Balanced Jobs in a Housing Cooperative
By Tyler Tarwater at Feb 13, 2009
I live in a housing cooperative that I helped start 6 months ago. There are six of us here living in a house in Atlanta. I'm looking to incorporate features of parecon/parsoc in our house.
The feature that most recently came to mind is "balanced job complexes." Homes aren't workplaces, but there are all kinds of tasks and chores associated with upkeeping a household. Rooms must be cleaned, dinner is cooked, groceries are purchased, repairs must be made, renovations are undertaken, gardens can be planted, budgets must be kept, financial decisions are made, and many other tasks are undertaken.
Traditionally the division of household work has been split down gender lines. In the United States at least, cleaning is more often relegated to women while home repair is more often performed by men. Women have often been expected to cook while men may be more likely to have control over household financial decisions.
A housing cooperative has the advantage of having several adults to share tasks, but there is still plenty of work to be done. When we first started this project, we had no formal policy on chores, just the agreed principle that we should share chores equitably. Several problems arose, almost immediately. First, without a system in place, the burden of the chores fell disproportionately on some members. Those who were bothered more by a dirty kitchen had to bear the brunt of cleaning it more often. Second, without an alternative system in place, our informal division of household labor only reinforced the prevailing division upon gender lines.
Our first thought to solve the problem was to simply split chores equally. For example, each night a different person has to clean the kitchen. That worked well for some things, like cleaning the kitchen. But now as our group has progressed, we have been tackling jobs that require more knowledge and specialization. For example, we have a front yard garden that we started recently. Planning and managing the garden is real work that benefits everyone in the house, but can we expect a new member who has no gardening experience to be able to do his/her fair share in garden management work? Same goes for renovation work and managing household finances. These tasks aren't rocket science, but at least at first, not everyone will be capable of doing every job. For example, I don't know anything about hanging dry wall or installing insulation.
Also, what if someone is not particularly inclined to gardening or prefers managing renovations to financial planning? These tasks may all be equally empowering, but naturally people have different interests. Since splitting and rotating tasks equally does not solve these problems, I am suggesting to our co-op that we implement a form of balanced job complexes (BJC) (a core institution of participatory economics) in our house. The idea is that each person in the house will have a set of household jobs/chores that are basically equal in terms of empowerment, desirability, and time requirements.
First, we list out all the tasks that need to be performed in the house. Then we bundle a set of tasks and jobs together into 6 different sets, so that each person has a group of household jobs that are comparably empowering and enjoyable to everyone else. Some tasks will likely be a part of everyone's BJC. For example, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms on a regular basis should be a task that everyone shares, since these jobs inspire everyone to keep the areas from getting too dirty.
Even considering that people do have different interests, I think that, in general, the BJCs or the jobs in the BJCs should be rotated over time. Again, none of the tasks are that complex or take a huge time of training, so for the benefit of skill-sharing and investing in our members, we ought to rotate jobs when possible. This may differ from a workplace in Parecon where rotation or at least frequent rotation might not be as feasible or desirable.
These are my initial thoughts of why and how a housing cooperative might implement balanced job complexes. As a group, we haven't yet agreed on this approach. I will blog again with more details on how we decide to split up and bundle the jobs and how we rate the empowerment and desirability of different tasks, if we do take this route.