Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

9
The Politics of Race and Gender: Organizing Chicana Cannery Workers in Northern California

Patricia Zavella

Scholarship on women workers and labor history is beginning to show the complex issues involved in gender and labor organizing. Much of the literature focuses on the structural characteristics of the labor market or on the gender ideology affecting women union members. 1 This body of research clarifies the importance of gender in organizing women workers. But, as feminist scholars are aware, to understand fully the situations of women of color a multilayered analysis is needed. Women of color experience gender, class, and racial statuses concurrently, and a feminist analysis of labor organizing should focus on the totality of women's experience. 2

This article discusses the multiple issues involved as Chicanas or MexicanAmerican women 3 developed a critical consciousness and became participants in rank-and-file cannery labor organizing within the Teamsters union during 197778. 4 The study aims to bring out the complexity of gender, race, and class and their theoretical importance, as well as to aid activists in organizing Chicana workers in other industries. The issues involved in this research stem from the various approaches to organizing Chicana workers.

One possible approach is to organize Chicanas on the basis of their gender. Here organizers would have to contend with the presumption that women workers are more difficult to organize than male workers because women have domestic obligations and men do not. Thus organizers must recognize the division of labor within families, guided by the ideology that women should take responsibility for housework and child care and that women's "place" should be in the home and does not involve the movement. 5 This popular ideology takes on a particular meaning when applied to Chicanas because of the commonly held notion that Chicano cultural values -- deference to machismo and extreme famil

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