“The Reproduction of Labor-Power”: Thoughts on “The Washing Society” by Ana Almeyda Cohen

“As it relates to my comment/question about a possible Marxist interpretation of the interviews with the laundromat workers, I was thinking about Jean Rouch’s interviews with factory workers in Paris from his 1961 film Chronicle of a Summer. In the film, the anthropologist Edgar Morin interviews a Renault factory worker who explains his condition of exploitation and the reproduction of his labor that is necessary to be able to work the next day. He says, “I feel like I work 24 hours. I have a 9 hour shift and the rest of the time, I’m sleeping to work” (rough translation) which means that for the revival of his labor, he needs to eat, sleep, and take care of himself, thus replenishing his ability to work for his boss the next day. One can say, there is also the unpaid reproductive labor of women in the home that traditionally have provided this nurture to male laborers, in addition to providing the new generation of laborers that will enter the workforce. In Marxist theory, this can be understood as “the production of labour-power [which] consists in [the individual’s] reproduction of himself or his maintenance” also analyzed in feminist critique as “the reproduction of labor-power” as it relates to women, discussed in detail by Silvia Federici. This reproduction time comes free of charge for capitalists. The point is – as it relates to The Washing Society – I felt like the laundromat owner’s explanation of his workday and daily routine (being out of the house by 7am, working until 7:30pm, to then do it all again the next day), is shy of expressing this deeper proletariat consciousness of his hours of reproduction, which, in turn, can be heard in the Renault factory worker’s response in Chronicle of a Summer. The laundromat worker/owner does not go into great detail about what he does when is not working. Does he say that he eats and replenishes himself to be able to work the next day (“the reproduction of himself or his maintenance”)? I’d need to watch the film again to see. Margarita, on the other hand, inches closer to acknowledging and recognizing her need to replenish herself (to tend to her herniated disc, her family), but she does not quite draw attention to these non-working/reproductive hours more specifically, or does she? I just thought this Marxist framing is an interesting way to draw attention to what the workers do not say about the reproduction of their labor-power that is expressed in Chronicle of a Summer. However, once you mentioned in class, Lynne, that the Chinese laundromat worker is also the owner, his comment can have another weight. I’d have to think about it a little more.

Response to ¡Depertar!:

I just watched the video ¡DESPERTAR! It’s a great short film. In such a short time frame, you were able to capture the spirit and fervor of the laundromat workers’ movement. I think this is best captured in the woman’s remarks standing outside the laundromat. She situates the struggle within a historical time frame, referring to the ’87 and the ’90s when immigrants had less rights. Has the role of the owners also changed since then? I think the film leaves open the role and (changing?) function of the laundromat owners. For example, the final shot of the film shows the young owner standing at the door in what appears to be him holding the door open for the workers and protesters as they leave. This courteous (or not) gesture stands in juxtaposition to the exploitation his role engages in. Also, his stoic posture and lack of facial expression seem to stand in contrast to the energized protests of the workers. His posture also seems to suggest that the protesters’ claims have fallen on deaf ears. The film leaves unanswered the owners’ response to the movement. What does he think? Perhaps we need another epilogue that serves as a response to the workers. What happens, though, when the owner is also the worker, as we see with the owner featured in THE WASHING SOCIETY? Is the owner-worker then part of a weird form of labor-driven self-flagellation? Does he/she recognize his/her own self-exploitation? Just some thoughts.