Sheila Rowbotham and Swasti Mitter
Each contribution in Dignity and Daily Bread reveals both the extent of the obstacles faced by women workers in employment and the innovatory organisational initiatives which they have taken to counteract them.
Both historically and in the present, a convergence of factors leaves women workers particularly vulnerable. Gender inequality combines with inequalities of race and class. Overcoming these positions of weakness has never been an easy matter even for a workforce that is formally organised, for, as Radha Kumar shows, gender inequalities have been persistently present in trade unions. In the context of new ways of organising, Kumudhini Rosa describes a dilemma which faces the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) women. As a workforce, women's main attraction to investors has been that they are cheap and supposedly docile. Being organised, they thus court the risk of multinational capital simply moving on to countries and sites with no history of labour organisation.
It became apparent during the 1980s that increased vulnerability to capital is not simply a problem facing newly industrialised FTZ women workers, for labour-intensive sweated forms of production were arising amidst capital intensive technological development. The incongruity is particularly apparent in the clothing industry where new technology, as Silvia Tirado explains, gets applied selectively.
The desperation of low-paid workers without highly marketable skills crowding into a sweated trade is not just a contemporary phenomenon, as Sheila Rowbotham shows. However, it arises now at a new conjuncture in which the relation between the state, labour and the market is in the throes of a fundamental realignment.
In the early twentieth century in Britain, politicians and large employers became convinced that a state-regulated, officially organised workforce was not only ethically preferable but likely to be more competitive and socially less volatile. There was an acceptance of a new phase in industrial development by large capitalists like Mond and Cadbury and by politicians and civil servants like Churchill and Beveridge. Likewise, many social reformers and feminists became convinced that it would be better to reduce the numbers of the sweated poor in paid work and safeguard the health of mothers by extending state welfare. This approach to poverty formed the ideological underpinning to the post-war welfare