Cynthia B. Costello
We decided to tally out loud how many "yeses" and how many "nos" as far as the strike vote was concerned. It kept going yes, yes, YES! I get goosebumps just thinking about it now. And after it was all counted, everybody just cheered and hugged each other. There was a mixture of happiness and "I'm scared to death" in the room. -- Bargaining team member, the United Staff Union
In the fall of 1979, fifty-three office workers at a small Wisconsin insurance firm, the Wisconsin Education Association Insurance Trust (the Trust), initiated a strike. Faced with low wages, sex-discriminatory work rules, and patronizing managerial attitudes, the unionized clerical workers at this workplace developed a consciousness of their right to working conditions that respected them as working women. In the process, the women transformed their work culture and their labor union, the United Staff Union, into vehicles for collective organizing. When contract negotiations further polarized management and union employees, the women voted to strike.
The documentation of this strike began with an initiative by Catherine Loeb, a feminist editor, who attended a support rally for the striking women. After learning that the strikers required greater media coverage, Loeb arranged an interview with several strike leaders at a local alternative radio station and enlisted Joanne Whelden, a feminist therapist, to coauthor an article for a small Madison newspaper. Impressed with the transfonnative impact of the strike on
Editors' Note: This chapter is based, in large part, on a previously published article, "'WEA're Worth It!': Work Culture and Conflict at the Wisconsin Education Insurance Trust, " Feminist Studies 11, No. 3 ( 1985): 497-515. We gratefully acknowledge the permission of Feminist Studies, Inc., c/o Women's Studies Program, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, to reprint Costello's work in this collection.