcare funding remains in 1997 inadequate to cover all who must go on workfare tomeet federal work participation timetables. (Crowded out by welfare recipients, low-waged women began to find it impossible to receive statechildcare subsidies [Rimer, 1997: Al, 22].) States that lower illegitimate births without increasing abortion will receive a monetary bonus. Teenagers have to live with parents, relatives, or in a designated facility and attend school (Children's Defense

maximum offive years. Block grants allow eligible forfederalbenefits fora lifetime the states to create theirown programs and devise more restrictions. Many states work than the federal time limits and stricter shorter requirements actually adopted same as new some state to treat to their the refused law; longtime residents; migrants a familycap?no additionalmonies can go toa child born toamother some instituted

caregivermust engage inwork, 20 hours per week in 1998, expanding to 30 hours work counts as refusingwork, by 2000. The law is unclear whether failure to find which would reduce a family's benefits and the caregiving adult's Medicare coverage. In practice, community service substitutesforpaid work for those unable tofind jobs. "Work" seems to consist of a range of activities, fromunsubsidized and subsidized private sector employment to subsidized public sector jobs, community service programs, childcare services, one year of education and vocational training, Yet thenumber of adult job search and readiness programs, and on-the-job training. their states' work participation education while who receive may satisfying recipients states welfare remains Some insist that recipients take any requirement questionable. to train work that could liftthemout rather in school for better than stay paying job ofpoverty (Institutefor Women's Policy Research, 1997;Women's Review ofBooks,

Fund, 1996; Pear, 1997). This social engineering from thepolitical Right intervenes in the lives of thepoor to a degree equal to the therapeuticregimes of theCharity Organization Societies and welfare caseworkers of thepast.9 The act also increases work requirements without providing more funds to Within twomonths, the law requires community service unless implement them. a state asks to be removed from this requirement; within two years, a parent or

opportunity to join a union," theAFL-CIO declared at its 1997 convention. The welfare recipients by integrating them into federationpledged "to organize former bargaining units, organizing new units, and defending the living standards and working conditions of all employee [s], whether engaged in work programs welfare or otherwise" (Kelber, 1997; Greenhouse, 1997a). through

1997;Havemann, 1997). Anecdotal evidence suggests that thewelfare-induced growth of the low skilled, low-waged labor force already has generated downward pressure on wages. Such an influx is justwhat employers needed to relieve a tightlabormarket and stymieburgeoning unionization of the service sector (New York Times, April 6,1997a). Trade unions responded by defining for thefirsttime those on workfare as "workers." "Everyone who works should enjoy the same rights and have an

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welfare workers to do jobs thatotherwise would be done by public employees." However, itfailed toextendworkplace rights to "welfare workers," thusrecreating the division worker/welfare worker (Greenhouse, 1997b,New York Times, Feb? ruary 21, 1997b). Unions and community activists likewise pressured Maryland's governor to bar workfare replacement of existing employees afterBaltimore's largest hotel welfare recipients forunionized housekeepers "embroiled for a year in substituted an acrimonious labor dispute over wages." Activists feared subsidized low-wage laborers would undermine Baltimore's "living wage" ordinance that requires companies performing "services for thecity topay theemployees who actually did minimum wage stood at only thework a wage...set at $7.10 an hour," when the $4.75. Maryland became the thirdstate, after Illinois andMinnesota, to limituse

New York's District Council 37 joined with grass-roots activists, including ACORN (Association of Community Organizations forReform Now), to orga? nize those on workfare, who feel that "a union might make them treat us with respect." Social service and religious groups that participated inNew York's workfare program cried, "Rudy [Giuliani], we will not be your slave drivers" (Crossette, 1997). The city negotiated with thepublic employee union "not touse

ofworkfare. In contrast,New York City officials and congressional Republicans workfare fromemployment by defining itas either "preparation... to differentiated getwork" or payback by theable-bodied "in exchange for.. .benefits" (Jeter, 1997;

Uchitelle, 1997). States differ inworkfare compensation rates,with most paying less than three dollars an hour and Mississippi a mere 89 cents. Countering such rates, the president extended theminimum wage toworkfare. Republican leaders inCon? gress have pledged to negate this ruling.During the 105thCongress, Democrats furtherdemanded that recipients who labor come under health, safety, and fair labor protections. As one Georgia Representative contended, however, welfare recipients were by definition not "hard-working people just trying to raise a family." Those "who could not findwork do not deserve the same treatmentas others."10 In contrast, others believed, "anyone who doesn't see this as a way of with thegreed of the 'haves,' and creating a virtual sidestepping laws thatinterfere slave labor force, isn't looking too closely." Or, as one Ohio woman ? who is a
recipient, a student, and a former veteran ? declared, "We aren't slave


labor! ...We all live under the same Constitution.We did not agree to give up our rights to the same fair treatmentas anyone else in this countrywhen we signed welfare applications" (Bernardi-Baker, 1997; Star, 1997). Contesting Work: Trade Unionists and Feminists

A quarter century ago, beliefs about women and work lagged behind the growth in female employment. Trade unionists agreed with welfare activists that solo mothers should remain at home. Their understanding of women's proper

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When Work Is Slavery


labor derived from economic concerns, but ones thatreflected organized workers' male breadwinner ideal. In rejecting this relegation ofwomen long reliance on the to NWRO in essence dismissed the citizenship claims that feminists motherwork, women derived from their life experience as mothers.11 Organized labor protested workfare schemes toprotect union jobs and wages. feared that resulting community service jobs In the late 1960s, the AFL-CIO would undermine wage rates and the labor standards of public employees, both those who administered welfare programs and those whose jobs might be jeopardized by workfare hires. (Current attempts at privatization, as planned by welfare to those unable Texas, again threatencaseworkers.) Itpreferred to restrict towork, a category that then still included mothers (Quadagno, 1994). As one top spokesman put it in 1972, welfare should concern itselfprimarily with the needs of the children mothers. This dependent on it and not on thework or nonwork of their most mothers on welfare should will be possible if it is recognized that ? and certainly not be required not be expected or even encouraged ?
to work.

was forcing to leave thehome to earnwages, thepoor singlemother had "heavier parental and household responsibilities": demanding her labormarket participation meant interfering with the needs of her children (Seidman, 1972). children first, this argument replicated thematernalist arguments Putting in the century by theChildren's Bureau coalition of women earlier developed who had rejected the equal rights feminism of their day to support reformers, women's work as caretakers of children.Maternalist reformers focused on child welfare; through children they hoped to improve the laboring conditions of mothers as well. The women's reformposition had persisted among influential labor union women and their supporters in government, manifesting itself in policy debates throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.12 Unlike Nixon, who killed the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971, mothers were tobecome waged workers. labor recognized theneed forchildcare if welfare the AFL-CIO preferred Though legislation thatremoved allmothers from work requirements, it accepted proposals thatexempted thosewith "school aged children from all job or training requirements" and established "day care centers with adequate standards to enable mothers who choose to accept employment to

were adequate daycare centers and child welfare services, as Only when there well as "meaningful and appropriate training and employment opportunities," should solomothers engage inpaid labor. Moreover, forcing thepoor singlemother "who is theonly parent of her children" to "'work' or both she and her childrenwill was immoral.Compared to the whom no one mother in a two-parentfamily, starve"

do so."13 Instead ofNixon's Family Assistance Plan (FAP), labor desired that the federal government provide a poverty-level income, protectwork standards, and

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exempt mothers. In the 1970s, however, the trade union federation still clung to a breadwinner ideal thatplaced mothers in another social category, lobbying for mothers differently.14 amendments toNixon's plan that treated was at failed welfare reform (authored by Daniel Patrick Nixon's FAP attempt the would have bolstered two-parent family by extending Moynihan). The plan benefits more generally toworking poor families with fathers present. As Jill Quadagno has shown, italso would have had women on welfare spendmore hours earning wages. Thus, a mother could improve her situation best by marrying a wage-earning man. In thisway, FAP would have enforced the traditional values of thework ethic and nuclear family (Quadagno, 1974: 117-134; Davies, 1996). Liberal feminists rejected the assumptions of organized labor. Since the early 1960s, they had pushed their own version of the work ethic. They embraced childcare and waged labor, equating women's equality with labormarket employ? ment. Their demand forwomen's entrance into waged work ideologically under? mined the association ofwomen with mothers, and mothers with thehome, at the very time that economic forces led greater numbers of women into the labor market. Yet economic conditions, ratherthan feminism, undoubtedly had more to do with theentrance ofmothers into thepaid labor force betweenWorld War II and the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Congress debated FAP. Women's labor force participation did not resolve central questions: Was motherwork a legitimatework activity forwomen? For which women? In attempting to escape what they called themother trap, liberal feminists devalued the work of mothering and suggested, as Betty Friedan did in The women needed to earn wages ? towork? in order to Feminine Mystique, that

now widely recognized, projected the situation of some white, middle-class suburbanwomen onto all women, including poor women forced to earnwages and especially working-class African American women, few ofwhose men earned a family wage. Classical liberalism depended on a differentiation between the political and thefamily.Though liberal feminism actually questioned this separa? tion, its solutions tended to facilitate participation in theworld of paid labor (through enforcement of the ban on discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, affirmative action, maternity leave rights, nondiscriminatory Social Security benefits, childcare, equal job training,and abortion rights), at the expense of improving the conditions ofmotherwork. Equality meant rejection of female difference,most symbolized by motherhood.15

be liberated or self-fulfilled. In her critique of "The Happy Housewife Heroine," Friedan argued that a woman lost her separate identitywhen tied to home and ? here family; she was denied self-actualization throughcreative labor or work as as a "the Friedan understood career?that solving problem that really promoted has no name." Such liberal feminist thoughtemphasized equality of opportunity, speaking of choice as ifall women had a choice whether towork in thehome or for wages outside of it,orwhether to have children. The Feminine Mystique, as is

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When Work Is Slavery


Liberal feminism's prescriptions contrastedwith early 20th century images of worthy widows, which still dominated the discourse of workfare opponents into the 1970s. Reverend Norman P. Thomas of the Detroit-based Citizens for Welfare for in "the of welfare 1971: one, argued Reform, overwhelming majority recipi? ents are unemployable or the victims of unemployment. Only one percent of Michigan's Categorical welfare recipients are employable fathers.The rest are old, disabled, blind,mothers and children." Debating FAP in 1972, Rhode Island Senator JohnPastore reminded the nation of the original intentof AFDC: Is itnot going tobe cheaper and better tokeep that home intact by keeping the mother home with thechildren, ratherthanputting thechildren ina day care center, which is going tobemuch more expensive, and have the mother was to to work? That the whole of aid children.16 go principle dependent In Defense of Motherwork

The NWRO embraced a similar understanding ofAFDC when itargued before theSupreme Court in 1971 that Congress had intended "to help suchmothers stay athome full time inorder to rear theirchildren."17Unlike the AFL-CIO or itsallies, terms it of in advanced women's framed its defense motherhood that though, as women a African American half had activist agency, century before (Boris,

groups undertook campaigns for furnitureand winter clothing allowances, for credit cards at retail stores, and formonetary payments over vouchers. NWRO became a movement of poor, single, mostly black mothers on AFDC, who demanded dignity and income rather than jobs. If a mother wanted to engage in minimum wage, theyargued. Yet mothers need not paid labor, she should earn the be wage laborers because they already were performing essential work. After 1972, when recipients gained organizational control,NWRO became identified with black feminism.Even earlier, leaders embraced a feminism of difference that derived from theirexperiences as poor black women.18 Aid to NWRO chair JohnnieTillmon, organizer of the Needy Children (ANC) Mothers in Watts, understood the contradictions inherent in "the work ethic":

associated with the social work Professor Richard Cloward and political scientist Frances Fox Piven. Founded by George Wiley, a professor of chemistry and set about activist in the direct action Congress for Racial Equality, NWRO to to in transform it.Local welfare overload the order system organizing recipients

1993: 213-245). Organized welfare recipients in NWRO resisted the liberal feministparadigm thatemployment meant freedom. Yet neither did they accept themale breadwinner ideal or trade union definitions of them as outside the laboring class. NWRO emerged out of the fermentof the mid-1960s to mobilize poor people todemand theirrights and gain an adequate guaranteed income for all, a strategy

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jobs" forwhich theyneed not be paid minimum wage (NWRO, n.d.). Charges of non-freedom dominated this oppositional discourse. Welfare workfare requirements; those inD.C. mothers angrily rejected FAP and its rights asserted: "we will not accept slave jobs and our kids are not going to starve!"21 Workfare offered women "very little hope of breaking out of the slave labor market," Tillmon and organizer Faith Evans declared (Tillmon and Evans, 1974). Civil rights leaders concurred. National Urban League directorVernon E. Jordan, Jr., in 1972 viewed FAP "an instrumentof control and coercion with respect to employment, child rearing, family relationships, health care, drug use, and other behavioral patterns" (inHamilton and Hamilton, 1997: 190). Columbia Univer? sitypoverty lawyers labeled proposed New York requirements "a primitive form of coercion... to compel a parent to take certain actions by the manipulation of her child's basic means of survival" (Kotz, 1972: Al, 6). As Rochester Action for New York State Welfare Rights announced, "experimental projects have started in to forcewelfare mothers into slavery. Some working forno wages. Others baby? sittingfor other recipients."22The 1971 Talmadge amendments toAFDC, which WIN, became required women with children over the age of six toparticipate in
known as "the slave labor law."23

"The president keeps repeating the 'dignityof work' idea.What dignity?Wages measure of dignity that society puts on a job.Wages. Nothing else. There are the is no dignity in starvation."19NWRO members insisted on their right to social services and a guaranteed living income, not the inadequate amount proposed by the Nixon administration pegged 40% below thepoverty line.They called FAP "a multiheaded repression fallingmost heavily on the children of thepoor," which would "legislate a separate class of poor childrenwho are abandoned in custodial care as a means of coercing their mothers towork."20 They vehemently rejected "forced work requirements" that "will only be used to harass, intimidate, and coerce recipients." They objected to requirements thatmothers and pregnant women under 19 "work" and thosewith children over three"register forand accept

Since WIN, welfare rightsorganizations had informed recipientswhat consti? tuteda suitable job. InDelaware, forexample, recipients could reject jobs thattook them too far fromhome (more than an hour commute each way), were unsafe, for which theywere untrained, or that "prevent[ed] you from taking care of your children (mothers)." Other guides further emphasized labor standards: wages that matched either the federal or state minimum, even forpiecework; aworkplace not subject to a strikeor lockout at the time of the job offer; no requirement to join or 24 resign from a union; no risk to occupational health or safety Contending that to "everyone has the right work," theNWRO argued for the right "to choose an occupation in linewith theirability and ambition, be itplumber,mother, engineer, or artist" (Tillmon and Evans, 1974). By includingmother as an occupation, theNWRO defied the devaluation of caregiving. National officer Beulah Sanders argued,

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When Work Is Slavery amother should have the right to stayhome with her children rather than be forced towork. She should have the right to say if shewants towork or she should have the right to saywhether her children should be put into
a Government-run center.25


Welfare rightsactivists felt "the belief that welfare mothers can work assumes are not thatthey working now." "Women's work is real work," Tillmon declared in 1972. Such a recognition "would solve this so-called welfare crisis...and go a long way toward liberating every woman." She would "start paying women a ? child-raising and living wage for doing the work we are already doing ? a legally determined be getting wages housekeeping. Housewives would ? instead of having to ask for and account percentage of theirhusband's salary for earned" Milwau? money they've already (Tillmon, 1995:55). Bessie Moore of kee proposed: If thegovernmentwas smart, it would startcalling AFDC
Care," create a new agency, pay us a decent wage

"Day andNight
work we

for the service

are now doing, and say that thewelfare crisis has been solved because welfare mothers have been put towork (Milwaukee County Welfare Rights Organization, 1972: 77-79). At a time when organized feminism concentrated on theEqual Rights Amend? mother. welfare activists insisted on theirright to the resources necessary to ment, a areas as in the of New activist emergency put it,"help Jersey They demanded, food, furniture, moving monies, or help with other normal problems confronting Welfare families, given their inadequate income and circumstances." She ex? claimed: "We are not unfit mothers, but neither are we magicians; we do not get or monies adequate supportive services to begin with, inorder tohave a budget at all."26They submitted grants for federalmonies to subsidize childcare centers, to
"some women who have been forced to go on the welfare rolls...to become enable

They supported national health care, legal services, childcare, self-supporting."27 as as an adequate national guaranteed income. The goal was well familyplanning, not employment, but an adequate income to support theirduties asmothers.28 This would shift the location emphasis on social services contrasted with reform that of aid from thewelfare office to the employment bureau, from the social worker to the job counselor. Some wage-earning women, including those inadequately paid (like wait? resses), rejected this stand.A California woman complained to theHouse Ways andMeans Committee in 1969, "I'm getting fed up with having towork, taking my child to a baby-sitter's so some other mother can sit home and not do a blankety blank thing!" She would remove children from people on welfare to with "the idea you don't get something fornothing" and sterilize such raise them men women to preventmore babies. Buying intowhat NWRO named and lazy

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38 "the Myths ofWelfare,"


thismother clung to thework ethic as a marker of

emphasized male responsibilities forwork and family. In 1967 testimony against WIN, he claimed that"for the government to tryto force [mothers] into the job men in the ghetto, is to add insult market, when there are not enough jobs for the toabsurdity."He would provide trainingorwork toable-bodied men in two-parent poor families, but "mothers should be protected against thebrutality of a society thatsays thatamother can be forced to leave her children in some institutionalcare and go and accept work."31 An exchange between Michigan Representative Martha Griffiths (D.) and Wiley at 1969 hearings highlights how distant his emphasis on adequate income was fromher liberal feminist insistence onwomen's self-reliance through wage labor. Griffiths insisted that the young singlemother "should be given training, then a chance to work," but charged that Wiley's
disagreement came "because you are a man." Arguing that women members

respectability.29 men of theirown Maternalism distinguished women welfare activists from the movement, who sought universal entitlements rather thanrights based on moth? erhood and the labor of mothering. Yet all embraced the slogan, "Bread and Justice." By 1973, black women of the NWRO gained control of theorganization from Executive Director Wiley, whose dictatorial style and substance differed from theirown. He had wanted amovement thatencompassed all poor people and not only AFDC mothers.30 While defending the decision of welfare mothers to stay at home, Wiley

backed his position,Wiley distinguished thefeminist fightagainst discrimination, which he supported, from "seek[ing] to deal with [women's special] problems while penalizing all people who are poor by giving them inadequate income and not providing adequate income for all poor people, [which] is really, tomy way of thinking,criminal."32 Beulah Sanders actually agreed with Griffiths' proposal. Unlike most white feminists, thisAfrican American woman had no problem in holding out for women's self-sufficiency througheither adequate jobs or income and promoting men's employment. Such had been the double fightof black communities since Milwaukee CountyWelfare Rights Organization explained, emancipation. As the "welfare mothers realize fullwell the burden on their men, who are considered failures because they are not able toprovide for theirfamilies."33 Tillmon, who succeeded Wiley as executive director, differedwith him when it came to the role of women, announcing "NWRO views themajor welfare problems as women's issues and itselfas strictlya women's organization" (West, 1981: 122). But she agreed with his class analysis of differences among women. A June 1972 interview inThe African World, at theheight of the struggle to defeat FAP, reveals the dominant understanding of work held by NWRO women: "the work ethic is a double standard. It's applied tomen and women on welfare. It doesn't apply ifyou're a society lady fromScarsdale and you spend all your time

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When Work Is Slavery


sittingon your prosperity pairing your nails."34 That was because "women aren't supposed towork. They're supposed tobe married," she explained in the feminist magazine Ms (Tillmon, 1995: 52). A Minnesota activist contended, when amother lives in the suburbs and has two children, that's just ideal. But when you're on welfare and got two children you're supposed tobe outworking and farm those kids out.... Ifyou're onwelfare you're trash. ? Only thewoman on welfare had her performance ofmotherwork questioned by caseworkers, usually otherwomen (quoted inHertz, 1981: 104, 116). NWRO activists understood the connections between lack of childcare and with recipients.35 welfare. They established childcare centers, sometimes staffed Before theChildren's Defense Fund, they turned to theneeds of children to argue against poverty and inequality, to improve conditions in African American communities. InMarch 1972, NWRO participated in the "Children's March for

Survival" in support of comprehensive and quality childcare. They protested would ware? federal standards for childcare attached toworkfare programs that house the children of recipients. They objected to adult-child ratios that created "baby-sitting situations...depriving the children of a developmental, educational program, and... adults of ameaningful work experience" (NWRO, 1972), attribut? ing such defects to the target population: welfare mothers and their children. NWRO recognized class distinctions both in childcare programs and tax deduc? tions.Echoing the demands of the earlyWar on Poverty, they called for parent participation. According toRita Gross, editor of The Welfare Fighter, proposed childcare standards underWIN meant: 1. That poor parents do not have the right tomeaningful employment? reasonable working conditions or decent wages. 2. 3. 4. That poor children do not have the right to a nutritious diet. That child-life is not importantenough towarrant quality childcare. That the compulsory school-age level forpoor children will eventually be threeyears of age, while thecompulsory school-age level forchildren ofmiddle- and upper-income families is age six inmost states (Gross, 1972). NWRO joined with childcare advocates, like the Day Care and Child Devel? opment Council of America, theNational Organization forWomen, and the National Committee on Household Workers for a "National Working Mothers Day" to decry state and federal childcare budget cuts.With similar advocacy groups, it questioned the creation of dead-end, low-wage "child development would fail to pay a livingwage. associate" jobs slated forwelfare recipients that Welfare activists rejected notwork, for they saw themselves as hard workers, but was hurtful to children.36 demeaning labor that

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40 Black Women and theDomestic


Hamilton, 1997: 188). Domestic work, thosewho performed itunderstood, leftone poor. "I have had towork as a domestic since high school at poor wages and advancing loss of hearing," one nearly 60 year old wrote, as she sent a dollar dues to join a welfare rightsorganization.39 The fledglingNational Committee on Household Employ? ment feared thatFAP would undermine its efforts to organize "your present-day house slave or house darkie, your Aunt Jemima," as one organizer chided

unemployment insurance, Georgia Representative Philip Landrum declared, "I find many people can't get domestic help. Couldn't domestics be taken off welfare?"38 Senator Russell Long and others, it appeared, created workfare "to force lotsofwelfare mothers who are the sole parents in theirfamilies intocleaning thehouses ofmore fortunatetwo-parentfamilies," an opponent charged at the time (Seidman, 1972: 3-4). At theNWRO alternative hearings on FAP, one woman will pay $10,000 or $20,000.... We testified: "We only want thekind of jobs that aren't ready to do anybody's laundryor baby-sitting except forourselves." Others yelled, "Senator Long should get his wife ormother todo his shirts" (Hamilton and

The slaverymetaphor loomed large because welfare reform in the late 1960s and early 1970s attempted to push back civil rights gains and continue the would reinscribe Welfare reform exploitation ofAfrican American women's labor. black women as workers, not mothers, relegated to household labor as maids, nannies, and daycare providers forotherwomen's children.37 In 1969 hearings on

(Milwaukee CountyWelfare Rights Organization, 1972:110-112). The domestic was interchangeable with thewoman on welfare; both were poor and black and dismissed by the larger society. Until 1974, household workers stood outside of labor law, unprotected by social security (Palmer, 1995: 416-440). We might never know how many domestics also received welfare to supplement their most women on AFDC go in and out meager earnings. Recent studies reveal that of employment, which they combine with welfare. That is, they "are already working, but cannot earn enough or find enough work to lifttheirfamilies out of Women's Policy Research, 1995). NWRO activists also poverty" (Institute for would pay enough toget knew thateducation hardly guaranteed women "jobs that men were "grossly underpaid fordoing the same things themoff welfare," for they do" (Milwaukee County Welfare Rights Organization, 1972: 79-90). From WIN onward, welfare reform has envisioned compensating some


to care for the children of other recipients who would participate in workfare or employment. Itwould create, as NWRO activists insisted, "a new form of slavery: institutionalized, partially self-employed nannies. And these nannies would get only three-quarters of theminimum wage" (Ibid.: 116). This in 1969 meant by adequately funding certainly was not what the AFL-CIO would mean. welfare reform childcare and job training; nor is itwhat true

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When Work Is Slavery We


are left with an overdetermined identification,deeply rooted inAmerican and culture, that signifies degradation, disparagement, and economy, politics, a status thatprefigures low income: the association of welfare with low disgust, African American women, and black women with domestic labor. The maternal ism of the NWRO was oppositional in thiscontext because itdemanded thatpoor meant women, regardless of race, be allowed toperform motherwork, even if that providing them with an adequate income in lieu of a breadwinner's wage and Motherwork finds few adherents todaywhen 60% ofmothers of preschoolers women onwelfare earnwages (Herz andWootton, 1996:49). Newspapers feature ? when not eager to enter the labormarket emphasizing dysfunctional traits in stories that transform social into individual pathology. Social policy refuses to support poor women's motherwork by insisting on work outside the home regardless of theneeds of children or theirability tohandle both sides of thedouble day.Meanwhile, workfare threatens the livelihoods of all low-waged laborers and theirefforts to unionize. A revitalized labormovement thatorganizes workfare participants as workers promises a firststep toward ending poverty as we know it. A second step is also necessary: redefining carework as labor and rewarding it minimum income or tax relief. Substituting work outside the home for through family labor,workfare denies value to the labor thatpoor singlemothers already performfor theirfamilies and demands thatthey leave theirchildren as a condition ofwelfare. Though anew world of employment beckons, poor singlemothers still recognize when work is slavery.
dependence on a man.

1. 2. are quoted inHealy (1997: Al). is West (1981). The best history of NWRO H. Rep. No. 1300,81st Congress, 1st Session (1949:46), These women

3. quoted inBriefAmici Curiae of the National Welfare Rights Organization, Citywide Coordinating Committee ofWelfare Organizations and the Upstate Welfare Rights Organization, New York State Department of Social Services v. Dublino, Supreme Court of theUnited States, Oct. Term, 1972, Nos. 72-792, 72-802, 7. andMiller (1990:54); for legal actions, 4. For numbers, see Piven and Cloward (1979:274-275) (1993) and Bussiere (1997). On stereotypes of black women, seeWhite (1985: American women as mothers, see Collins (1994: 45-65). 6. Amici Brief ofNWRO, 7, 26. 5. 7. 8. 9. 10. see Davis 27-61) and Jewell (1993); on African

93 S.Ct. 2507; Amicus Brief ofNWRO, 11. For a summary of developments, see Rose (1995: 76-149). (1991); for how clients transformed attempts at social control, see Gordon (1988). SeePolsky See letter to theEditor fromKevin Ryan, "Workfare Wages," Washington Post (July 3,1997:

A18); Havemann and Vobejda (1997: A7); Pianin (1997: A4). 11. For women's citizenship claims, see Mink (1998). Women's 12. Johnson's head of the Bureau, Mary Dublin Keyserling,

for example, had led the

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National Consumers'


League in the late 1930s. See, for example, Boris (1994:246). On thewomen's reform network, see Mink (1995) and Gordon (1994). 13. Telegram toAndrew Biemiller fromArnold Aronson, April 6, 1971, collection 1, box 54, folder 63, Meany Archives. 14. Memorandum Bill, March


Legislation" Nixon and daycare, see Quadagno (1994: 149-153). 15. See Friedan (1963) andMeyerowitz (1994:229-262); as a women's issue; see also Kornbluh (1995: 40; 39). Mr. George Meany 16. Reverend Norman P. Thomas to theAFL-CIO

to toAndy Biemiller from Bert Seidman on Possible Senate Amendments on Welfare 18, 1970, 2, with attached Elizabeth Wickenden, "Progress Report (Confidential), February 4, 1970, collection 1, box 54, folder 63, Meany Archives; on but Friedan today recognizes welfare

For themost (1979: 264-361). (1981) and Piven and Cloward see Kornbluh welfare of 76-113; 1998). (1997: rights philosophy, perceptive analysis index entries); and "Interview with Johnnie 19. On Tillmon, see West (1981: 39, 83,447-448; Tillmon," The African World (June 24, 1972: 12), Box 2239, NWRO Papers, Moorland-Spingarn 18. For this history, see West Research Center, Howard University. 20. Leaflet, Mrs. Johnnie Tillmon to all Local WRO and George A. Wiley groups, staff and friends (February 7, 1972), Box 2061, NWRO Papers. Mrs. Cavenaugh 21. Elizabeth Perry to (December 10, 1971), Box 2061, NWRO Papers. 22. Flyer, "Attention Everyone!" Rochester Action forWelfare Rights, Box 2061, NWRO

(May 14,1971), Legislative Records of [Collection 1], box 54, folder 57, George Meany Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland; Congressional Record (October 3, 1972), Senate: 16695. 17. Amicus Brief, 21.

See Rita Gross, 'The Kind of Child Care That Is Being Proposed by H.E.W. Office of Child Papers, Box 2243); on Talmadge Development" (unpublished story for Welfare Fighter, NWRO Amendments, see Rose (1995: 102-104). 24. Cray Smith, William Wlesch, and Mark Zola, Welfare Rights inDelaware (September 20, 1967: 10); for one such guide, see Community Welfare Rights Organization, Food Stamp Rules and Rights (October 1972), both inBox 2239, NWRO Papers. 25. Testimony of Beulah Sanders (October 27,1969), House Ways andMeans Security and Welfare Proposals (pt. 3), 91st Congress, 1st session. Washington, 1017. NWRO Letter toReverend John T. Asch from (Mrs.) Ruth Welfield (May 13, 1972), inBox 2061, Papers. She was a white woman; communication from Guida West to Eileen Boris. 27. "Phoenix Day Care Center Hopes toOpen Soon." Newsletter of Christ Church (Episcopal), Collingswood, N.J., c. May 1972, Box 2061, NWRO Papers. 26. 28. "Democratic National Platform Position: Welfare and Unemployment," Western Regional (1972: n.p.), Box 2061, NWRO Papers. Security and Welfare Proposals, U.S. Congress (1970: 1042). See also thewidowed welfare recipients were cheaters, but failed to report her tips (Milwaukee waitress who complained that 1972: 88-89). County Welfare Rights Organization, Report, NWRO 29. Social 30. On conflict with Wiley 31. Committee, Social D.C.: GPO, 1970:

Papers. 23.

NWRO as a woman's movement, seeWest (1981:120-123). and the (September 22, 1967), Senate Finance Committee, Social Testimony of George Wiley on H.R. 12080, 90th Congress, 1st session: 1921. 1967 Amendments 3), Security of (pt. 32. Testimony of (pt. 3): 1027-1028,1031-1032. Wiley, Social Security and Welfare Proposals 33. On black women's support of their men, see Jones (1985) and Milwaukee County Welfare

(1972: 85). Rights Organization 34. Interview with Johnnie Tillmon, The African World (June 24, 1972: 12). NWRO 35. There is an entire box (2243) in the papers with materials on childcare, including and Welfare a Center for Low-Income for Outline Child Care Training Funding Sample "Proposal

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When Work Is Slavery 43

Families," "Setting Up a Child Care Training Program with a University in Your Community," "Children's Rights," Robert L. Bender, Day Care and Child Development Council of America to Deborah Vajda County Welfare Rights Day Care (August 20, 1071), and "History of Milwaukee to Secretary Elliot Richardson (July 24,1972); "Working Mothers Need Quality Day Care NOW," flyer for April 10,1972 rally; Rita Gross, "Child Development "Workfare forWelfare Recipients" Associates," (September 18, 1972), all inNWRO Papers, Box 2243. women and household labor, see Hunter (1997). from Clint Fair toAndy Biemiller on Social Insurance andWelfare (October 9, 1969), collection 1, box 54, folder 62, Meany Archives. 39. Letter fromMiss Mildred Coon inBox 2039, NWRO Papers. 37. For African American 38. Memorandum Hearings Training Program." 36. Draft letter from Johnnie Tillmon

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