labouring process. Substituting division of labour theory for class analysis, Young, a unified system theorist, attempted to develop a theory of gender-biased capitalism where class and gender relations had evolved together. By concentrating on the division of labour, she believed that it would be possible to be sensitive to the ethnic distinctions of a racist labour market. She argued that marginalisation of women, and our function as secondary labour force is an essential and fundamental characteristic of capitalism. Ellen Woods, a Marxist feminist, argued otherwise, stating that capitalism is uniquely indifferent to the social identities of people it exploits, undermining differences and diluting identities such as race and gender. When the least privileged sectors of the working class coincide with extra-economic identities such as gender and race it may appear that the cause of the oppression lies elsewhere. But racism and sexism function so well in capitalist society because they work to the advantage of some members of the working class in the competitive conditions of the labour market.
This discussion came to a head in the domestic labour debate of the 1970s and 80s. The argument concerned the function of domestic labour and its role in the reproduction of capitalism and the argument raised the issue that men, qua men, benefit from women’s oppression. The initial argument was between those who drew on Engel’s speculative comments about the pre-capitalist sexual division of labour and those who argued that sex based labour roles were brought about by capitalism. Within the Marxist frame of reference, this argument was significant for only those involved in productive labour, those producing commodities and surplus labour, were considered to be part of the revolutionary class. The Wages for Housework Campaigners argued that domestic labour indeed produces a commodity which is central to capitalism - labour power. For this reason, Selma James, Dalla Costa and others proposed a domestic wage. Apart from signalling the productive nature of domestic labour, the proposal was also designed to cut at the heart of the assumption that the principal, or male, wage earner was paid a family wage. This point intersected with arguments being made by various dual systems theorists such as Juliette Mitchell