Race, Class, Women and the State: The Case of Domestic Labour in Canada


185 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55164-108-9
DDC 331.4'8164046'0971





Reviewed by Rebecca Murdock

Rebecca Murdock is a solicitor with the British Columbia Labour
Relations Board.


The twin concerns of this slender text are well expressed—that Canada
needs a national day-care system and that foreign domestic workers
(especially black women from the Caribbean) are exploited because of
their gender, race, and class. Schecter’s study focuses on three
periods in 20th-century Canada: the suffragette movement; 1929–67, a
period in which women increasingly entered the paid workforce; and the
progress of the modern women’s movement from 1970 to 1990.

Throughout, Schecter emphasizes how Canada’s immigration policies
have readily exploited domestic workers for their labor while refusing
them citizenship, access to collective bargaining, employment insurance,
and other social benefits. This largely Caribbean and Philippina
workforce does the work Canadians are loath to do on account of poor
pay, substandard working conditions, and low social prestige.

Schecter’s text is written for feminists. Although she critiques
government policies that foster a system of indentured labor, she treats
with equal emphasis the process by which Canadian women have
participated in the oppression of their immigrant sisters. For example,
the National Action Committee, Canada’s national women’s
organization, historically refused to widen its race and class
membership and to actively champion the cause of poor black immigrant
women. Moreover, in refusing to admit member groups that advocated wages
for housework, the NAC “unwittingly legitimated the low wages that
non-immigrant women of colour working as domestics were receiving.” As
Schecter points out, easy access to domestic workers enables middle- and
upper-class women (largely white) “to improve their status by seeking
careers in the public sector.”

At times, the author seems more concerned with exposing the small
ironies within the system than with developing an overriding analysis of
how foreign and domestic policies treat child care as little more than a
commodity to be traded on the global market. Perhaps all the “big”
statements on paid homework have already been articulated by others,
leaving only the nuances to be picked over by authors like Schecter.
It’s a worthwhile task but one that assumes readers will capably
position her analysis within the broader context of institutionalized
racism and poverty.


Schecter, Tanya., “Race, Class, Women and the State: The Case of Domestic Labour in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/31795.