The Sex of Class

The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor

Edited by Dorothy Sue Cobble
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7zf0b
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  • Book Info
    The Sex of Class
    Book Description:

    Women now comprise the majority of the working class. Yet this fundamental transformation has gone largely unnoticed. This book is about how the sex of workers matters in understanding the jobs they do, the problems they face at work, and the new labor movements they are creating in the United States and globally. In The Sex of Class, twenty prominent scholars, labor leaders, and policy analysts look at the implication of this "sexual revolution" for labor policy and practice.

    The Sex of Class introduces readers to some of the most vibrant and forward-thinking social movements of our era: the clerical worker protests of the 1970s; the emergence of gay rights on the auto shop floor; the upsurge of union organizing in service jobs; worker centers and community unions of immigrant women; successful campaigns for paid family leave and work redesign; and innovative labor NGOs, cross-border alliances, and global labor federations.

    Revealing the animating ideas and the innovative strategies put into practice by the female leaders of the twenty-first-century social justice movement, the contributors to this book offer new ideas for how government can help reduce class and sex inequalities. They assess the status of women and sexual minorities within the traditional labor movement and they provide inspiring case studies of how women workers and their allies are inventing new forms of worker representation and power.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6248-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Dorothy Sue Cobble
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)
    Dorothy Sue Cobble

    A young female laundry worker is distraught when her boss tells her that she too will have to service him sexually if she wants to keep her job. And what a job it is: paltry wages, stifling heat, the dirty laundry relentlessly piling up around her, the huge unforgiving machines ready to scorch her hands along with the hot starched sheets. Her co-workers agree to confront the boss as a group. And with the help of a local worker organization, their fantasies of revenge take concrete form. They might have won, too, had not some of their husbands and boyfriends...

  5. Part I. Women’s Inequalities and Public Policy

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 13-14)

      Chapters 1 and 2 document the persistence of women’s economic inequality and offer suggestions for public policy remedies. In the first chapter, Leslie McCall provides a portrait of the changing class and gender structures of U.S. society since the 1970s. She makes a case for greater attention to class-specific policies, given her findings of increasing class divergence among women as well as men and a singular lack of economic progress for those at the very bottom. The second chapter by Vicky Lovell, Heidi Hartmann, and Misha Werschkul makes an equally compelling case for the retention of gender-specific strategies in any...

    • 1 INCREASING CLASS DISPARITIES AMONG WOMEN AND THE POLITICS OF GENDER EQUITY
      (pp. 15-34)
      Leslie McCall

      Although many readers of and contributors to this volume come already interested in issues of gender and class inequality, the two are in fact rarely considered together. This chapter’s primary objective is to make the case for why they should be. In particular, I focus on the need for contemporary gender inequality to be understood within the context of rising earnings and income inequality in the United States, or what I will refer to as rising class inequality because I consider earnings and income to be among the central components of one’s class position (along with assets, education, and occupation,...

    • 2 MORE THAN RAISING THE FLOOR: THE PERSISTENCE OF GENDER INEQUALITIES IN THE LOW-WAGE LABOR MARKET
      (pp. 35-58)
      Vicky Lovell, Heidi Hartmann and Misha Werschkul

      Occupational mobility is one of the great myths of the U.S. culture. In a society popularly viewed as having no class distinctions or boundaries, the American dream promises that hard-working individuals, regardless of their background, face no limits to their career opportunities and monetary success. No demographic characteristic hampers achievement because the labor market offers equal employment opportunities to all, based strictly on merit.

      Despite this idealized vision, U.S. workers’ job experiences continue to be strongly shaped by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and other personal characteristics. As a key element in our social, political, and economic hierarchies, gender remains a...

  6. Part II. Unions and Sexual Politics

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 59-62)

      In the decades following World War II, powerful new social movements arose in the United States demanding full citizenship and an end to discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, and sexual orientation. African Americans, Mexican Americans, women, sexual minorities, and others asserted their group claims, often turning to organized labor as a vehicle for economic and social advancement.

      Yet, as the chapters in this section vividly remind us, the relation between organized labor and the new social movements has not been an easy one. Nor has the experience of women and sexual minorities within organized labor been uniformly...

    • 3 TWO WORLDS OF UNIONISM: WOMEN AND THE NEW LABOR MOVEMENT
      (pp. 63-80)
      Ruth Milkman

      Economic inequalities among women have grown in recent years (McCall, chap. 1 in this volume), even as women’s earnings have become an increasingly important source of support for poor and working-class families. And although gender inequalities in the labor market have been diminished somewhat, the persistence of job segregation by sex and the concentration of women workers in low-wage jobs remain formidable problems (Lovell, Hartmann, and Werschkul, chap. 2 in this volume). Thus, the potential benefits of union membership for women workers in the United States today are more salient than ever before.

      Yet the influence of organized labor in...

    • 4 THE LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER CHALLENGE TO AMERICAN LABOR
      (pp. 81-98)
      Gerald Hunt and Monica Bielski Boris

      Pride at Work (PAW) is the official labor organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) Americans. It began in 1992, and was officially recognized as a constituency group of the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in August 1997. By April 2005, there were sixteen chapters and nine other chapters in the process of being formed. The PAW website states that its mission is to “work within the labor movement to foster better understanding of the needs of LGBT union members.¹

      What do these developments speak to? Did the creation of a PAW constituency within the...

    • 5 SEX DISCRIMINATION AS COLLECTIVE HARM
      (pp. 99-116)
      Marion Crain

      Why is sex discrimination not seen as a key issue for organized labor? Why is the decline of labor unionism not a feminist issue? The answers to these questions lie in the artificial divide between workers’ rights to economic justice and women’s rights to workplace equality. This divide, created by the interaction of labor movement ideology and law, is neither desirable as a matter of union praxis nor inevitable at law.

      The legal regime is characterized by a two-track system of rights. Workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively for economic justice are guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act...

  7. Part III. Labor’s Work and Family Agenda

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 117-118)

      In the years leading up to World War I, 20,000 immigrant women in New York’s garment district left their sewing machines idle and walked out en masse, leading to the renewal of garment unionism and boosting labor’s ranks to a proportion comparable to the present day. Rose Schneiderman, a garment union leader and later influential friend and advisor to Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, memorably captured their dreams and those of generations to come. “The woman worker wants bread,” she said in 1911, “but she wants roses too” (Orleck 1995, 7).

      The search for bread and roses is being carried forward...

    • 6 CHANGING WORK, CHANGING PEOPLE: A CONVERSATION WITH UNION ORGANIZERS AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY AND THE UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER
      (pp. 119-139)
      Lydia Savage

      In March 2005, I sat down with Kris Rondeau, Marie Manna, Jeanne Lafferty, Bill Jaeger, Elisabeth Szanto, and Janet Wilder to discuss their approach to representing workers in the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) and the State Healthcare and Research Employees (SHARE) unions. HUCTW organized 3,700 clerical and technical workers at Harvard University in 1988 after a seventeen-year effort. HUCTW then moved on to organize 2,100 clerical and technical workers at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center (UMass Medical) through a sister local named SHARE, eventually winning by an overwhelming majority of the vote in 1997....

    • 7 UNIONS FIGHT FOR WORK AND FAMILY POLICIES–NOT FOR WOMEN ONLY
      (pp. 140-154)
      Netsy Firestein and Nicola Dones

      Imagine not being able to attend a school performance of your five-year-old or not being able to stay home with your daughter when she gets sick. Imagine that your mom falls and breaks her hip and you cannot get paid time off to care for her. Imagine trying to find child care during your 4 p.m. to midnight work shift or having to choose between getting fired or leaving your child home alone. Issues like these are faced by workers every day, yet they are often seen as personal problems rather than social issues in need of public solutions. And...

  8. Part IV. Organizing Women’s Work

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 155-158)

      Part IV opens with Karen Nussbaum’s engaging account of working women’s movements from the 1970s to the present. Nussbaum describes the heady days of protest in the 1970s, when millions of women banded together in unions and associations to seek job opportunity, higher pay, and greater respect at work. Fed up with being treated like office wives or machines, clerical workers, for example, formed 9to5, a national working women’s association. They filed lawsuits, picketed abusive employers, and orchestrated a host of media events, including turning National Secretaries Day into a contested ritual and collaborating on the hit movie Nine to...

    • 8 WORKING WOMEN’S INSURGENT CONSCIOUSNESS
      (pp. 159-176)
      Karen Nussbaum

      For more than three decades I have been organizing and representing working women with 9to5, National Association of Working Women, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 925, Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, and the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Over the years, I have seen changes in the status, opportunities, and consciousness of working women. In the early 1970s, when I was starting out as a clerical worker and then an organizer, an insurgent consciousness propelled a wide cross section of women to reconsider their role in life, be open to collective action,...

    • 9 “WE WERE THE INVISIBLE WORKFORCE”: UNIONIZING HOME CARE
      (pp. 177-193)
      Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein

      “This is a caring job,” declared a California In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) personal attendant, who had nursed her elderly father so “he did not have one bed sore” (Delp and Quan 2002, 17). Although the “eyes, ears, feet and arms” for the disabled and frail, home care workers were “the poor helping the poor,” who long had experienced “no recognition at all of our work” (Jones 1989). Before the stunning 1999 victory in Los Angeles County, when 74,000 entered Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 434B, “we were the invisible workforce,” explained grassroots leader Esperanza De Anda (Delp and Quan...

    • 10 EXPANDING LABOR’S VISION: THE CHALLENGES OF WORKFARE AND WELFARE ORGANIZING
      (pp. 194-210)
      Vanessa Tait

      Bending to pick up litter scattered across New York City’s Central Park, Edriss Anderson moved patiently, methodically, and with an air of weariness. Like most women on welfare, Anderson has worked hard all her life. A single mother of four children, she supported her family with low-wage service industry work, relying on friends and relatives for after-school care of her children. When she was laid off from her job as a janitor, she struggled to make ends meet on unemployment. When that ran out, she went on welfare and, like thousands of others, was promptly assigned to workfare—and was...

    • 11 WORKER CENTERS AND IMMIGRANT WOMEN
      (pp. 211-230)
      Janice Fine

      Poor women in the U.S. workforce have always faced multiple obstacles to collective action. They have been employed in industries that were historically excluded from labor and employment laws or in which these laws are difficult to enforce. Many work in caregiving occupations, which blur the lines between public and private. They are often assumed to be only temporarily in the paid labor force. They are more likely to earn low pay and face the double day of work and family responsibilities. Recent waves of immigrant women face these same challenges while also having to contend with transnational responsibilities, precarious...

  9. Part V. Local-Global Connections

    • [PART V Introduction]
      (pp. 231-234)

      These last three chapters put the challenge of lessening gender and class inequality in a global context. They remind us of the gendered face of globalization. In the twenty-first century, it is women as much as men who are crossing borders in search of employment and often it is women who are hired. They, not their husbands, brothers, or fathers, are more likely to be on the global assembly lines in Mexico, El Salvador, and Malaysia. The wages of women domestics, sex workers, casual laborers, and small vendors keep families, communities, and national economies afloat worldwide. How is the U.S....

    • 12 FEMALE IMMIGRANT WORKERS AND THE LAW: LIMITS AND OPPORTUNITIES
      (pp. 235-252)
      Maria L. Ontiveros

      The U.S. workplace provides both tremendous opportunities and perils for female immigrant workers. Because the very nature of a market for human labor rests on the idea of people as commodities, the potential exists to treat people inhumanely in order to generate significant profits. The United States has implemented laws to protect workers in an attempt to mitigate these tendencies. These laws fail to protect female immigrant workers, however, for a variety of reasons. Because the traditional workplace laws do not adequately protect their interests, female immigrant workers have turned to a variety of less traditional legal approaches to remedy...

    • 13 WOMEN CROSSING BORDERS TO ORGANIZE
      (pp. 253-271)
      Katie Quan

      When President Bill Clinton signed the labor side agreements to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, he promised that it would create 1 million more jobs within five years and return the United States to prosperity.¹ But since that time, free trade and the new economic structures Clinton talked about have led to decidedly mixed results for the U.S. middle class. Although lowering tariffs and other trade barriers may have led to cheaper prices at the local Wal-Mart, this has happened at a tremendous economic and social cost. Over 1 million U.S. jobs have been displaced by...

    • 14 REPRESENTING INFORMAL ECONOMY WORKERS: EMERGING GLOBAL STRATEGIES AND THEIR LESSONS FOR NORTH AMERICAN UNIONS
      (pp. 272-292)
      Leah F. Vosko

      The size of the informal economy poses a monumental challenge to unions internationally. According to the International Labour Organisation ([ILO] 2002b, 6), the informal economy is particularly significant in industrializing countries in the geographic South, where it makes up one-half to three-quarters of nonagricultural employment. The informal economy encompasses workers including own account workers¹ engaged in survival activities, paid domestic workers, home workers (registered and unregistered), workers in sweatshops who are “disguised wage workers,” and the self-employed in micro-enterprises operating on their own or with unpaid family workers (ILO 2002a, 2). The informal economy is deeply gendered; it links unpaid...

  10. REFERENCES
    (pp. 293-312)
  11. ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 313-316)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 317-328)