Posted by: kokoro | 25th Mar, 2009

Cobble, The Other Woman’s Movement

Cobble writes about women working towards first-class economic and social citizenship for wage-earning women. She describes the labor women as “labor feminists” because they recognized and fought against sex discrimination. Also, the needs of the working-class were at the core of their principles, and they used the labor movement as a vehicle for bettering the lives of the majority of women.

Cobble describes the women’s labor movement as rising from Progressive Era “social feminism,” with a belief in social reforms. However, many labor women were at odds with “equal rights” feminists, because labor feminists felt that gender differences should be accommodated and that equality should be based on humanity not sameness with men.

The rise of labor feminism, Cobble points out, came from an increase of more women into paid work, WWII labor practices and government support and the resulting political and economic power of labor organization, and the growing power of women in the labor movement. In the years following the Depression, labor feminists fought for the end of sex discrimination, equal pay, a living or family wage, the revaluing of “women’s jobs,” shorter hours, and social supports from state and employers for childbearing and child rearing.

Cobble starts by describing the growth, and causes of that growth, of women unionists after the 1930s. Early on, few women held positions at the bargaining table or in official leadership, but they had powerful influence over decisions. In the 1940s women began to take on more leadership positions, and labor women focused on equality and social justice in many industries, including textiles, packing, electricity, communications, and automobiles. Cobble also describes these women as “labor liberals” because they were often more egalitarian and populist than many New Deal liberals. They took on a dual strategy of reform in the public, in the form of social welfare by the government, and private sector, employment practices, through legislation and collective bargaining. However, in the 1940s labor feminists made little headway despite gaining male allies in leftist unions. Resistance was strong from conservative employers and politicians, and well as from ERA feminists.

In the following chapters Cobble examines labor feminists’ attempts to change state and employer policies in the 1940s and 1950s. Labor women worked to secure the right of employment for all women no matter their martial status, race, class, etc., to upgrade “women’s jobs” instead of simply moving women into “men’s jobs,” and to gain equal pay for women through “equal pay for comparable work” laws. They also fought for a higher minimum wage for all, a living wage, for social supports for working pregnant women and mothers, and the recognition for the value of women’s unpaid work at home.

Cobble continues by focusing on the intellectual and organizational changes in labor feminism from the late 1950s to the present-ish. In the 1960s, the federal government extended New Deal practices and put an end to unfair sex discrimination, as well as other kinds of discrimination, in employment. Labor feminists also helped to lead the new woman’s movement at the end of the ‘60s. With younger leadership, the movement took on new issues, such as dissolving the sexual division of labor. However, old concerns remained important, particularly issues of childcare and wages.

Posted by: kokoro | 18th Mar, 2009

Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, Chapter 12

As a big classic movie fan, I found Lipsitz’s reading very interesting. As reflections of their time, movies are just as important an historical source as written documents or oral testimonies, and they deserve just as much consideration.

Hollywood depicted the working-class in a contradictory light in the early 1940s, but in the postwar environment of anti-labor, the depictions became less frequent and less favorable.

The traditional genres of gangster films, family melodramas, westerns, and social-problem films all turned away from the class considerations they had during the 1930s. Gangster films turned towards psychological exploration rather than class tensions. Family melodramas stopped focusing on ethnicity and class and more towards parent-child tensions. Social-problem films consider issues of ethnicity and race but turned away from class issues.

The turmoil of the 1940s also brought about two new film genres, film noir and film gris. Film noir often used urban working-class environments, with stories focused on isolation, guilt, frustration, powerlessness, and betrayal. Film noir reflected the social contradictions of the time. It expressed motivations behind organization and striking by emphasizing community, fear of isolation, hostility to authority, and the struggle for a better life. However, through paranoid delusions of conspiracy, assaults from the outside and betrayal from the inside, film noir also reflected the American cold war rationale that the country was forced into action by aggressive foreign enemies and subversive forces at home.

Film noir and film gris utilized working-class settings, and the works of directors Edward Dmytryck, Herbert Biberman, Edgar Ulmer, and Nicholas Ray represented working-class culture and concerns through various points-of-view. Monopoly in the film industry, direct censorship, government repression, and a decline in movie attendance combined to limit these directors’ efforts. Nonetheless, working-class images continued to serve important functions for middle-class filmmakers.

Posted by: kokoro | 17th Mar, 2009

Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism, Chapters 10-15

In chapters ten and eleven Korstad focuses on Local 22’s political involvement outside of the workplace. Local 22 became the largest black led local in the South, and voting rights and education were at the top of its agenda, as it worked to enfranchise and mobilize the black and white poor of the South. The CIO created Political Action Committees (PACs), and in 1944 Local 22 created its own. Following the war, Local 22 met with the president, lobbied Congress, and helped to revitalize the NAACP in the South, as well as register voters and support candidates. Local 22 worked to spread unionism to the tobacco belt in the eastern half of North Carolina, as a part of Operation Dixie. Operation Dixie was an attempt by the CIO to rally and organize southern workers in the workplace, ballot box, and community.

Chapters twelve through fifteen examine the difficulties civil rights unionism faced going into the 1950s. In 1947 the biracial coalition elected to the Winston-Salem Board of Alderman the first African American to win against a white opponent in the South since the turn-of-the-century disenfranchisement of blacks. However, Local 22 took several blows as a result of the Taft-Hartley Act (a result of the Republican take over in the federal government), rifts forming in the CIO and isolation from liberal anti-Communist allies (as part of the collapsing progressive coalition), local antagonism in the form of red baiting, and electoral manipulation. The 1947 strike showed that the union could not completely prevent production anymore, and the new contract with Reynolds, which proved to be the last, gave the company more concessions than it had won in the past. Local 22 could no longer count on government intervention or support from broad-based labor mobilization.

Continuing charges of Communist domination attempted to break the union and prevent change by dividing leaders from the rank-and-file, separating unions from black middle-class, and scaring white workers and anti-Communist liberals. Challenges to Jim Crow were equated to Communism. Nonetheless, Local 22 continued to organize. It turned its attention to white workers, where racism, job competition, and the company’s dividing strategies had prevented much success. The FTA focused recruiting young people, especially women, and it concerned itself with white working-class culture and the bread-and-butter demands that concerned both whites and blacks.

In 1948 the FTA refused to sign the Taft-Hartley anti-Communist affidavits and the Reynolds workers lost NLRB protections. Reynolds refused to recognize the union or take part in collective bargaining. Refusal to sign the affidavits also damaged FTA’s CIO support and black-middle class support. Politics in the South were also changing. White supremacy started to moderate its more restrictive and discriminatory aspects, while maintaining its fundamentals. Whites created partnerships with the black middle-class to give the appearance of race relation reform, and they created the Community Relations Project (CRP), which spent money to improve blacks’ conditions and create job opportunities. They transferred power from elected officials to appointed committees and diluted black voting strength with gerrymandering. Reynolds also took part in welfare capitalism that expanded workers’ benefits, conditions, and wages. By improving black opportunities and conditions, along with an alternate form of leadership, white supremacy was maintained, the union had less appeal, and the workers’ movement was delegitimized.

The FTA signed the affidavits in 1949, but Local 22 was left to compete with the TWIU-AFL, which focused on white workers, and the United Transport Service Employees (UTSE), which focused on civic leaders to win support. With competition and smearing from competing unions, increasing anti-Communism, little support from political leaders and the black middle-class, and the collapse of the Southern Front, Local 22 never regained its footing.

Nonetheless, Local 22 had an impact. Reynolds maintained workers’ benefits, higher wages, and the seniority system. While policy making moved back behind doors, blacks continued voting in high numbers, keeping an African American on the city’s board at all times. The gradual integration of Winston-Salem also prevented much of the resistance seen in other southern areas, at least until the black protests against gradualism in the 1960s. Civil rights unionism in the 1940s represented the primary form of black mobilization against racial discrimination and second-class citizenship. As a broad movement for social change, mass protests and organization allowed for victories at the local and federal level.

Posted by: kokoro | 12th Mar, 2009

Korstad, Chapters 1-9

Korstad begins in chapter one by describing the 1943 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company strike in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. UCAPAWA began organizing tobacco workers with the Tobacco Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC) in 1942. The strike at Reynolds starts in response to the threatened firing of a woman and the death of a man due to overwork. The demands included decreased workload, increased wages, respect from foreman, and union recognition. 10,000 Reynolds workers refused to work, 56% of them women and 60% of them black, which led to a general strike in Winston-Salem, despite wartime no-strike pledges.

Korstad spends chapters two through six setting the context of the strike and what the workers were fighting against. He describes the rise of the Reynolds Company and the political and economic control it used to institute a social order in the town based on white supremacy, which extended beyond just race into class and gender hierarchies as well. He describes the growth of Winston-Salem, and how black community life, including how tensions between classes and how religion, music, and sports played a part in union organization as much a workplace politics. He then goes on to examine workplace conditions and the racial divisions that occurred in the Reynolds factory and beyond. Finally, he looks at how the Communist Party, New Deal policies, and wartime opportunity supported civil rights activism and unionism in the 1940s.

Chapter seven and eight examine the negotiations between Reynolds and the workers. The National War Labor Board resolved the conflict, and the National Labor Rights Board certified the union and collective bargaining for the workers at Reynolds. A negotiation committee was created, made up of whites, blacks, men, women, skilled, and unskilled workers. The workers fought for better wages, union security, vacations, and seniority rights, all of which had economic, political, and cultural significance.

Chapter nine focuses on the attempts of the union to consolidate its victories and keep worker solidarity. Local 22 made efforts to develop leaders, programs, and policies to create an effective voice for the workers and to enact democratic social change. The union helped workers develop administration skills and expanded their political educations, and it worked to break down the barriers to solidarity that white supremacy created by encouraging black and white cross cultural exchange.

Posted by: kokoro | 10th Mar, 2009

Babson, Chapter 4

According to Babson, in the years between 1941 and 1965, the nature of the relationship between labor, management, and government regulators resulted in union legitimacy and permanence. However, reliance on bureaucracy and the political agenda of the Democratic Party led to a decrease in labor’s capacity for social and political change. Labor during this period was shaped by the war, the Cold War, and black civil rights.

Management often ignored the grievance process, resulting in “quickie” strikes. In 1940, the UAW-GM agreement led to the use of a neutral third-party umpire to arbitrate concerns between workers and management. The need for stability in production during the war created the National War Labor Board (NWLB) to solve disputes. The NWLB established precedents for the future. The board was made up of twelve members with workers, managers, and public citizens (who often broke ties between management and labor). The board forced companies to except a union shop, in which workers must join the union upon hiring, and third-party arbitration as alternatives to strikes. However, business leaders once again became prominent and were able to work the NWLB to their advantage.

The UMW strikes in 1943 led to the War Labor Disputes Act that enabled the president to end strikes on government property and take legal action against strikers, and it also encouraged more strikes during the war, despite labor’s pledge of cooperation to the government.

1945-47 had the biggest strike wave in American history, which represented some turning points. The companies brought in no strikebreakers, and as a result there was little violence. Strikers were not racially or ethnically fragmented. The fight was no longer over the right of union existence, but rather about the bargaining relationship between capital and labor. Finally, it proved that management could be forced to pay workers more, but it was not compelled to have negotiators or government regulators interfere with the running of the company. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which overhauled the National Labor Relations Act into maintaining the status quo, passed as Republicans took control of the government.

The Cold War and the Red Scare led to a split between liberal and moderate labor and the leftist Communist Party minority. With the revival of competition between rival unions, labor unity dissolved between 1947 and 1950, and compliance with conformity by the labor movement created less mobilization of social change.

Challenging the status quo equaled unpatriotic, and unions past support of interracial quality came to mean Red support. These racial connections made postwar mobilization against unions especially strong in the South, and led to labor’s decline at the forefront of civil rights activism.

However, LBJ’s election and the return of a pro-labor Congress in the 1960s led to labor legislative victories in 1964-65, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with its fair employment practices. Nonetheless, the trends of support from the government resulted in passivity within the labor party and the demobilization of grass roots efforts for change. The changes in labor relations created by the New Deal gave labor legitimacy, but also made the movement vulnerable to political changes in the government, and the labor movement began to revert back to business unionist concerns for better wages and working conditions rather than industrial unionist concerns of social and political change.

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