Sunday, January 14, 2007

'Miss Lightman was howled down'*

I've just finished Women Workers and the Trade Union Movement, by Sara Boston. It covers women in the trade unions (I know, what a surprise) in Britain in the late 19th century, and most of the 20th.

I really enjoyed reading it - it is so amazing to discover what people had been able to achieve by working together - these huge strikes and victories.

But my main feeling while reading the book was anger - over and over again women workers were being sold out by their male comrades. Men would complain that having women workers on a lower rate undercut their wages, and instead of getting pay equity and a rate for the job they'd try and keep women out. Sexism and misogyny was so deeply ingrained that male workers and trade unionists would act against their own best interests as workers in order to maintain their power over women.

Don't get me wrong there were some really great examples of solidarity, and strength across gender lines, but not enough.

On the left, one of the most annoying arguments you hear is that if women (or anyone else) organise separately then it'll 'divide the working class'. If people paid any attention to history they'd realise it wasn't the women organising against sexism that were dividing the working class - it was the sexism and misogyny of men.\

* She had the audacity to suggest equal pay at a National Union of Women Teachers conference


  1. Anonymous12:57 pm

    Do ya get the feeling nothing much has changed? i'm past even being pissed at the idiotic posts being made on Anarchia, it just seems laughable now, and a little sad. How far have we come?, I think sometimes we have gone back even further.

  2. I know what you mean Jo, we've "won" the ability to have a career and now we have to do that and everything else too! At least it feels like that some days.

    The union I'm most familiar with has a high female membership (well over 70% I'd say) and yet I still encounter colleagues who are incredibly sexist. For example saying women in leadership roles are much worse than men, as employers.

    But it's also encouraging to see what women can achieve when we organise together. So often that has happened through unions, or churches, or other organisations that are dominated by men but often have high female memberships.

  3. Anonymous6:32 pm

    i read somewhere recently, "the glass ceiling isn't made of glass, its ten feet full stuffed with men" (or something like that.) And even women in 'power' positions have to play the game, wear makeup, do their hair all pretty, and shave... just to be heard and respected by the man.
    Its not my thing anyway, sigh, it is just really annoying when men play the 'expert' on womens/feminist issues. Like they (and not all of them i know) have a more worthwhile or real perspective. Using our real fight and struggle simply for point scoring against each other.

  4. You should also check out "Holding the Line: Women of the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983" by Barbara Kingsolver.

  5. Funny you should mention Barbara Kingsolver's book Lauren - I've been meaning to write about it ever since I got it back from someone I lent to just recently, and I've been meaning to write about it. It's one of my favourite books of all time.