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Study Notes

Feminism and the Reserve Army of Labour

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

The "reserve army of labour" - a term associated with those on the left of the political spectrum - is disproportionately female.

Marxist in origin, the existence of a reserve army of labour enables employers to maintain low wages, poor working conditions and a compliant workforce.

For instance, those who are deemed troublesome or unproductive in the workplace can always be replaced by members from the reserve army of labour. The ranks of the economically inactive thereby maintain high levels of profit for the owners of capital. Revealingly, the reserve army of labour is disproportionately female.

Women are more likely to be in low paid jobs with less job security than men. It is also a fact that women disproportionally work in the five c’s (cleaning, clerical, caring, cashiering and catering). Women are therefore a key element of the precariat. This is particularly notable within third world countries in which workers’ rights are suppressed by the agents of the state. Multinational companies are attracted to those countries due to their relatively low wages and poor working conditions. That said, such observations also apply to a relatively advanced capitalist economic system such as the UK. For those on the left, this represents the exploitation of women by wealthy and well-connected capitalist organisations.

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