Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview
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Unionization in an Electronics Factory: The Interplay of Gender, Ethnicity, and Class

Ann Bookman

This article is based on a two-year field study of union organizing at Digitex (a pseudonym), an electronics factory in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. Of the four hundred union-eligible production workers, slightly over half were women and one-third were first-generation Portuguese immigrants. Thus a majority of the work force was composed of groups that mainstream social scientists, and some labor leaders, have argued are resistant to unionization. However, the story of union organizing at Digitex reveals that a majority of women and immigrant workers did join the union and that the factors that have been held responsible for the resistance of these groups to unionization -- namely gender-related roles and strong ethnic identification -- were the very factors that aided the unionzation of Digitex.

This case poses many interesting questions about how women and immigrant workers actually become politically active in a workplace context. For example, what are the most important factors determining whether workers join a union? What is the interplay between such factors as gender, ethnicity, and class in shaping workers' response to unionization? This study allows a close examination of the changes that unionization produces in the social relationships and ideology found in an industrial workplace. It further shows how the process of social change that unionization sets in motion varies for different groups of workers.

There are several schools of thought, or bodies of literature, that address these questions. First of all, there are a number of studies that were conducted in the 1950s and early 1960s by mainstream social scientists. These are replete with the stereotypes of that era and basically argue that women and immigrants are


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