Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

factors that catalyzed the development of a radical work-based consciousness also limited the scope of that consciousness. On the basis of their encounters with managerial sexism and harassment, the Trust women developed a particular interpretation of working women's rights -- the right to oppose blatantly sex-discriminatory management practices and to demand respectful treatment on the job. Even the demand for strong union input into work rules -- a radical demand in any management-labor dispute -- was motivated by particular grievances over sex-discriminatory work rules, not by more general grievances over union exclusion from managerial decision making. For many of the women, consciousness of work-based rights did not extend to their right to control other aspects of their working conditions. This limited the clerical workers' ability to respond to the more sophisticated managerial strategies that followed the strike.

The strategies of the Trust women reflected both the extent and the limits of the (working) women's movement. It is partially because feminists have validated women's right to protest disrespectful and discriminatory working conditions that the Trust women were able to mobilize for this strike. But clerical workers need more than equal treatment and respect on the job. Although in certain work contexts the realization of these demands necessitates militant action, as was evidenced at the Trust, management can accommodate such demands without fundamentally altering the authority structure in the office. There is great potential in a movement and an ideology based on "working women's rights." For such a movement to be successful, it must encompass demands for comparable worth, equal representation at all levels of management, and perhaps most important, a real voice in the technological and organizational decisions that determine women's work lives. 23 Unless proposals for working women's rights are linked to broader issues of control at work, the full potential of a working women's agenda will remain unrealized.


NOTES
1.
The data for this article were derived from twenty-two oral history interviews and thirty-seven short written interviews with office workers at the Trust, together with six sernistructured interviews with Trust managers and an interview with the woman lawyer who provided legal support for the 1979 contract negotiations. The oral history interviews with office workers covered the following topics: work and family history, union background, work and family attitudes, working conditions at the Trust, the strike, and poststrike working conditions. The short written interviews included demographic questions as well as questions on work and family history, union background, and extent of strike participation. The interviews with Trust managers included questions on managerial policies, decisions, and attitudes regarding the organization of work and the strike. Additional materials for the article -- union newsletters, grievances, and labor contracts -- were provided by the union. Only a small part of the information from the interviews is included in this article. For a more extended discussion, see Cynthia Butler Costello, "'On the Front': Class, Gender, and Conflict in the Insurance Workplace" (doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin -- Madison, 1984).

-133-

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