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EXODUS AND RECONSTRUCTION: Working-Class Women at the Heart of Globalization
Hundreds of millions of working-class women are flooding out of the countrysides of the world into the cities. In an epic upheaval, pervaded with human suffering, these women are being channeled into the manufacturing and service industries of a radically transformed global economy. This wholesale relocation and reorganization of capitalism’s core work force is at the very heart of globalization.
The exodus of impoverished working-class women is rooted in two historic processes: the destruction of small-scale farming and the rise of a new global system of production and distribution—a system greedy for flexible, exploitable labor. These virtually unstoppable forces are pushing huge numbers of women out of family farms, and pulling them into new labor markets.
Each process, in its turn, represents a major change in capitalism and capitalist politics. Pushing women out of the countryside breaks the back of traditional rural patriarchy, one of the principal bulwarks of class rule for centuries. As a result, the family and gender are being challenged and refashioned.
At the same time, the new transnational labor pools drastically reshape women’s experience as workers, giving them wider contact with other women and allowing them—forcing them—to become cosmopolitan on a whole new level.
In other words, even as the new wave of capitalism extends its reach, it simultaneously revives and modernizes its own worst enemy—its antagonist class. The women of the exodus, and their daughters, will determine the future of anti-capitalist struggle.
Distracted by the chaotic spectacle of capitalism on steroids, it's easy to miss what’s actually at stake. Still anchoring our new social reality is a truth carried over from the old: the main source of all profit in the world—the foundation of capitalism—is the exploitation of labor.
Labor is the jackpot. It’s the ultimate resource, the indispensable commodity. Slave and semi-slave labor performed by billions of oppressed people is the primary source of all wealth in the world. It’s the host on which the rest of our parasitic economy feeds. Oppressed labor enriches capitalists and subsidizes the lifestyles of an array of middle classes. Investment money, infrastructure, war funding, necessities, luxuries—all of it’s extracted from oppressed labor.
Most of the world’s exploited labor comes from women. Women work in the sweatshops and the giant factories. Women sow and tend and harvest the world’s crops. Women carry and birth and raise children. Women wash and clean and shop and cook. Women care for the sick and the elderly. All of this—layer upon layer of labor—is what makes human society possible. Ripping it off is what makes capitalism possible.
The primacy of women’s labor is normally edited out of political discourse, but it’s a fact beyond dispute. More than half of the world's women have formal jobs. (In some countries in Asia and Latin America, the percentage is well over 60%.) On top of this, women predominate in millions of illegal and semi-legal “off the books” jobs, where they are normally heavily exploited. Meanwhile, some 70% of women’s labor, worth tens of trillions of dollars a year, is unpaid altogether. Most of the world’s women average 31-42 hours per week on family housework alone. Women “do two-thirds of the world's work, receive 10% of the world's income and own 1% of the means of production.” 
Throughout history, groups and classes of men have fought over the precious resource of women’s labor. All women, but especially working-class women, who constitute the world’s most valuable source of wealth. Hundreds of millions of these women, the core and majority of the working class, lack any private property or social privilege. They have no ownership, claim or control over the means of production. This sets them apart from the upper stratum of wage workers—labor aristocrats and privileged sectors subsidized from capitalist profits.
Instead, they belong to the “lower and deeper” layers of the working class, compelled to offer their labor up for exploitation within capitalism for sheer survival. This part of the working class stands as capitalism's main labor force and, historically, its direct antagonist.
Many of these working-class women are paid wages; many are not. Few are paid for all their labor. Most are destitute or economically vulnerable. They labor under extreme duress—facing not only the threat of hunger, but also dependency, slavery and male violence backed up by tradition, family structure and law. Their labor and life experience—and their class position—is often substantially different from that of even the men in their own families.
The multi-sided struggle to own, control and exploit this fantastically profitable labor force is expressed on many levels and in many forms: migrations, wars, genocide, cultural movements, populist rebellions, changes in family structure, colonialism, shifting geopolitical alliances, the rise and fall of governments.
Today, the women at the center of the world working class are experiencing dramatic and fundamental changes in their work lives and their social lives. Capitalism, entering a new phase of development, is remaking the working class. This is where a new revolutionary politics must start.
The rise and fall of post-War anti-imperialism
The capitalist system faced a mortal challenge from the socialist-led anti-imperialist movements after World War II. For a while, the global order was rocked back on its heels; for a while, a powerful anti-capitalist alternative seized the imagination and mobilized the best efforts of billions of people. Generations of working-class women threw themselves into this revolutionary struggle, hoping to break out of captivity. For several decades, this appeared to be a real possibility.
But as we know, capitalism survived and surmounted this challenge. When its repressive powers became insufficient, it sought out neo-colonial solutions. It exploited every weakness of middle-class and male opportunists. It regrouped, adapted, and outflanked its enemies on every level. It learned to thrive on chaos. It found ways to turn rapid global economic integration and privatization into new profits and new forms of social domination.
It’s important to recognize that in order for capitalism to survive, it was literally forced to mutate into a new form, like a virulent virus that’s become resistant to antibiotics. It was only under severe pressure that capitalism transcended its old limits and expanded into new terrain. To accomplish this, capitalism had to adopt radical measures, tearing down its own obsolete forms of social organization, putting at risk the future of nations, long-standing social contracts, genders, races and traditional family life.
Threatened with a deadly revolutionary challenge from below, capitalism innovated. In contrast, most of the anti-capitalist opposition, stuck in an old paradigm, failed, retreated or degenerated into corruption and mysogyny. Working-class women mostly found themselves firmly locked down again under capitalistic male domination, even where the struggle for liberation had once been strong.
Vicious male colonial dictatorships were replaced by equally vicious neo-colonial male dictatorships. Liberal social contracts in the metropolis—unneeded vestiges of an earlier era—were ripped up and flushed away. New middle classes and new patterns of privilege arose to destroy old, dysfunctional structures of privilege. New technologies transformed markets, industries, technology, media and methods of social repression. New forms of patriarchy replaced old forms. Whole established workforces were pushed aside in capitalism's twin struggles for survival and profit.
The post-war wave of socialist-led anticolonial struggles faltered and receded. Imperialist nations, especially the U.S., continue to savagely attack less-powerful nations and nationalities around the world. Genocide and national oppression are still essential features of world capitalism. Therefore struggles for national freedom continue. And some have progressive leadership.
But neo-colonialism and the global re-organization of capitalism have radically reshaped the political landscape. Dozens of nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America that broke the grip of old-style imperialism through popular insurgency and armed struggle are now active participants in a new global capitalist order, under willing regimes. (These nations, which incude China, Vietnam, Iran, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nicaragua and many others, may constitute the majority of the world’s population.) In many other places, imperialism has succeeded in installing neo-colonial “nationalist” leaders, or cut deals with corrupted “anti-imperialists.” Third World nationalism no longer routinely embodies, as it once did, the progressive hopes of the world working class. In fact, many former revolutionaries have become agents for global capitalism.
When 360,000 gold and coal miners walked off the job in South Africa in 1987, protesting the poor pay and grim working conditions of apartheid-era mines, a charismatic young man named Cyril Ramaphosa, the firebrand leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, led the charge. But as the police opened fire on workers engaged in a wildcat strike at a platinum mine two weeks ago, killing 34 people, Mr. Ramaphosa, now a multimillionaire business tycoon and senior leader of the governing African National Congress, found himself in a very different position: on the board of the company the workers were striking against, the London-based Lonmin. [New York Times, August 31, 2012.]
And today, regrettably, many of the most militant and successful “anti-imperialists” are reactionaries—a motley assortment of authoritarian regimes, right-wing populists, local capitalists trying to negotiate a piece of the action, religious fundamentalists, warlords and gangsters. Struggles for national freedom tend to degenerate into a contest over neo-colonial ownership and control of national resources, including women’s labor and bodies. On this new terrain, the interests of working-class women are seldom represented by male-dominated “anti-imperialist” struggles.
There is no going back to the past period of anti-imperialism. To challenge modern global capitalism, a future, progressive anti-imperialism will have to defeat neo-colonialist politics and overthrow its legacy of corruption and male opportunism.
Globalization is definitely a work in progress. It’s too massive for anybody to plan in advance, and it’s too volatile for anybody to manage efficiently. The biggest capitalists struggle to ride the wave of change without getting swept under themselves. In fact, the transition to globally integrated production and distribution has already been tremendously chaotic, accompanied by widespread economic devastation. It continually generates extreme social turbulence; wars, riots and political crises of all kinds.
The full outlines of a new capitalist model are not yet visible to anybody. But it’s already evident that the tremendous ongoing changes in the capitalist system revolve around the exploitation of labor, especially working-class women’s labor.
Globalization has hit already-impoverished working-class women like a sledgehammer. For many tens of millions, it means leaving home forever; it means life-or-death changes to a whole way of life. As we will see, the latest wave of globalization has finallly set in motion the long-delayed destruction of small-scale agriculture—and along with it patterns of rural patriarchy that persisted for centuries. Globalization triggers migration on a scale never seen before; migration that permanently changes women’s labor and how it’s controlled by men. It generates whole new industries on a whole new scale. It transfers enormous amounts of women’s domestic labor out of traditional families into enormous international service industries. It promotes an increase of public male terror to supplement and supplant private male terror in the family. It sponsors new ranks of neo-colonial women—capitalists, overseers and operatives cooperating with capitalist men in the exploitation of working-class women.
The decline and fall of traditional rural patriarchy
To understand what’s happening to working-class women, we have to look at the massive social changes they are experiencing. That means starting in the countryside.
That may not be an intuitive idea. When we think about capitalism, we tend to think about factories and cities. But actually, right up until our day, hundreds of millions of workers have been engaged in farming, as rural laborers or doing unpaid labor on family plots. (It was only in 2007 or 2008, experts say, that urban population surpassed rural population.)  This is where most working-class women labored for centuries.
Until the last decade or so, the most populous class in the world was considered to be “the peasantry”—a controversial term that includes a variety of family-based small-scale agriculture. Family farms have played a fundamental role in the capitalist system, long after the introduction of large-scale agriculture. Family farming not only survived, but was in fact actively promoted and subsidized by modern capitalist governments as a way to strengthen the national economy and buttress social control. In Japan, for example, small farms rose to new economic and political importance after World War II.
In other words, hundreds of years after the rise of mass production manufacturing, and the explosion of the industrial revolution, most of the world’s people were still engaged in farming, much of it subsistence or semi-subsistence, on relatively small parcels of land. This part of the rural population has continued to labor under conditions carried over largely from feudaltimes.
Why did it take so long for capitalism to completely modernize agriculture and make it a predominantly mass-production industry, like it's doing today? The answer is revealing: even small-scale “peasant” agriculture was fantastically profitable to capitalism, and politically advantageous as well.
As we know, the profits of capitalist agriculture based on African and Indian slavery are actually what jump-started Eurocapitalism’s industrial rise. But slavery was social and political dynamite. Slaves of different origins and genders united quickly in resistance. They waged continuous war against the slave-owners, and sabotaged production whenever they could. Eventually slave agriculture was broken by this resistance. (Interestingly, a replacement form of rural exploitation of African Americans was based on family farming: sharecropping.)
Family farming was remarkably effective in squeezing out the maximum output of labor, both in the fields and in the home. In particular, male-dominated rural family life efficiently and ruthlessly extracted unpaid labor from women—the bulk of the rural working class. Most of the value of this labor, characteristically under the local control of male family members, could be readily extracted further up the line by large landowners, processors, merchants and marketers, suppliers and, at the top of the pyramid, the giant corporations and banking houses. Furthermore, all the risks of agriculture—bad weather, pests, natural disasters, poor market conditions—fell on the individual farm families.
Women trapped within separate family units could be intensively exploited and intimately supervised 24 hours a day. This was a form of social organization that made it difficult for rural women workers to unite with each other, and that also made it difficult for them to build the stongest possible unity with proletarian men.
So rural patriarchy based on family farming continued on as a mainstay of capitalism; co-opted from feudalism, it was adapted and cemented into the foundation of capitalist society. The rise of modern capitalist nations was often based on the existence of discrete rural markets, rural traditions and family-based patriarchal rural mythologies, which served as essential components of modern nationalism.
As capitalism overthrew feudalism, rural life often maintained a patriarchal continuity. In fact, modern capitalism relentlessly attacked any surviving remnants of independent power exercised by women in rural areas. For the most part the means of production were still owned or controlled by men. Family men functioned as foremen and overseers over “their” women. In the fields and in the household, “peasant” men usually owned and directed the labor of hundreds of millions of women. They set women to work and organized the exploitation of their labor for their own benefit and for the benefit of capitalists. This domination, backed by violence, was completely integral to the capitalist economy and to the capitalist social order, just as it had been to feudalism.
Above and beyond its stability, and its fantastic profitability, the glorified rural patriarchal family served capitalists as the standard cultural model for the exploitation of women’s domestic and reproductive labor in all parts of society; a foundation for capitalist gender roles that was expanded and modified to serve urban capitalism.
Family-based rural patriarchy was so deeply imbedded within capitalism for so long that abandoning it was nearly unthinkable. A change of such magnitude would require the development of much more advanced global transportation and commodity markets and a tremendous reorganization of labor. It would require a major overhaul of polical systems everywhere. It would be a sea-change in capitalism.
That sea-change is what’s happening now.
Traditional rural patriarchy based on family farming is finally, steadily, decisively, being crushed by global capital. It’s impossible to overstate the consequences of this process for working-class women and for capitalism. The world’s most profitable reservoir of productive labor—the basic working class, mostly women—is essentially being re-deployed in a radically new configuration.
Destruction of small farming
The fall of traditional rural patriarchy began after World War II with the drive for industrialization in the colonial world. Western imperialism was hungry for cheap factory labor and cheap consumer goods, and many Third World ruling classes were happy to oblige.
Walden Bello describes what happened in Asia:
Asian governments placed the burden of industrialization on the peasantry during the phase of so-called developmentalist, industry-first policies. In Taiwan and South Korea, land reform first triggered prosperity in the countryside in the 1950s, stimulating industrialization. But with the shift to export-led industrialization in 1965, there was demand for low-wage industrial labor, so government policies deliberately depressed prices of agricultural goods. In this way, peasants subsidized the emergence of Newly Industrializing Economies…. ...[In China and Taiwan, the] golden age of the peasantry came to an end, and the cause was identical: the adoption of urban-centered, export-oriented industrialization…. True indeed is the observation of the rural advocates Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao that the urban industrial economy has been built “on the shoulders of peasants.” 
During this period, Western capitalism, under the guise of the so-called “Green Revolution,” touted the virtues of large-scale commodity farming, using corporate seeds, pesticides, fertilizer and machinery. This further undermined family farming, weakened the self-sufficiency of many rural nations and created widespread misery.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the decline of small farming turned into a complete collapse. Bello describes what he calls “the typhoon of trade liberalization”:
The forcing of peasants to subsidize industrialization was indeed harsh. But at least trade policies at the time helped to mitigate the pain by barring agricultural imports that were even cheaper than local commodities. Practically all Asian countries with agricultural sectors tightly controlled imports via quotas and high tariffs. This protective shield, however, was severely eroded when countries signed the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and began joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) starting in 1995. The AOA forced open agricultural markets by banning quotas, which were converted to tariffs, and required governments to import a minimum volume of each agricultural commodity at a low tariff. At the same time, under the pretext of controlling the heavy subsidization of agriculture in developed countries, the AOA institutionalized the various channels through which subsidies flowed, such as export subsidies and direct cash payments to farming interests in the northern hemisphere…. With massive American and European subsidies distorting global prices in a downward direction, developing country agriculture became “non-competitive” under the conditions of WTO-mandated trade liberalization. As the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) notes, “instantaneous import surges following the adoption of the AOA in a number of developing countries led to ‘consequential difficulties’ for “import-competing industries.” The report continued, “Without adequate market protection, accompanied by development programs, many more domestic products would be displaced, or undermined sharply, leading to a transformation of domestic diets and to increased dependence on imported foods.” This historic shift to dependence on food imports was, needless to say, accompanied by the displacement of millions of peasants. Even before the AOA took effect, the World Bank was predicting that Indonesian farmers would lose out under the new regime. Indeed, since 1995, farmers in rice and other basic commodities have been marginalized. Meanwhile, competitive pressures induced by trade liberalization led to the expansion of commercial plantations at the expense of smallholders. In the Philippines, corn farmers, chicken farmers, cattle raisers, and vegetable growers were driven to bankruptcy in huge numbers. In Mindanao, where corn is a staple crop, many farmers were wiped out. As analyst Aileen Kwa has described, “It is not an uncommon sight to see farmers there leaving their corn to rot in the fields as the domestic corn prices have dropped to levels [at which] they have not been able to compete.” With production stagnant, land devoted to corn across the country contracted sharply from 3,149,300 hectares in 1995 to 2,150,300 hectares in 2000. In China, tens of thousands of farmers, including those growing soybeans and cotton, have been marginalized with China's entry into the WTO. Indeed, to maintain and increase access for its manufacturers to developed countries, the government has chosen to sacrifice its farmers…. In Sri Lanka, thousands of small farmers staged street demonstrations to protest the import of chicken parts and eggs, claiming they were being driven out of business. The FAO concurred, noting that import surges on major food items like chilies, onions, and potatoes made local production “precarious, as reflected in the significant drop in areas of production.” In India, tariff liberalization, even in advance of WTO commitments, has translated into a profound crisis in the countryside. Indian economist Utsa Patnaik has described the calamity as “a collapse in rural livelihoods and incomes” owing to the steep fall in the prices of farm products. Along with this has come a rapid decline in consumption of food grains, with the average Indian family of four consuming 76 kg less in 2003 compared to 1998 and 88 kg less than a decade earlier. The state of Andra Pradesh, which has become a byword for agrarian distress owing to trade liberalization, saw a catastrophic rise in farmers' suicides from 233 in 1998 to over 2,600 in 2002. One estimate is that some 100,000 farmers in India have taken their lives owing to collapsing prices stemming from rising imports. 
The destruction of small farming and traditional rural life Bello describes in Asia is in fact a worldwide phenomenon. Anuradha Mittal describes an example in Latin America:
As a result of the removal of tariffs on agricultural products, Mexico, a country once self sufficient in basic grains, today imports 95 percent of its soy, 58 percent of its rice, 49 percent of its wheat, and 40 percent of its meat. This has resulted in Mexican corn farmers being put out of business. More than 80 percent of Mexico's extreme poor live in rural areas, and more than 2 million are corn farmers. There is no way they can compete with subsidized American agribusiness. Everyday, an estimated 600 peasant farmers are forced off their land.
In his 2005 paper, “The Farm Crisis: How We Are Killing the Small Farmer,” Steven Gorelick describes the trend in rural life:
In China, for example, the modernisation of agriculture has already led to the uprooting of more than half the rural population in the last two decades. In the coming years, economic forces will pull so manyChinese from their villages that 600 new cities will be required tohandle the rural exodus, according to China’s Vice Minister ofConstruction. The global economy has been equally ruthless with farmers in otherparts of the South. Pastoralists in West Africa have been displacedby cheap meat imports from Europe, while Indian farmers that growtraditional oilseeds like sesame, linseed, and mustard are beingdriven under by soya imported from America. Mexican beef producers are losing ground to US producers, whose inroads into Mexico’s markets have tripled since NAFTA was ratified. In Ladakh, a region in which 90 percent of the population is inagriculture, traditional barley staples are being displaced by Punjabiwheat and rice trucked over the Himalayas. One Ladakhi farmerwondered “what will happen in the future, now things are changingso much? Will we need farmers or won’t we?” 
Actuallly, agriculture is booming—for some. As small farmers are pushed out, factory farming moves right in. Corporations are eager to acquire arable land, which has risen dramatically in price.
Sometimes, impatient capitalists skip all the rigged pretenses of “free trade” and simply evict small farmers outright. In Africa, western-based corporations are partnering with corrupt governments to seize small farms, forcibly removing family farmers and replacing them with corporate agribusiness:
The half-dozen strangers who descended on this remote West African village brought its hand-to-mouth farmers alarming news: their humble fields, tilled from one generation to the next, were now controlled by Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the farmers would all have to leave. They told us this would be the last rainy season for us to cultivate our fields; after that, they will level all the houses and take the land,” said Mama Keita, 73, the leader of this village veiled behind dense, thorny scrubland. “We were told that Qaddafi owns this land.” Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come…. 
The devastating effects of factory farming and “free trade” on small farmers have been paralleled by the rapid rise of multinational agribusiness, following the trail blazed by the “Green Revolution.” Giant integrated corporations like Cargill and Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland now control everything about agriculture from top to bottom: the land, the seeds, the fertilizer, pesticides, the feed stocks, the labor force, the processing of farm products, transportation, financing, marketing. In addition, global capitalism is boldly seizing and privatizing what used to be public inputs: water, clean air, genetic material, the oceans. (This is the process that Vandana Shiva calls the “new enclosure of the commons.”)  They are externalizing the costs and the poisonous side-effects of factory farming and manufacturing onto the public, demanding tax subsidies and dumping toxic wastes into public spaces and poor communities.
The changes in food production have been especially devastating.
Because of the successful Green Revolution, agriculture in the Third World has become a modern commodity business, food production worldwide has soared to levels never seen before in history—and directly because of this, millions of people have died from starvation and malnutrition. The paradox can be defined as the more food, the more deaths from lack of food. Former famine nations like India and Bangladesh now export food.... No oppressed nation is too poor to take part in this great transfer of food into the neo-colonial economy. Every “aid” project by the metropolis only accelerates the transformation of agriculture from growing food directly for the producers to producing abstract commodities for multi-national trade. 
Obviously the changes to capitalist agriculture have tremendous negative effects on our health, climate, food supply and on biological diversity, effects which any liberation movement will eventually have to address.
In the meantime, they have helped set in motion the greatest wave of migrations ever seen; migrations which are transforming the class structure of the world and undermining specific, older forms of patriarchal control. They embody a revolution in how capitalism exploits working-class women, its irreplaceable labor force.
The decline of small farming, and along with it rural patriarchy, determines how much of the working class actually encounters globalization: as the end of a way of life; as an exodus.
The great migration and its “feminization”
Throughout its history, capitalist expansion has been accompanied by population shifts from the countryside to the cities. This isn’t new. But the scale and reach of current global migration, triggered largely by the destruction of small farming, is astonishing. Hundreds of millions of people crisscross the globe; even more migrate to new lives inside their own countries or regions.
At least 200-250 million Chinese have already left rural areas for work in the cities.  Researchers say that two-thirds of the entire rural population of China and Indonesia (the world’s fourth most populous country) will migrate in the next couple of decades.  Over two million farmers are forced off their land every year in India.  (Some 8000 rural migrants arrive in Delhi every week.) Giant shantytowns explode around the large cities of the world, populated largely by people leaving the countryside. Globally, roughly a billion people are living without formal employment in these giant sprawling townships.  Unicef estimates that there are 300 million children living on the streets. Many of them were born in farm areas, but will never themselves be farmers. 800,000 Asian women migrate to the Middle East each year, mostly to work as maids.  (At least 384,822 Indonesian women went to just one country—Saudi Arabia—to do domestic work between 1990 and 1995.) In 2006, the UN estimated that 1.2 million people, most of them women and girls, were “trafficked” annually.  Millions of immigrants enter the U.S. and Europe every year. As of 2009, there were more than 400,000 foreign spouses in Taiwan—a country of just 23 million people—with 20,000 new transnational marriages registered each year.  This is largely the result of a skyrocketing global “bride industry.” (Roughly 4,000-6,000 women a year enter the United Sates by way of “mail order bride” agencies.)  Newly-rich Taiwanese families hire hundreds of thousands of Filipina, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and Mongolian domestic contract workers.  There are hundreds of thousands of foreign “entertainers” in Japan.  Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese women, mostly minors, work in the brothels in India.  Hundreds of thousands of immigrant women work in the sex industry in Europe. In 2004, more than 1,000 Russian women were doing sex work in the Republic of Korea.  Migrant women from Myanmar are the dominant labor force in hundreds of factories in Thailand.  At the same time, millions of unaccompanied foreign men travel to Thailand, mostly to purchase sex from women who migrated from the Thai countryside. (Roughly 5 million men in 1996.)  Between 1960 and the late eighties, according to Fausto Brito, nearly 43 million people left the Brazilian countryside toward the cities, emptying out whole agricultural regions.  85% of Filipina nurses work outside the Philippines. (There are over 400,000 foreign-born nurses of various nationalities in the U.S.) 
The statistics are endless, the facts stunning. The working class is morphing in front of our eyes.
We should avoid oversimplifying this tidal wave of migration. Some of it is a continuation of well-established migrations of long standing. Some of it is from urban areas, not the countryside. Some of it is temporary, at least in original intent. Some migration is “pulled” rather than “pushed” —that is, made up of migrants, including middle-class people, who are simply looking for a better life. And millions of migrants are refugees fleeing civil war, disease, domestic abuse and natural disaster.
Nevertheless, massive working-class migration out of the countryside has reached unprecedented proportions, and is characterized by a qualitative change in migratory patterns. Its effects are basically irreversible. Traditional village life and traditional rural family structure are not coming back. Many migrants do return to their home areas, especially during times of economic downturn. But generally they do not return to small scale agriculture, and they resist rejoining traditional rural patriarchal life. In fact, many returnees leave again at the earliest opportunity.
Within the hurricane of migration, remaining rural families trying to cling to their land now depend on remittances from daughters and mothers. This is happening in countries as diverse as the Philippines, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Haiti. In the year 1998, the UN says that roughly 70 billion dollars was sent back home by migrant women; that figure skyrocketed, with total remittances (from men and women) reaching about $300 billion of formal remittances alone in 2005.  In some cases remittances have become the largest financial inflow for whole countries and regions, frequently exceeding 10% or even 20% of national GDP.  (The governments of Indonesia and the Philippines sponsor public advertising campaigns to praise as “heroes” the women who work abroad because of their indispensable role in the national economy.) 
While this flow of remittances allows some rural families to hang on temporarily, it transforms their way of life drastically. And it is clearly insufficient to restore the material basis for traditional rural life. In fact, a larger and larger percentage of remittances are sent to family members who have themselves abandoned the countryside for the city.
Moreover, migration is becoming increasingly “feminized.” As the UN puts it in a 2007 report on the feminization of international migration:
Although a net feminization of flows has occurred in certain regions, what has really changed in the last decades is the fact that more women are migrating independently in search of jobs, rather than as “family dependents” traveling with their husbands or joining them abroad. In addition to this change in the pattern of female migration, the other significant change taking place concerns the level of awareness on the part of migration scholars and policy-makers as to the significance of female migration and the role of gender in shaping migratory processes and, most importantly, the increasingly important role of women as remittance senders. It is nonetheless true that in recent decades the number of women (and men) migrants has increased significantly in response to changing labor markets globally, particularly the massive demand for cheap female labor from poor countries to fill the growing demand for caregivers in rich countries…. The care crisis in the developed world thus provides an outlet for the catastrophic failure of development policies worldwide, and most particularly for the effects of the neoliberal structural reforms imposed on poor countries over the last decades, which have resulted in growing unemployment and underemployment, reduced social services, labor displacement, and increased poverty in many countries and regions. 
Note that this particular UN study limited itself to international migration, which is heavily concentrated in domestic work and sex slavery. Yet internal and intra-regional migration, including the rivers of working-class women flowing into the giant export-oriented manufacturing zones, is actually even more extensive.
All these migrations cause gender upheavals.
For instance, in China, a long-standing bias against female children—enforced by selective abortion and female infanticide—is coming to a halt. What were formerly considered “surplus” young women have become the labor force of choice in urban global manufacturing, and are now seen as valuable resources by rural families.  Both men and women migrate out of the Chinese countryside. But it is women who are heavily concentrated in the job-rich export-oriented factories.  Their remittances are prized. (Chinese migrant men are concentrated in construction, where their employment hangs by a thread within the world’s biggest real estate bubble.)
The social effects of feminized migration are diverse. When working-class women migrate today, they often leave spouses and children behind, temporarily or permanently. The results vary, but are typically devastating to traditional life and gender patterns.
As one 1990 study of China put it:
It is estimated, based on the current trend of sex ratio at birth, that by 2029 there will be a surplus of 30 million men over women (at reproductive age) in China alone. Furthermore, with the opportunities offered by the market economy, Chinese rural women increasingly aspire to work in the cities and "marry out". As women's marriage migration patterns and the marriage market correspond to the spatial hierarchy of capitalist development, it can be foreseen that entire villages in most peripheral areas will be extinct in the near future when their men are unable to find marriageable women. 
Yet on the other hand, a report from North-East India finds that,
Aging population has been increasing more rapidly in rural areas, owing to the exodus of males from our villages giving rise to “feminization of farming”. Due to rapid migration of young women as well, it is now becoming “Geronto farming”, farming taken care off largely by older women. 
In the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, there is a “bachelor bomb,” as young women leave home to look for mates. Thanh Nien News reports that, “Rural girls are abandoning their villages in search of love and money in the cities, leaving behind packs of lonely young male workers.” Tens of thousands of women, with the “help” of numerous matchmaking agencies, travel overseas to marry men in Taiwan and South Korea. Many more find jobs in the factories and fish processing plants around Ho Chi Minh City and other urban centers. 
Sri Lankan women are leaving rural areas by droves to work as maids in the Middle East, Japan and Europe. (Over 125,000 migrate to the Middle East as domestic workers each year.) 
Michelle Gamburd studied Sri Lankan families from villages in the Naeaegama region in 1997.
Ninety percent of all migrants were women. Of the migrant women, 30% were single, and 70% were married, separated or divorced. Most of the women in this latter group had at least one child, and approximately half had husbands who were under- or unemployed.”
Most women migrants in Naeaegama leave their children in the care of their mothers or mothers-in-law, since their husbands, even when unemployed, refuse to do “women’s work.” The minority of men who challenge existing gender roles to care for their own children face ridicule.
Instead, many men left behind by migrant women hook up with moonshine production and drinking clubs, wasting their wives’ remittances and terrorizing the villages with drunken violence. The clubs are elaborately organized. They often give donations to schools, temples, and politicians and maintain cozy ties with law enforcement.
For men whose incomes are eclipsed by those of their wives, or who fail to make the most of their wives’ salaries, alcohol provides relief from personal responsibility…. Responsibility falls on the alcohol for any foolish actions and on the absent wife for the drinking itself. With prosperity in the village resting primarily on female migration to the Middle East, involvement with kasippu [moonshine] production and distribution provides poor men with alcohol, money, community, political clout, and a means to reassert the male power and respect lost in the face of women’s new economic role. 
Let’s be clear: the process we are witnessing is not “changing rural women into workers.” Most of the women of the exodus are already working-class—even if their husbands and fathers may not be. These women have been working as agricultural laborers, either on large capitalist farms or as unpaid labor on family farms owned and controlled by men serving capitalism. They have been working in family businesses and performing the endless hours of domestic and care work that made rural capitalism possible. As we saw, that labor isn't just a remnant of feudal times. Rather, it was long ago transformed into a mainstay of global capitalism and integrated into the foundations of modern capitalist economies.
In their previous lives, these women were exploited and controlled primarily from within male dominated rural families, a situation which isolated them and effectively repressed them from expressing their own class politics. Rural patriarchy has now been forced to disgorge huge numbers of these (working-class) women into a burgeoning transnational labor market in order to better serve the new capitalism. Although much of their labor is redirected into manufacturing, a large and critical proportion of their work is the same kind of work they used to do “at home” —farm labor, domestic and care work.
A transformed working class
The economic and social changes that make up globalization have set off a huge, multisided brawl among men over how the new economic system is going to work and, above all, who gets to control and profit from women’s labor. That’s because all the upheaval caused by globalization creates new male winners and losers.
Today, as a juggernaut of mutant capitalism finally acts to pulverize the world’s “peasantry” and to drive working-class women directly into gigantic transnational industries, the exploitation of women’s labor is being dramatically reconfigured. Women are being busted out of traditional rural and urban patriarchal families to serve capitalism better. Groups of men of all classes are fighting desperately to resist or, failing that, to get a piece of the emerging post-modern patriarchy. Large numbers of men are falling out of productive life completely.
The International Labor Organization says, “For the past 30 years or so, the trend across the world has been for female labor force participation to rise, while the male participation rate has been falling... [M]ore men have been forced into the margins of the labor market, if not out of it altogether.”
The ILO notes that “the types of employment and labor force involvement traditionally associated with women—insecure, low-paid, irregular, etc.—have been spreading relative to the type of employment traditionally associated with men—regular, unionized, stable, manual or craft-based, etc.”  We might add to that list of declining male jobs: “overseers and foremen over rural women.”
What academics call the “feminization of work” is happening not just in the “developing world,” but in the metropolis as well. In Europe and the U.S., an increasing percentage of married women of all classes and nationalities make more money than their husbands. (Among African Americans, for instance, that percentage jumped from 18% in 1970 to 30% in 1996.) 
Families are still important units of male supremacy. But they are changing, and becoming less rigid and sacrosanct. A unifying theme of the new capitalist order is that the labor of working-class women is too valuable to leave in the hands of the “man of the house.” Women’s labor is now to be controlled more directly by capitalists and their professional agents, without all the clumsy and inflexible local mediation formerly assigned to husbands, fathers and brothers. Working-class women must be “free” to move from country to country, from industry to industry, from household to household. They are needed in the industrial zones, needed in the giant factory farms, needed as nurses and “entertainers.” Their domestic work is increasingly moved out of thier own families and merged into great global service industries. Women clean house and raise somebody else’s kids halfway around the world. Poor women have always labored at this kind of domestic service, and have often been separated from their families to do so. Wealthy families employed servants from the ranks of the poor, and especially from colonial nations. But the scope, internationalization and commercialization of this labor market has increased exponentially.
What was once unpaid labor may now be paid, if poorly. More to the point, the family middlemen of rural patriarchy are being cut out of the loop. Capitalists now extract the profit of exploited labor more immediately in the marketplace, rather than indirectly, farther up the “food chain.” Working-class women’s labor in the fields and factories and the private homes of others is becoming massively socialized and endlessly mobile. It’s re-organized and stratified according to the needs of the new global markets. It’s encouraged and organized by parasitic governments and a corrupt army of labor agencies, slave traders and professional smugglers. Nobody’s asking permission from the husbands or fathers for any part of that.
The transformation of the working class, with women at its core, holds tremendous long-term promise for revolutionary change. The geographic and social barriers among working-class women are gradually breaking down, and working-class women are becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. Which is not to say that the new unleashed global capitalism is kind to working-class women. In fact, more than ever, capitalism is their direct, implacable, brutal enemy.
The chaos of this latest wave of globalization is itself particularly violent for women. Women predominate among the refugees and the destitute and the enslaved. Old and new methods of labor exploitation and social control advance virtually uninhibited by custom or regulation.
While corporations have gained unlimited new transnational mobility, the movements of working-class women are harshly restricted and regulated by national border controls and racist segregation. At every turn, governments, migration agencies, smugglers and labor brokers defraud and tax migrant women.
Millions of working-class women are leaving their children behind in order to survive in the global economy. Conditions of working-class labor, as always, are unrelentingly harsh. Much of working-class women’s labor is, in fact, slave or semi-slave labor—unpaid, carried out under duress, involuntary.
Violence is endemic where working-class women live and work. Where they are concentrated, capitalists and warlords manipulate and encourage dispossessed men to terrorize them, to push them off the streets and out of public life.
And there is something more: the destruction of traditional family-based rural patriarchy brings with it a powerful reactionary male political backlash.
Millions of men are losing “their” women, and “their” jobs, and it’s driving them crazy. Today the main opposition to capitalist globalization comes not from the weakened anti-imperialist Left, or—yet—from working-class women, but rather from militant right-wing men. The anger of male dispossession fuels reactionary populist, fundamentalist and fascist trends in every part of the world. These right-wing movements are typically led by men of the middle classes, furious at losing the privileges they held under the previous male capitalist order. But millions of poor and de-classed men are joining in, forming a kind of united front of misogyny.
Finally, working-class women face the rise of new layers of neo-colonial women. Women who profit from sex slavery. Women managers in the factories. Women war criminals, women politicians, women agents, women functionaries, women household employers. In traditional rural patriarchy, there were also women—often in-laws—who played enabling roles in male domination. These old-paradigm female overseers are currently being phased out along with “their” men as part of the new globalization. Rising up to replace them are new cadres of modern professional, military and ruling class women who are better equipped to control working-class women inside the new global patriarchy.
For those of us trying to rebuild a radical anti-capitalist movement, the reorganization of the world economy and the accompanying changes in how women are exploited and controlled have fundamental significance. Because as a result of this transformation, the core of the working class—capitalism’s historical enemy—is also being transformed. This reconfigured working class, with women at its heart, will be the ultimate source of new waves of resistance and revolution. It will spawn new labor movements, new cultures, new parties, new insurgencies, new armies. We are at a major historical turning point, full of promise.
In time capitalism will pay a heavy price for its extended lease on life. It is being forced to virtually jettison traditional rural patriarchy, a critical bulwark of social control for centuries. It is dispossessing and angering countless small time patriarchs. It is disrupting traditional gender roles. It is sending hundreds of millions of women journeying across countries and cultures as they figure out how to survive. It is placing the nature and future of male domination in question. These changes make capitalism deeply vulnerable in the long run.
In the meantime, though, working-class women are caught in a free fire zone. On one side, the brutal power of global capitalism, exploiting working-class women’s labor through compulsion and violence. On the other side, men dispossessed of “their” women by the new capitalism, who are increasingly resorting to radical and violent measures to “defend” and “reclaim” their patriarchal birth right, or at least grab a piece of the action in a new male order.
Working-class women are fighting back, but they are in a position of strategic weakness. Their struggles typically still lack the capacity for collective physical self-defense—a precondition for fundamental change.
Still, change is coming. From the protests in the mean streets of Juarez to the revolutionary underground of Afghanistan to the anti-slavery safe houses of Cambodia, women are challenging fundamentalism, violence against women, imperialist occupation and corporate exploitation. Within the great migration, working-class women are forming new labor movements and new communities, united by common experience and taking advantage of whatever tools are at hand, including cell phones and the internet. The era of male revolution has ended, but a new era of working-class revolution is starting to unfold.
With every passing day, there are new flashpoints, new possibilities. We can open a newspaper and see something like this:
Bangladesh, once poor and irrelevant to the global economy, is now an export powerhouse, second only to China in global apparel exports, as factories churn out clothing for brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, Calvin Klein and H&M. Global retailers like Target and Walmart now operate sourcing offices in Dhaka, the capital. Garments are critical to Bangladesh’s economy, accounting for 80 percent of manufacturing exports and more than three million jobs. But with “Made in Bangladesh” labels now commonplace in American stores, Bangladesh’s manufacturing formula depends on its having the lowest labor costs in the world, with the minimum wage for garment workers set at roughly $37 a month. During the past two years, as workers have seen their meager earnings eroded by double-digit inflation, protests and violent clashes with the police have become increasingly common. 
Eighty percent of these garment workers—some 2.4 million—are women.
What we see in the newspaper is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of what bubbles up out of working-class women’s anger is invisible to us in the metropolis. When we do hear news about women active in political struggles, including movements led by men, it’s hard to predict where they are headed.
For example, how can we say what the future holds for working-class women of the so-called Arab Spring? Will they carve out a new political space, or be pushed to the margins? Or how about the hundreds of thousands of girls—children—who are fighting as soldiers in civil wars and warlordistic conflicts around the world? Most of them are virtual prisoners today—what will they be tomorrow? Thousands of women were recently involved in huge strikes against Honda and other giant manufacturing corporations in China. Will women step forward to take leadership of these struggles? Groups of women have formed all-women guerrilla armies in Kurdistan. How will that evolve? The Zapatistas claim that women are at the heart of their uprising. What does that mean practically for the future of working-class women? Armed women gangsters are emerging in some of the free-fire zones and urban wastelands of global capitalism. Will some of them become “political”?
It’s impossible to say what an international insurgency of working-class women will look like. All we can predict with any confidence is that entirely new kinds of organization and unexpected tactics will be generated by experimentation and sacrifice—just as they always are when the working class changes and advances.
The future, as usual, is mostly hidden.
But what we should notice, because it is right in front of our eyes, is that the many-sided male brawl over how to exploit and control women’s labor within the new capitalist order defines and shapes today’s global politics. Until working-class women take the field in their own behalf on a world scale, they will be trapped within this essentially male politics, a deadly violent politics that is all about them.
Whatever radicals in the metropolis decide to do, or not do, capitalism has moved on. Its current incarnation demands the thorough commodification and internationalization of agriculture, industry, commerce and services. It needs rapid access to mobile and flexible pools of workers, especially working-class women. To make this happen, capitalists are rolling the dice, scrambling to extend their domination even as they allow some of capitalism’s deepest social moorings slip free. In desperation, under duress, capitalism has found it necessary to socialize the labor of working-class women on a whole new basis, to essentially remake the working class in a more advanced and cosmopolitan form. In the process, the central role of working-class women in the world economy is being pushed rapidly out of the shadows.
New capitalism is here, bringing with it new politics. At the most fundamental level, this politics is not about oil. It’s not about religion. It’s not about imperialist men versus anti-imperialist men. It’s about women and women’s labor: women at the heart of a transformed global proletariat.
 Vandana Shiva, “The Enclosure of the Commons,” Third World Network, August, 1997. This is an edited extract from a longer version which appeared in The Enclosure and Recovery of the Commons published by The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, India.
 Butch Lee and Red Rover, Night-Vision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain, Vagabond, 1993, pp. 100, 103.
 This is a commonly used figure, originating with the UN (See, for instance, The World Bank News and Views, September 24, 2010.) It may in fact be low, but the general scope of the migration is clear in any case. In 2003 the Asian Development Bank forecast more than 300 million migrants to the cities by 2010. (See David Lague, “The Human Tide Sweeps into Cities,” published by the United Nations Public Administration Network, January 9, 2003.) Facts and Details website says that 230 million had migrated from the countryside by 2010, a number expected to reach 250 million by 2012 and surpass 300-400 million by 2025. A translation from China's People's Daily reveals that the government itself is encouraging the migration of between 300 and 500 million people from rural areas to towns and cities by 2020.
 A good source on the topic of the growth of urban slums and shantytowns is Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso, 2006. Another source is Robert Neuwirth, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, Routledge, 2005. Although his politics are clearly pro-capitalist, Hernando de Soto provides fascinating information on the extent and dynamism of the informal economy in Latin America: The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World, Harper and Row, 1989.
 UNFPA State of World Population 2006; A Passage to Hope; Women and International Migration, p. 23.
 This figure is for recorded work contracts according to the Indonesian government, reported by R. Amjad, “Philippines and Indonesia: On the Way to a Migration Transition,” Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 1996, p. 335. Cited in Rachel Silvey, Political Geography 23, 2004.
 UNFPA State of World Population 2006; A Passage to Hope; Women and International Migration, p. 44. The term “trafficking” is controversial. The U.N. defines it as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purposes of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” United Nations n.d.(a) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children: Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, article 3(a). New York: United Nations. The 1.2 million figure itself may be conservative. Somaly Mam, the Cambodian activist, says that at least one million children are sold into prostitution each year, and that that overall there are 30 million people toiling as slaves in various industries around the globe. (See http://www.somaly.org/slavery, September 2012.)
 Pei-Chia Lan, Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan, Duke U. Press, 2006, Introduction, etc.
 See, for instance, “Japanese Police Report Human Traficking Victims in First Half of 2005,” humantrafficking.org update 43 which quotes the International Organization for Migration estimate that 150,000 sex trafficking victims were working in Japan's sex industry. Multiple reports state that 88,000 of the 130,000 foreign nationals who enter Japan on entertainer visas every year are Filipina women. Also see UNFPA State of World Population 2006; A Passage to Hope; Women and International Migration, p. 44.
 The Coalition against Trafficking in Women reports a figure of 100,000 Nepalese women in prostitution in India. Some other sources use even larger figures. (See here for more resources.)
 UNFPA State of World Population 2006; A Passage to Hope; Women and International Migration, p. 26.
 UNFPA State of World Population 2006; A Passage to Hope; Women and International Migration, p. 13.
 Wikipedia provides numerous statistics about remittances, and numerous citations. So does the UN: “Feminization of Migration 2007: Gender, Remittances and Development,” UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, 2007.
 Pei-Chia Lan, Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan, Duke U. Press, 2006, pp. 44-49.
 “Feminization of Migration 2007: Gender, Remittances and Development,” UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, 2007, pp. 1-2.
 Maggie Farley, “Women in the New China,” Los Angeles Times, November 22, 1998.
 “In East and South-East Asia, women provide up to 80 percent of workers in export processing zones,” according to “Women Swell Ranks of Working Poor,” International Labor Organization, ILO/96/25, July 30, 1996.
 M. Lu, “Where Have Our Women Gone? Crisis of Reproduction and Family in Rural China and Southeast Asia,” ACM Bulletin, February 1990, p. 251.
 From publisher description of Devi and Bagga, “Ageing in Women: A Study in North-East India,” Mittal, 2006.
 Michele Gamburd, “Breadwinner No More,” Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy, eds. Ehrenreich and Hochschild, Metropolitan Books, 2003, pp. 190-207.
 The view that working-class women could have a different class position from the men in their immediate families is not part of Left orthodoxy today. However, some revolutionary Marxists use this concept as part of their analysis of capitalism's class structure and the role of working-class women. See, for instance, Butch Lee's commentary in People's War...Women's War?, Kersplebedeb, 2006, p. 43. During the formative years of the Chinese Communist Party, it was argued that “women were by virtue of their gender for all intents and purposes part of the propertyless class.” (Christina Kelley,Engendering the Chinese Revolution: Radical Women, Communist Politics and Mass Movements in the 1920’s, U.C. Press, 1995, Chapter 1.)
 Guy Standing, International Labour Organization, Geneva, “Global Feminization Through Flexible Labor: A Theme Revisited,” reprinted in World Development Vol. 27, #3, 1999, pp. 588, 600.
 Richyard Freeman, “The Feminization of Work in the USA: A New Era for (Man)kind?” in Gender and the Labour Market, ed. Gustafsson and Meulders, St. Martin's, 2000, p. 10.
 Jim Yardley, “Export Powerhouse Feels Pangs of Labor Strife,” New York Times, August 23, 2012.
The author has written the following other essays, also available on Kersplebedeb: