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Angels of the Workplace

Angels of the Workplace: Women and the Construction of Gender Relations in the Canadian Clothing Industry, 1890-1940

Mercedes Steedman
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 2
Pages: 333
  • Book Info
    Angels of the Workplace
    Book Description:

    In this renowned 1997 study of the clothing industry in Canada, Mercedes Steedman examines how the intricate weaving together of the meanings of class, gender, ethnicity, family, and the workplace created a job ghetto for women.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5743-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. 1 Introduction: Across the Great Divide
    (pp. 1-11)

    In 1910 Montreal garment workers went into their first general strike. About 1,000 workers, slightly over half of them women, left their sewing machines and took to the streets to demand union recognition and wage increases. A newspaper report of the time noted that the women strikers in the group were asking, ‘Why should men demand and receive more than twice as much pay as we get, when our cost of living is equally high and we have the same skills in the trade?’¹ This is a question that has since echoed down, unanswered, through the years.

    Women have worked...

  6. 2 The Industrial Fields of Activity: Send Forth Your Daughters
    (pp. 12-52)

    During the second half of the nineteenth century, in the early phase of industrial development in Canada, men were not the only workers changing their livelihoods and occupations and moving in great numbers from farms and villages into the dusty and dingy factories and workshops of the cities. For many working-class women as well it was a time of transition. Women had long worked for the welfare of their families by doing numerous repetitive and endless chores—tending gardens, raising chickens, or making clothes for the family, for example—and by going out of the home to do similar domestic...

  7. 3 Worlds Apart: Women and Unions in the Needle Trades, 1890–1920
    (pp. 53-85)

    In the second decade of the century, in a series of great strikes, hundreds of young women in Canada marched on the picket lines outside garment factories. Most of them were not drawn to the streets by an especially fervid interest in labour activism and labour issues. In the years of the strikes—1910, 1912, and 1913—those concerns were considered to fall largely within the male domain. Rather, the women came out in large number to protest against their immediate, everyday working conditions.

    The common daily experience of young sewing-machine operators was a heavy mix of stress, noise, long...

  8. 4 From Shop-Floor Action to New Unionism: The War Years and After
    (pp. 86-109)

    In 1912, after a small local of shirtmakers—all women—had been established in Montreal, the head office of the ilgwu ignored a request from its Montreal locals for a French-speaking appointment to the Montreal Joint Board.¹ Two years later a Brother Groban of Cincinnati was appointed as special organizer in Montreal for nine weeks. At the end of the stint he reported: ‘If not for the French workers, whom they are powerless to organize, the locals would be in excellent condition.’² A French organizer hired by the ilgwu to assist Groban resigned after a few weeks, saying he had...

  9. 5 Taking a Stand: Civil War in the Needle Trades
    (pp. 110-141)

    For most of the capitalist world, including Canada, the two decades following World War I were years of ‘boom and bust’. A brief period of postwar prosperity was followed by a temporary crisis in 1920–1, which was in turn succeeded by a period of halting improvement that lasted until the collapse of 1929. The clothing industry went up and down with the rest of the economy, experiencing a strong recovery through most of the 1920s, with the promise of mass consumption prompting an increase in consumer demand and the development of new products. In the early 1920s, though, a...

  10. 6 ‘A Real Man’s Fight’: Clothing Battles in the Depression Years
    (pp. 142-189)

    For most workers, and especially women, it had never been easy to make a living wage in the clothing industry, and the Depression years created even greater hardship. In each year from 1933 to 1936 about 12 per cent of the Canadian population were on relief. In the worst years, 1932–3, about two million Canadians—or one in five—were on public assistance. By 1933 one in four Montreal adults was on relief.¹ While the forces of urbanization and the new industrial order had been remaking Canadian society, political and social institutions had not yet been created to cope...

  11. 7 When the Boys Get Together: Orchestrating Consent
    (pp. 190-218)

    When the clothing unions turned to the State to settle the disputes over wage rates and unfair trade practices in the needle trades, the men in charge had little difficulty convincing the government officials that saner minds must prevail. Thanks largely to the in-depth ruminations of the Stevens Commission, the sense of crisis in the needle trades—the troublesome economic and social conditions, the plight of workers at all levels—was now public knowledge. The ravages of the Depression years now caused concern in the social circles that mattered. Still, it would take some time to get the government to...

  12. 8 After the Acts: Setting the Standards, Putting on the Pressure
    (pp. 219-253)

    With the passing of the Industrial Standards Act in Ontario and the Arcand Act in Quebec, the clothing industry in both provinces was anxious to get collective agreements legally sanctioned by Order in Council. Indeed, the political process involved in the registration of these collective agreements illustrates the importance of interprovincial markets in the clothing industry and at the same time suggests how a male workforce was privileged through the outcome of these negotiation processes.

    According to the Ontario legislation, after all the parties involved had settled on minimum wages and job classifications, the agreement was to be registered with...

  13. 9 Conclusion: ‘This Group of Girls and Men …’
    (pp. 254-260)

    At the 1937 ilgwu convention in Atlantic City, a party of 20 people from the Montreal dressmakers’ campaign received an enthusiastic welcome. According to Rose Pesotta, ‘The party included Raoul and Mme. Trépanier, Bernard and Mrs. Shane, John and Mrs. Ulene, chairwomen from five large shops, and several newspapermen.’ Dubinsky welcomed them on the stage, saying, ‘On this platform you see many gifts. But the finest gift of all to our convention is this group of girls and men from Montreal.’¹

    The language of the social and political world of the needle trades unions, the language of everyday life during...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 261-319)
  15. Index
    (pp. 320-334)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-336)