Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

low-paid workers in our economy. In neighborhoods where services are deteriorating and people are suffering a loss of political influence because they have lost their employment, the ability to influence events through recognized channels is also declining.

With the decrease in employment opportunities, the major route by which working-class people were able to maintain some control over the conditions of their lives is lost; union membership and support are also disappearing. It is in this context that we see women's collective organization becoming more focused and the resort to direct action more frequent as women fight to maintain the few remaining services allocated to the working poor. The local protest movements of the last two decades are the result of women's fighting to make up for the departure of industry and the loss of stable, well-paying jobs.

The firehouse movement in Greenpoint-Williamsburg is particularly significant in that it demonstrated the effectiveness of coalitions built between the residents of a working-class community (both men and women) and workers concerned for their continued employment. The important theoretical issues raised by current changes in the United States economy (marked by increasing unemployment and declining industrial work) concern the ways in which the growing unemployed nonworking or low-paid and state-supplemented sectors of the population mobilize to extract resources from the state and negotiate a redefinition of government priorities. I would suggest that the collective activities of working-class women and their changing experiences and expectations are central to this endeavor.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Portions of this paper appeared in an earlier version in the American Ethnologist 13, No. 1 ( 1986) under the title "Political Activity among Working Class Women in a U.S. City".


NOTES
1.
For examples see Milton Cantor and Bruce Laurie, eds., Class, Sex and the Woman Worker ( Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980); A. Kessler-Harris, Out to Work ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1982); M. Tax, The Rising of the Women ( New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983); S. Eisenstein, Give Us Bread but Give Us Roses ( Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983); K. Sacks and D. Remy, My Troubles Are Going to Have Trouble with Me ( New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1984).
2.
For examples, see M. Komarovsky, Blue-Collar Marriage ( New York: Random House, 1964); L. Rainwater, R. Coleman, and G. Handel, Workingman's Wife ( New York: Oceana, 1959).
3.
M. Ackelsberg, "Women's Collaborative Activities and City Life: Politics and Policy", in J. Flammang, ed., Political Women: Current Roles in State and Local Government ( Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1984); K. McCourt, Working Class Women and Grass Roots Politics ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977); N. Seifer, Nobody Speaks for Me

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