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Women Challenging Unions

Women Challenging Unions: Feminism, Democracy, and Militancy

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 346
  • Book Info
    Women Challenging Unions
    Book Description:

    All of the authors share a commitment to workplace militancy and a more democratic union movement, to women's resistance to the devaluation of their work, to their agency in the change-making process.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8356-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)

    In a speech ten years ago I recall saying how complex the issue of women and unions was because it is a topic that is so political, yet so personal. At the time women were making great strides in getting unions to tackle gender-equality issues in work and society; but it was still considered a sign of weakness to talk about the impact of the union on our private lives – on our emotions, our families, and our relationships.

    What is ground-breaking about this book is that it deals with such a wide variety of women’s struggles and women’s lives...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction

    • The Feminist Challenge to the Unions
      (pp. 3-20)

      The labour movement in Canada is facing one of the most serious challenges it has ever confronted. Fierce global competition and economic restructuring have meant not only a loss of jobs in the industrial and manufacturing sector – the traditional base of union support – but also the creation of more non-standard part-time, part-year service work, often in difficult-to-organize small workplaces; the shift to homework, off-shore production, and contracting out; and the demand by employers for more flexible labour. These trends suggest an increase in the feminization of labour (more jobs like traditional women’s work) and the feminization of the...

  6. Part One Women on Strike

    • 1 The Eaton’s Strike: We Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World!
      (pp. 23-43)

      On 30 November 1984 the employees of six Eaton’s department stores in southern Ontario went out on a strike that lasted nearly six months. It was a strike that captured the public’s imagination and mobilized Canada’s labour movement more than anything had done in years. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) organized a boycott of Eaton’s and sponsored a national tour of four strikers who helped spread interest in their dispute across the country. The strike also caught the attention of the Canadian Catholic Bishop’s Committee, as well as the Anglican Church of Canada, and both of these organizations issued unprecedented...

    • 2 Alberta Nurses and the ‘Illegal’ Strike of 1988
      (pp. 44-61)

      On 25 January 1988, more than eleven thousand staff nurses who were members of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) directly challenged the province’sLabour Relations Act, which prohibits strikes by hospital workers, and began an illegal strike that was to last for nineteen days. Because the willingness of union members to strike is an important measure of worker militancy, the ability of the UNA to call an illegal strike and sustain it in the face of extremely punitive retaliatory measures by employers and the state is compelling evidence that Alberta nurses are the most militant members of an occupational...

    • 3 Reflections on Life Stories: Women’s Bank Union Activism
      (pp. 62-86)

      Unionization among Canadian bank and financial workers¹ is well documented by academics and activists. Of particular interest to them has been the unions’ limited success among financial workers, generally attributed to the following factors: bank managements’ anti-union activity; the structure of branch banking in Canada and banks’ increasing reliance on technological innovation; the structure of Canadian federal labour legislation; rivalries among interested unions; and the challenges of organizing women white-collar workers in small, scattered private-sector workplaces, with few traditions of trade unionism.²

      My approach in this paper is different. Here I focus on union activism as an experience for individual...

  7. Part Two The Politics of Gender within the Union Movement

    • 4 Union Women and Separate Organizing
      (pp. 89-108)

      A significant turning-point for women’s organizing in the Canadian unions was the women’s conference of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) held in 1990 and attended by six hundred delegates, the theme of which was ‘Empowering Women.’ The conference focused on developing strategies to increase empowerment through collective action in unions, the workplace, and the community. The organizers of this conference made a decision to have separate workshops for those men in attendance. This issue became controversial on the floor of the convention: men belligerent about what they saw as segregation and reverse discrimination; some women, often from male-dominated unions, supporting...

    • 5 Trade Union Leadership: Sexism and Affirmative Action
      (pp. 109-136)

      ‘The old boys ... are very very bureaucratically entrenched labour leaders ... They have been full-time union presidents or union business reps or [in] some position of full-time union work for years. They’re very high up, very powerful, very well paid ... These people are very far removed; they haven’t been in the workplace for years and years. ... They’re very, very strong [and] in control. They all band together, and they want to keep the control of their positions. They don’t want to lose their positions, ... to lose the control of being on, say, the CLC executive. So...

    • 6 Women Working for Unions: Female Staff and the Politics of Transformation
      (pp. 137-156)

      The purpose of this paper is to discuss the experience of women who work full-time as union staff: an aspect which has not received much attention in the literature on women and unions. Broadening the discussion to include this neglected element is itself a reflection of the inroads made by women into unions. As increasing numbers of women have come to work in this capacity within the union movement, the need for change in union practices, structures, and expectations relating to its full-time staff has become more apparent.

      Unions, formed by working people to provide a collective structure to fight...

    • 7 Black Women Speak Out: Racism and Unions
      (pp. 157-171)

      The relationship between race and gender within the labour movement is seriously under-researched. Through interviews with three Black women unionists, this paper will begin this critical, much needed exploration.¹ It will map out five broad themes that have emerged in these interviews. The first section will look at the state of organizing around race, and to some degree around the intersection of race and gender, that has taken place in the past decade in Ontario. The next section examines the extent to which women of colour must shape their own struggles and to what extent they must reach out to...

    • 8 Unionism and Feminism in the Canadian Auto Workers Union, 1961-1992
      (pp. 172-188)

      In the past, the United Auto Workers (UAW) International Union was widely-regarded as a highly democratic organization that stood at the forefront of struggles for social justice. Recently, the Canadian Auto Workers Union (formerly the UAW Canadian Region) has attained a similarly impressive record on social activism and democratic process. However, when we consider the politics of gender, we begin to see a more complex and contradictory history. In the past, the UAW upheld a gendered vision of social justice. UAW leaders adopted a narrow definition of unionism that advanced the general principles of democracy, equality, and worker unity, yet...

  8. Part Three Unions and Women Workers

    • 9 Patterns of Unionization
      (pp. 191-206)

      It has often been noted that a large number of women have joined unions since the 1960s, the figure rising from 250,000 in 1962 to one-and-a-half million by 1989. Since women have been joining unions more rapidly than men, the percentage of women out of the total number of union members has also increased consistently over the same period, from 16 per cent to 39 per cent.² However, these positive figures hide a more negative and problematic side of the situation.

      The speed at which women have been joining unions has slowed dramatically since the 1970s. Throughout the 1960s and...

    • 10 Collective Bargaining and Women’s Workplace Concerns
      (pp. 207-230)

      The serious labour-market plight of working women is a major challenge facing the Canadian labour movement. Economic and social equity, inside and outside the workplace, is labour’s vision and goal.¹ Trade unions, throughout their history, have fought for equality for women and other disadvantaged groups through both the legislative and collective-bargaining processes. However, while significant progress has been made in both the legislative and collective-bargaining spheres, marked inequalities in income and employment opportunities based on gender still persist. The working environment for women remains insecure and stressful, characterized by frequent harassment and violence, insufficient protection against discrimination and unsafe work,...

    • 11 The Gendered Dimension of Labour Law: Why Women Need Inclusive Unionism and Broader-based Bargaining
      (pp. 231-248)

      Labour-relations institutions are central to any mode of regulating unequal social relations. Similarly, the appropriate roles of men and women workers, trade unions, and collective bargaining constitute key elements within a social formation. Thus, it is important to examine how labour-relations law and institutions have influenced the uneven structure of trade-union representation in Canada in general and the unionization rate of women workers in particular.

      Since the recession of the mid-1970s most industrial economies have undergone a profound process of economic restructuring. The recession marked a shift from the use of labour-intensive to capital-intensive forms of production. The goods-producing sector...

    • 12 Can a Disappearing Pie Be Shared Equally?: Unions, Women, and Wage ‘Fairness’
      (pp. 249-265)

      Equal pay for work of equal value is currently the leading union strategy to raise women’s pay and close the wage gap. Many researchers, however, have pointed out the limited impact of the policy – low wages are still a reality for most women in Canada.² This situation can only worsen given the present economic crisis and the restructuring of the workplace, both of which are undermining many of the wage gains won by women in recent years.

      My argument is that we need a more comprehensive approach to the problem of women’s unequal pay, based on a union agenda...

    • 13 Unions and Women’s Occupational Health in Québec
      (pp. 266-283)

      The ideology which has been used to support the sexual division of labour has had important consequences for occupational health. Male workers have been told that their superior strength has made them uniquely fit to undergo severe risks in such industries as mining, construction, metallurgy, and forestry. Women, in contrast, have been complimented on the patience and finesse which enable them to do routine repetitive tasks in cramped positions on assembly lines, without recognition of the associated health risks.¹

      Until recently, the presentation of men as the proud possessors of a monopoly on occupational risks has strongly coloured union prevention...

    • 14 From the DEW Line: The Experience of Canadian Garment Workers
      (pp. 284-303)

      After more than a decade of economic restructuring and reframing political norms and values, labour markets throughout the industrialized world are in upheaval. The social consensus of the postwar period has dissipated, and with it the climate that legitimated the pursuit of such goals as full employment and stable, decent working conditions for all. As globalism and competitiveness become the dominant ethics, trade unions, especially in North America, are going through an unparalleled crisis. Are we witnessing the death of a social movement, or its painful metamorphosis?

      A case study about garment workers in these times could strike some readers...

    • 15 Professions, Unions, or What?: Learning from Nurses
      (pp. 304-322)

      This article is more about ideas than about evidence; more about raising issues than about providing answers. It focuses on nurses, but uses them as a particular example of larger issues. It argues that the emerging service economy and the new structures and management strategies within the service sector require new methods of collective organizing, ones that reflect the concerns and conditions of the women who make up the majority of the service labour force.

      In the early years of this century the majority of workers were employed in the primary and secondary sectors and most of the workers were...

  9. Part Four Studying Women and Unions

    • 16 A View from Outside the Whale: The Treatment of Women and Unions in Industrial Relations
      (pp. 325-342)

      As a discipline, industrial relations has never been very interested in the experiences of women, as workers or as trade unionists. The centre of attention has long been occupied by men. The workers, the organizers, the strikers: all have been men. One looks in vain for the contributions of women: their organizing drives, their strikes are ‘missing’ from the history books. Of women, we learn mostly that they were cheap, unskilled labour; potential strikebreakers who threatened to take away men’s jobs.

      That women, today, are clearly at the centre of the union movement – organizing and striking in their thousands...

  10. Authors
    (pp. 343-346)