Industrial unionism in the nineteen thirties


Topic: Women at War


Do: Following instructions provided and the Discussion Rubric, select a question in Content, Week 4 to respond to using facts as well as your analysis of those facts. To prompt a class discussion, post it for responses from the professor and then for fellow students.


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Challenging “Woman’s Place”: Feminism, the Left, and Industrial Unionism in the 1930s Author(s): Source: Feminist Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Summer, 1983), pp. 359-386 Published by: Feminist Studies, Inc. Stable URL: Accessed: 15-06-2017 01:57 UTC

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An important work which helped us see the history of women’s work in a new way is Alice Kessler-Harris’s 1975 article, “‘Where Are the Organized Women Workers?”‘ Attacking the traditional question asked by organizers and historians, “Why don’t women organize?” Kessler-Harris argued that the sexual segregation of women’s jobs, their life cycles of work and mar- riage, and the overwhelming sexism of male unionists made the organi7ation of any women workers remarkable. She suggested that a focus on women workers who had organized would be a more positive and instructive category in the new women’s history.1

Historians have begun to look for more organized women workers, and, not surprisingly, have found them, particularly in the industrial sector.2 The fact remains, however, that women have organized less frequently than men; by the mid 1970s 12 percent of working women were unionized while 29 percent of working men were. Some observers of women’s work still see the relatively low level of organi7ed female workers as evidence that women are inherently less organizable than men. Although acknowledging that women have had more difficulties to over- come in organizing, these observers still believe there is a psychological component in women’s attitudes toward union organization that makes them less assertive, less willing to take risks, more willing to be victims of employer exploitation. For in- stance, in a recent book on women wage earners from 1900 to 1930 Leslie Tentler argues that women were more passive than men at work. Women saw themselves as powerless in the world outside the home, and they relinquished any notions of rebelling against male coworkers or bosses in order to inherit their tradi-

Feminist Studies 9, no. 2 (Summer 1983). by Feminist Studies, Inc.

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Sharon Hartman Strom

tional authority at home as wives and mothers.3 On being presented with evidence of clerical organizing in the 1930s, one male sociologist who commented on a paper I gave at a conven- tion several years ago was still not convinced. “Large numbers of male workers,” he argued, “rose up and demanded industrial unions in the thirties. For whatever reason, large numbers of women didn’t.” Although the romantic content of this view is obvious, it is not enough, evidently, to show that women work- ers may have organized. We need to go beyond the question, “Where are the organized women workers?” and explain why women workers haven’t been able to organize as effectively as men. In other words, what historical conditions needed to be present for women to perceive that protests against employers and sexist unions were worth risking their jobs? Why haven’t such protests led to the forming of viable trade unions? What will make it possible for women to organize en masse in the primarily female occupations? When can women organize?

In this article I will explore depression-era organizing with these questions in mind. In so doing I will avoid attributing psychological motives to women workers. Instead I will try to show that economic, ideological, and political variables can ex- plain why some women workers succeeded in organizing, but did not organize in as large numbers as men. The most important of these variables were women’s occupational positions in the American economy, the discriminatory policies of the New Deal, prevailing cultural and ideological views of women’s roles in the work force, the failure of industrial unionism to reach most women workers, the lack of community and family support net- works for striking women workers, and the absence of a feminist critique within the progressive labor movement, especially the Communist party. I will argue that although women did engage in job actions and spontaneous labor protests in the thirties they were at an intrinsic disadvantage in getting the kind of whole- hearted support men received. That support could not have been provided without a feminist ideology to justify changing the status of working women. As Ruth Milkman has argued, “mini- mally any successful struggle to organize women had first to challenge the ideology of ‘women’s place’-a problem that did not arise in organizing men.”4

Unemployment, underemployment, and drastically reduced wages became a national experience during the 1930s. Under the banner of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal govern-


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ment responded on a number of levels to ease the suffering of working people. Women did not receive equal assistance. The 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) minimum wage codes sanctioned lower pay rates for women workers than for men in the same occupations, and they excluded domestic and agricultural jobs-both major occupations for women, especially poor and minority women. Salaried workers and clerical workers in the insurance industry were also excluded. There was widespread evasion of maximum hour codes for clerical workers as employers changed titles, assigned salaries, increased duties, and then forced secretaries to work overtime with no extra pay. Women workers paid the same Social Security taxes as men, but received fewer benefits upon retirement. The domestic work, agricultural, and government sectors were not covered by Social Security; all three were employers of large numbers of women. The NIRA work relief section ignored women altogether, and the Civilian Conservation Corps camps were originally for men only. When camps for females were set up women received one-half of what men were paid. The Works Projects Administration (WPA) provided more jobs, but only one member of a family could earn relief, and that member had to be the main wage earner. Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) was widely seen in local communities as a way to get women off the WPA rolls and therefore out of the work force, although ADC payments were lower than WPA work rates. When the NIRA was found to be unconstitutional and was

replaced by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, clerks, seasonal employees, and domestic workers found themselves with no pro- tection against substandard wages.5

National legislation lashed out at married women workers. Sec- tion 213 of the Economy Act of 1932 allowed the firing of one spouse if both husband and wife worked for the government, and of the fifteen hundred married persons fired within the next year, nearly all were women. A crop of proposed state laws tried to follow suit. Frances Perkins, secretary of labor and the first woman to hold a cabinet position, had, as state industrial com- missioner of New York, called on women who did not need jobs to stay at home and deplored women who worked for “pin- money.”6

Federal and state governments were in some ways merely ex- pressing sentiments held by the public at large. Many people believed that working married women were partly responsible for unemployment, and there was widespread sentiment for the


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firing of married teachers and government workers. The presi- dent of the California Institute of Technology proposed that 75 percent of all jobs be reserved for men, and George Gallup, who repeatedly polled Americans on their attitudes toward working wives, claimed that he had never seen poll respondents “so solid- ly united in opposition” to an economic issue.7

Section 213 and other discriminatory policies against married women played a direct role in forcing women out of better jobs in the 1930s. Local and state employees had increased by 400 per- cent between 1900 and 1930, civilian employees of the federal government had tripled, and school workers had grown by two and one-half times. Women received many of these new jobs, and one-fifth of the women were married. The Women’s Bureau

found that Section 213 was usually applied to married typists and stenographers and rarely to married charwomen or elevator operators. These policies were repeated in private industry. In 1931, New England Telephone and Telegraph fired all its married women workers. Most large companies, and almost all banks and insurance firms, simply refused to hire married women as clericals. Numerous commentators observed that many workers lied about their married status in order to get or keep jobs. When Social Security cards were issued for the first time in 1937, regional offices were besieged by calls from women who feared their marriages would be revealed to their employers.8

Married women were not excluded from the labor force during the depression. In fact, the number of married women at work in- creased because families were forced to earn a living in any way they could. Overall, women’s status in the job market declined in the thirties; men made gains in proportion to women in teaching, library work, social work, and nursing. Meanwhile, many women had to enter the lower-paid female occupations like domestic ser- vice, part-time work, canning, and farm labor. These were also job categories either not covered or only partially covered by Social Security, collective-bargaining legislation, NIRA, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. They were also the only job categories available to most black and minority women.9

The ramifications of attacks on married women workers were

of grave import for all women workers, married or not. Because most women eventually married, the working woman was by default considered to be a young adult, or “working girl.” She was not a permanent member of the work world, and therefore should not have the same say in government and union policy as


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the “working man.” Every married working woman was an anomaly, present in the work force either through temporary financial necessity or personal selfishness. The implication for women was that work outside the home was a stage, not a right, and that the mature woman belonged at home.

Movies hammered home the same message. As Molly Haskell has observed, although many movies of the thirties portrayed an adventurous young working woman who could hold her own in a man’s world, she usually capitulated to marriage and home by the film’s end.10 In any event, she worked because she had to; she was either a Jean Arthur, on her own and earning a living, as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or a Barbara Stanwyck, supporting her brother and a widowed mother, as in Meet John Doe. Or if she didn’t really need to work, she was a Katharine Hepbur, a silly, unfeeling snob who finally learned that suicide might be the consequence of taking a deserving young woman’s job, as in Stage Door.

Thus, the makers of popular culture, government legislators, the general public, and private industry, while somewhat sym- pathetic to the plight of the working man, were ambivalent about the working woman. She was evidently a necessary evil but should remain confined to the lower-paying feminized occupa- tions, which did not, for the most part, deserve the same benefits as male jobs. She faced a complicated range of problems in the work force, only one of which was union organization.

Women workers responded to Section 7 (a) of the NIRA in 1933. They were often given organi7ing help from Communist activists, many of them women, in the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) and the Unemployed Councils. In Detroit, 6,000 workers, 2,000 of them women, went on strike at the Briggs Mack Avenue plant and won substantial wage gains for women. In Philadelphia, female and male workers at the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company (Philco) won an agreement which gave a 10 percent wage increase to men and a 15 percent increase to women aimed at narrowing the disparity between female and male wages. In May of 1933, 4,500 workers, mostly women, struck nonunion Philadelphia dress plants. A revitalized International Ladies Gar- ment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) was able to launch a general strike of dressmakers, mostly female, in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and won an agreement in four days. Similar strikes were conducted by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in Penn- sylvania, New York, and Connecticut. In St. Louis 1,400 women,


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mostly black, went on strike to protest a piece-rate reduction in the city’s pecan-shelling factories. The strikers, who had gone out in 1927 as well, had the support of the TUUL and the Unemployed Councils. Husbands and children of the strikers join- ed them on the picket line, and sympathetic unionists and businesses in the black community provided food for meals. After the employers brought in scabs and strikebreakers, the local Jewish community and the American Civil Liberties Union pro- voked sympathy for the strikers in the press, and the mayor of the city helped to mediate negotiations.11

In 1934, textile workers went out on strike from Maine to Mississippi, and women, who made up 40 percent of all textile workers, were instrumental in the protracted and bloody strike which ensued. They fought state militias, participated in huge demonstrations, sat down on railroad tracks, and led “flying squadrons” from plant to plant to recruit new strikers and in- timidate scabs. Thirty thousand women and men hotel workers struck fifty hotels in New York early in 1934 to gain union recognition. In December 1936, 4,000 female and male workers struck five of Philadelphia’s six leading department stores. Warehouse workers, truckers, sales clerks, packers, porters, and waitresses were joined on the third day of the strike by seventy- five bookkeepers and office workers. Although the strike was hushed up in the newspapers and numerous arrests were made, workers achieved union recognition and a forty-eight-hour week.12

The entire labor movement entered a dynamic new phase in 1936 and 1937 when workers in basic production waged sit- down strikes. In both Akron, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan, despite the fact that they made up substantial numbers of workers in both the rubber and automobile industries, women workers-many of them young and single-were sent home by strike leaders and not allowed to sit-down. Women were discouraged from sitting in with men in factory strikes, for mixed groups of women and men might give employers a chance to charge sexual promiscuity or to provoke “unfit mother” cases in the courts.13 Both men and mar- ried women, given the traditional allocation of childcare respon- sibilities in the thirties, probably feared that children would be neglected if mothers were not at home to care for them.

Sit-downs were perceived as men’s affairs in the Congress of In- dustrial Organizations (CIO). One union official defined a sit- down in 1937 as “a cessation of work with the men remaining at


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work.” But women workers throughout the country were quick to perceive that sit-downs might be of use to them. Jeremy Brecher found that both Chicago and Detroit experienced waves of sit-down strikes in stores and smaller factories following the great General Motors Strike in the spring of 1937. There were ,000 workers in Detroit alone, many of them in the auto parts and manufacturing firms which employed large numbers of women. Two hundred women, not allowed to participate in the Flint sit-down strike which led to a United Automobile Workers (UAW) contract with General Motors, sat down in a sewing room in the Fischer Body Plant No. 1 and were joined in sympathy an hour later by 280 additional women sewers. When sixty men in the shipping department also sat down, the entire plant was forced to close.14 Clerks sat down in Detroit, Chicago, and New York department stores and five- and-tens, and women workers barricaded themselves in three tobacco plants in Detroit for several weeks. When 150 police at- tacked sit-downers at one of them, “hysterical cries echoed through the building as, by ones, and twos, the eighty-six women strikers, ranging from defiant girls to bewildered workers with gray hair, were herded into patrol wagons and sped away, while shattering glass and the yells of the street throng added to the din.”1′ The UAW protested against such forced evictions, threatened to call 180,000 auto workers out on strike, and even raised the specter of a citywide general strike. The police stopped their raids. In Chicago there were sixty sit-downs in a two-week period in March of 1937, including 9,000 female and male Loop workers, ranging from peanut baggers to stenographers. Brecher reports that “1,800 workers, including 300 office workers, sat down at the Chicago Mail Order Company and won a ten percent pay increase; 450 employees at three deMet’s tea rooms sat down as ‘the girls laughed and talked at the tables they had served’ until they went home that night with a twenty-five percent pay in- crease. . . 16

We should also remember that women participated in strikes and job actions not only as workers, but also as wives or relatives of workers, mainly in women’s auxiliaries. Male unionists at the time were more likely to respond to women who participated in women’s auxiliaries than to women workers. The image of the woman standing behind her man and his job became a sentimen- tal theme in union rhetoric, while the working woman was con- spicuously absent. Women’s auxiliaries often picketed and even


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fought the police, and they also provided meals for the duration of strikes, clearly an important key to their success.17 There were obviously no “men’s auxiliaries” to provide meals and childcare for striking women, although we need to know more about the ad hoc arrangements created by the friends, relatives, and com- munities of striking women. Working women and wives and rela- tives of working men all belonged to the auxiliaries; women workers who were sent out of plants in the Akron and Flint sit- downs of 1934 and 1937 participated by joining the UAW and United Rubber Workers (URW) auxiliaries.18

The auxiliaries did not lead to permanent union organizations which might have begun to articulate women workers’ griev- ances. Although most male sit-downers were happy to have the support of women’s emergency brigades during strikes, they ex- pected that women would return to traditional roles once the emergencies were over. Some women resented this idea and saw the auxiliaries as a forum for discussion of women’s concerns.

Sometimes they were encouraged by Communist party (CP) organizers to address such issues as birth control, childcare, and who should do the housework, but the mere fact of organizing together as women was evidently a problematic idea for all con- cerned.

In some cases the women through their activities won the respect of their strik- ing husbands, and were given representation on strike committees. In other situations, the militancy of the CP-led auxiliaries enraged the male union leader- ship, who wanted women to stay home. Women in auxiliaries, as in the CP’s women’s units, developed some cooperative methods of child care, and occa- sionally forced their husbands to assume some of these responsibilities. These organizations did not equal liberation, of course, as tasks such as preparing food for the strikers still remained for the women. The CP often failed to push the auxiliaries and unions to go beyond sex-stereotyped roles.19

Yet some working-class women clearly articulated the larger issues their organizing as women had raised; one participant in the Flint Emergency Brigade said, “Just being a woman isn’t enough anymore. I want to be a human being with the right to think for myself.”20 Beatrice Marcus reported in a December 1934 issue of the CP’s Working Woman that women from coal miner families in Hillsboro, Illinois, had organized to demand adequate relief. They “held meetings, travelled through the countryside, raised money, and, in defiance of the male leadership of the Pro- gressive Miners’ Association, led demonstrations. As one march began on City Hall, the male demonstrators ‘made vain efforts to


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keep their wives from the front ranks.”’21 One of the most salient features of the thirties is the failure of any organized groups to develop this working-class womens’ new consciousness and militance into a feminist position.

Middle-class feminist organizations were on the defensive in the thirties. In fact, because they had not recruited many younger women to join their ranks, older feminists found themselves in- creasingly talking to each other. Many of the goals they had been working toward since 1920 seemed to be under attack, particular- ly the right to combine marriage and work. In an attempt to gain some protection for the jobs of married women, feminists tended to emphasize that women workers did not usually compete with men and that most of them needed their wages to support families. Although useful in the short run, these arguments tended to reinforce popular notions of the thirties that women should work only when they had to and only when they did not take men’s jobs.22 Feminists in the thirties were also unable to establish any sustained point of view in the industrial union movement; they either ended up criticizing the role of Communists and other leftists, or they joined popular front alliances in which leftist women-most of whom were suspicious of traditional feminism-dominated. Although they had never been very suc- cessful in attracting working-class women to their groups, the failure of feminists to remain visible in the thirties meant that

working-class women had no public sanction for articulating feminist ideas.

Feminist ideology might have survived if women on the Left had been interested in it. But although they often acted like feminists and addressed women’s issues in their organizing ef- forts, most leftist women refused to associate themselves with the legacy of the movement for women’s rights. While Trotskyists, Lovestoneites, Socialists, and AJ. Muste’s Independent Labor par- ty all made significant contributions to labor organizing in the thirties, Communist party members were clearly the most effec- tive segment of the Left, and one of the most important in organizing women.

Communist party dogma officially viewed feminism as a bourgeois reform movement; women’s problems would automa- tically be corrected with the arrival of true communism. Yet this view, as Robert Schaffer has recently argued, barely kept the lid on a smoldering debate within the party and in its publications on the “woman question.” Party writers did discuss birth control,


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unequal pay, maternity insurance, and the role of men in housework. It was always clear, however, that industries dominated by male workers would be the target of vanguard organizing. Official writings also did not “admit to any con- ceivable antagonism between working-class men and women,” and any struggle against male supremacy within the party had to be balanced against the party’s desire to have its members live like ordinary workers and therefore accept ordinary workers’ behav- ior-including the subordination of women to men.23 These par- ty lines, however, must be counterpointed by the actual ex- perience of Communist women in the 1930s. There is no doubt that the experience of party membership, of organizing women’s auxiliaries, consumer boycotts, and picket lines gave many a female Communist the organizing experience and self-respect she needed to become an independent woman. We must remember, however, that sometimes standing up for women, working with women, or becoming independent of men was not the same as possessing a feminist consciousness. One office worker organizer who was also in the CP in the thirties summed this up precisely: “My interest in the women’s movement as such was quite peripheral if it was even conscious. It’s not that I wasn’t aware that women had problems, but I have always believed that… the basic problems of women will not be solved until we have socialism.”24 The consequence of this view was that women were always subject to having their grievances-whatever they were- superseded by the overall struggle of the working class, a struggle in which men and their families-not men and women-were

participants. The labor struggles of the Great Depression took on a new

dimension after 1937 as the CIO rapidly expanded. The effects of increasing bureaucratization on women’s organizing efforts were somewhat contradictory. Certainly the financial resources, insti- tutional support, and power to impose a closed shop of the CIO made it possible to bring unionism to women who would other- wise have missed it. Any unionized shop was likely to raise women’s wages significantly.25 But there is also evidence to sug- gest that the early militancy of strikes and the wide-ranging scope of issues they raised in the early thirties began to disappear by 1937, as collective bargaining replaced confrontation and focused on the narrow range of issues laid out by contract negotiations.26

Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward have argued in their Poor People’s Movements that legitimized workers’ organizations


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like the CIO had a vested interest in discontinuing “unauthorized” job actions on the shop floor once they had large enough consti- tuencies and had won agreements with employers. Communist organizers, now in their popular front phase, went along. The CP editor of the Flint Auto Worker, Henry Kraus, announced that the UAW’s goal was “not to foster strikes and labor trouble. The union can only grow on the basis of established procedure and collective bargaining.”27 In a primer on how to organize an in- dustrial union Clinton S. Golden and Harold J. Ruttenberg argued that “the written collective-bargaining contract is the means through which workers secure … a voice. This is one path to in- dustrial peace that cannot be by-passed, either by managment or union officials. . . . Once wage earners successfully establish organization and collective bargaining at their point of actual employment, their relationship with management undergoes a transition from one of conflict in varying degrees to that of co- operation in some degree.”28 Both the General Motors (GM) and the U.S. Steel contracts signed by CIO unions in 1937 prohibited local strikes.29 Unions called for grievances to be handled by shop stewards and union committees. In many unions women were denied access to this hierarchy, although they were a significant in- fluence in locals of the United Electrical Workers (UE).30

These new developments probably prevented women from capitalizing on effective use of job actions to rectify their grievances. Complaints they had aplenty; Ruth Meyerowitz found that although the automobile industry was the biggest employer of women workers in Flint, it confined them to “women’s jobs” like upholstery sewing and tedious assembly line work like spark plug manufacturing. Before the Flint strike they earned an average of ten to thirteen cents an hour while men made four or five times

as much.31 Although women in union plants did make gains in wages, the UAW abandoned a universal minimum wage in its con- tract with GM, which stipulated that wages could be determined by local plants in conjunction with local conditions. This was no different from the NIRA codes, which had allowed employers to maintain geographical, racial, and sexual differentials in wages. CIO unions continued the American Federation of Labor (AFL) tradition of setting lower wages for women’s jobs than for men’s jobs in their contracts.32

Although the CIO was more receptive to women workers than the AFL had been, women usually joined when they were present in industries with large numbers of men, as in, for example, the


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garment and electrical industries, or when they organized themselves. This was particularly true of minority women. When 400 black women stemmers in Richmond, Virginia, tobacco fac- tories walked out in a spontaneous strike in 1937, they were told by the AFL that black workers couldn’t be organized. The Southern Negro Youth Congress and the National Negro Con- gress, not the CIO, helped them form the Tobacco Stemmers and Laborers’ Union. The ILGWU, which had a better record on help- ing southern workers than some other CIO unions, sent 500 women pickets to a Richmond tobacco strike in 1938, and the newly formed locals were passed on to the CIO in 1939. A similar strike by Mexican-American pecan shellers in San Antonio, Texas, in 1938 helped to establish the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America, a leftist union which was expelled from the CIO in 1950.33 When women did organize, men saw little wrong with unequal pay; one male picket line pro- testing “girl’s wages” dressed in drag and carried picket signs reading “Restore Our Manhood” to make its point.34 When women did come into mixed CIO locals or tried to assume leader-

ship roles they were often accused of being loose women and were asked to conduct union business in spaces like saloons, pool halls and union halls, where they were bound to feel uncomfort- able.35

Only a “negligible proportion” of the 519 delegates to the first CIO convention were women (most of them from office worker unions); and by 1946 only 20 of the 600 delegates to the national convention were female. Only one woman, Eleanor Nelson of the United Federal Workers (UFW) was ever a president of any of the unions chartered by the CIO in the thirties. None of the 1938 con- stitutional convention’s resolutions mentioned working women. The only specific reference to women thanked members of the women’s auxiliaries, “the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of industrial workers,” thus ignoring entirely the contribution made by women workers to the auxiliaries. The CIO News either buried articles on women’s strikes or failed to report them at all, and pictures of women workers in cheesecake poses were far more common than pictures of women on picket lines. Beauty contests for CIO women abounded in every affiliate, and mothers, wives, and girlfriends of unionists who “stood by their men” received the most praise. Wisconsin CIO members in 1938 thought “a good union girl” should only work to support herself or her family, be intelligent, a good housekeeper, and shorter


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than her boyfriend. She should use makeup moderately and keep her stocking seams straight. She should go out on the picket line “with her man,” because having “girls come on the line … puts more pep in the gas.” Although she should listen “with interest when a man wants to talk about his union,” she mustn’t ever “try to get bossy.”36

Secretaries for labor unions complained that their employers did not pay them the minimum salary advocated by the CIO of- fice workers’ union, the United Office and Professional Workers of America (UOPWA). Joining the union itself was evidently seen as a threat to male unionists; a former secretary for the National Maritime Union (NMU) in Boston thought union men were “outraged, really in their hearts … when the secretaries of labor unions joined the UOPWA and dared to organi7P against them! There they were, the great champions of labor, (and) those ungrateful women sitting in those offices dared to organi7e a union to fight them. Disrupting the labor movement!” This same secretary, however, had taken the floor to explain police brutality to an enormous crowd in the Everett (Massachusetts) town hall after a bloody tear gas assault on an NMU picket line in 1937; the men were all too nervous to speak in public. Male unionists clear- ly had trouble maintaining the contradiction of the ornamental “union girl” that their ideology upheld with the militant union woman who they frequently encountered. One UFW member told a meeting of unionists that he wanted “to say a word in praise of this little girl of ours, Eleanor Nelson, who . . . has the tenacity of a bulldog and has been out there facing the guns for our union!”37

The narrow application of industrial unionism by the CIO to workers in basic production and manufacturing hurt women workers as well. Less than 22 percent of all working women worked in manufacturing by 1940, and more than 60 percent worked in other occupations, so the failure to reach out to ser- vice, domestic, sales, and clerical workers by the CIO played a crucial role in excluding women. Whether this failure was based on disinterest in nonindustrial occupations or on disinterest in women is not very important because it amounted to the same thing.38

Although it was not so obvious in the thirties, it is very clear now that the decision to ignore clerical workers was especially portentous. The census of 1940 indicated that more than 21 per- cent of all women workers were in clerical work, and the size of


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the occupation increased by nearly 85 percent from 1940 to 1944.39 To ignore clerical workers was, then, to ignore a signifi- cant portion of women workers. Inevitably, however, clericals also caught the union spirit. Leftist clericals and office workers, both female and male, had begun by the mid thirties to agitate within long-dormant AFL locals for industrial unionism. In 1937 the CIO agreed to charter three office worker unions: the UFW, the State, County and Municipal Workers of America and the UOPWA. These unions grew substantially during the 1930s and 1940s, but were all purged by the CIO in 1950 and rapidly disap- peared. Only the UOPWA could really follow the male industrial union model, because national state and local government employees were usually prohibited by law from going on strike.

The CIO never poured any effort into organizing assistance for the UOPWA and in fact repeatedly restricted its influence. Con- ceding to the protests of male industrial unions like the UAW and the URW, the CIO prohibited the UOPWA from organizing cleri- cal workers in industries already represented by CIO nationals. Or, if such clericals did organize, their membership and dues would be handed, upon request, to the industrial union in ques- tion. The UOPWA was thus left with clericals in banks, insurance offices, small offices, social work agencies, paper work factories like the direct mail industry, and department stores. None of these workplaces had ever been strongholds of unionism, and especially not of industrial unionism.40

Office workers in the steel, mining, auto, rubber, and electrical industries were left to the whims of industry or of male unionists, none of whom made any significant attempt to organize clericals. In fact, many manufacturing unions tried to exclude office workers from their locals, a significant action because office workers made up 14.2 percent of all workers in manufacturing by 1938. The 1941 UAW contract with Ford Motors, for instance, specifically excluded most white collar workers. Sometimes in- dustrial unions made gains explicitly at the expense of white col- lar workers. A UE contract with General Electric in 1937 cut salaries for office workers. In the late thirties, rubber workers in Jeanette, Pennsylvania, and Akron, Ohio, agreed to contracts which raised factory wages significantly, but cut or froze those of office workers.41

Not all office workers or blue collar workers wanted to be

grouped with each other, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) usually ruled that office workers should not be members


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of the same locals. One of the consequences of this bifurcation of the work force was that blue collar wages increased at a faster pace than white collar wages, with clerical workers increasingly earning lower wages than organized workers in manufacturing. Some office employees formed independent unions, but we don’t know whether women clerical workers were in favor of this ar-

rangement or not, or if they were even involved in the decisions to organize these. Certainly these independent unions were dominated by men, who had the better-paying and more respon- sible office jobs. The Federation of Westinghouse Independent Salaried Unions even tried to exclude married women from the

Westinghouse offices.42 Although the CIO was indifferent at best and hostile at worst to

the organizing of clericals, the office worker unions embodied im- portant contradictions which helped prevent the widespread organizing of clericals. Young Communist women were par- ticularly likely to be in a position to organize in the offices. The social character of the Communist party had changed dramatical- ly since World War I, with many of the second-generation children of working-class parents receiving high school and even college educations by the 1930s. Many young leftist women with degrees in teaching could not find jobs and were forced to work as secretaries. By 1938 the CP estimated that 22 percent of its new recruits were technically “middle class.” Young Communist women were working in business offices, social agencies, publishing houses, government offices, and trade union offices. As Communists they were expected to participate directly in the building of militant unions. They had received speaking, organiz- ing, and protest experience in the CP, a vitally important ingre- dient for women workers, who often had trouble getting this ex- perience elsewhere. They became the main leaders and organizers of the fledgling office worker unions which emerged in 1936 and 1937, an activity encouraged by the CP during the popular front.43 Leftists helped break new ground in the organization of clericals in the thirties, but their antifeminist position and their class analysis of clericals hindered their effectiveness.

What class did clerical workers belong to in the thirties? Cer- tainly many secretaries, especially older ones, came from the mid- dle class, and some were college-educated women who had been pushed into lower-status jobs by the effects of the Depression. However, the new compulsory school laws and fewer industrial jobs for teenagers during the Depression meant that countless


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young working-class women were taking a “business curriculum” in high school and becoming clericals. Business had partly responded to hard times by reducing wages for office workers, in- stituting speedup, and increasing mechanization. This process in- volved a more clear-cut sexual division of labor with male office

workers doing the managing and earning the best salaries and women performing the more tedious “assembly line” functions and earning the lowest wages. Most hard data on office workers indicated that female secretaries, typists, filing clerks, and other clericals were rapidly descending into the working class.44 Nonetheless, most leftist observers continued to lump all female and male office workers together as though their interests and values were the same.

Two social scientists frequently quoted by leftists, Hans Speir, who wrote about German white collar workers, and the Ameri- can economist Lewis Corey, both emphasized the increasing “proletarianization” of office work. Corey argued that most white collar workers were not “middle class in their relations to

production and income: they are economically and functionally a part of the working class: a ‘new’proletariat.” Speir acknowledged that “it is the man who typically has the principal authority, the girl who is typically the subordinate …. The majority of the sub- ordinate employees in the large offices perform duties which are specialized and schematized down to the minutest detail.” As his lengthy analysis continued, however, Speir left behind his reference to women as subordinates, giving the reader the impres- sion that all this had little to do with sexual roles:

In the case of the salaried workers who serve as subordinates in one of the many moder office machines, … the difference in the nature of the duties between such workers and the manual workers is completely wiped out …. Especially revealing with regard to the sinking of the social level of the white collar workers is, finally, the change in the social antecedents. The growing tendency to employ salaried workers of “proletarian origin” indicates that the number of untrained and poorly paid positions is increasing faster than the number of middle and prin- cipal positions. In other words, the salaried employees as a whole are being sub- jected to a process of decreasing social esteem.45

Speir’s confusion rested on two traditional assumptions about clerical workers which most other analysts were unwilling to abandon: that the “social prestige” of office workers always made them identify with the middle class, and that female and male office workers’ interests were necessarily inseparable. No one in the Left in the thirties was able to fully articulate the sexual


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division of office work or to grasp that women might prefer to be or even should be organized as women in an industrial clerical workers’ movement. Organizers were also unable to discard the notion that because they were theoretically-if not actually- “middle class,” office workers were a kind of parentheses to the main thrust of the industrial labor movement.46

In fact, the motives for organizing office workers sometimes bordered on the cynical. Communists routinely asserted in the thirties that fascism in Germany and Italy had relied on the sup- port of the petite bourgeoisie, including white collar workers, for its political success. Fearful of the same social phenomenon in the United States, leftist theorists and organizers argued that the American middle class-especially the white collar sec- tor-should be organized primarily to prevent it from supporting right-wing political causes and to facilitate the spread of unions in the industrial sector. According to Len DeCaux, editor of the CIO News, “if democracy and liberalism are to prevail over the menac- ing forces of fascism, unionization of white collar, office and pro- fessional workers is one of the most effective means of spreading labor sympathy and understanding among the middle classes.”47 This line of reasoning often obscured the actual grievances of working-class clericals and made them mere supporters of the struggle to help industrial workers. As one organizer told her UOPWA local: “It’s important to you that all labor should be organized, stand together for legislation, better hours and wages, the right to organize, strike and picket. . . . Office workers if organized can help labor improve conditions and laws…. If manual workers in a shop strike, it would help them if the office workers were with them; the shop could be shut up tight…. Sometimes bosses take votes on who is for a strike or for a union, and count all the office workers against, even if they don’t vote at all.”48

Despite all these obstacles, thousands of female clerical workers joined the UOPWA in the thirties and hundreds went out on strike.49 Some of these strikes were successful; others were not. A few examples should illustrate that female office workers could be militant, determined, and effective unionists and should also indicate the problems they might encounter.

In early 1936 machinists at the Margon Corporation, a small manufacturing firm in New York City, went on strike. The entire office staff of seven workers, all of them women and members of the leftist Bookkeepers, Stenographers, and Accountants Union


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(BSAU), precursor of the UOPWA, refused to cross the machinists picket line. The strike was quickly won, and the factory workers went back to work with “increased wages, union recognition, and improved working conditions.” On January 18, Sunny Grill, who had worked for Margon for six years, was fired and given her severance check. Officially told there was a slowdown in business, she was “privately told that she could no longer be ‘trusted.”‘ Three days later union shop steward Claire Mitchell “interviewed the employers and told them that Miss Grill’s discharge made them all feel insecure and that for the sake of effi- ciency and harmony in the office she should be reinstated, and if it were actually necessary to have any layoff, it be done on the basis of seniority.” Mitchell was fired, and the remaining women were asked to sign pledges that “under no circumstances, especially in the case of a strike of the factory workers, would they go on strike or refuse to walk through the inside workers’ picket lines.” When they refused to sign, the women were fired, and the BSAU called a strike. Pickets were set up in front of Margon and the employers’ homes. The company hired scabs and professional strikebreakers, and the police were called in to pro- tect the scabs. Fifty-eight arrests were made in front of the Margon office in the next eight days, and eighteen members of BSAU were arrested in front of one of the owner’s homes in

Brooklyn. One picketer was beaten by a hired thug. Arrests finally halted after the intercession of Mayor La Guardia and the police commissioner. Two hundred factory workers, minus supervisors and skilled workers, did not honor the office workers’ picket line until March 2, and by then the position of the owners was frozen. The strike continued into April, when the Margon owners moved their factory to Bayonne, New Jersey, where they had received “assurances that they would not be annoyed with labor disputes. “50

Margon was the kind of small firm UOPWA often organized, and the 1936 strike typified some of the special dilemmas of organizing clericals. First, the clerical staff was far outnumbered by the industrial workers. That industrial workers, usually male, would honor clerical picket lines was not a foregone conclusion. One also senses here that employers were more threatened by the betrayal of their office staffs than they were by the militancy of factory workers; they were willing to move the factory rather than “tolerate the idea of their office girls belonging to a union and being as loyal to their fellow workers as they had been” to


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their bosses.51 As for the factory workers, the message was crystal clear; saving jobs and union membership might necessitate throw- ing clerical workers overboard.

The advantages of penetrating a “clerical worker factory” were obvious in the wave of credit clearinghouse strikes in the North- east in 1937-38. The 225 employees of the New York Credit Clearing House, the largest credit information bureau in the coun- try, won union recognition and negotiated a contract under the leadership of office chair Lena de Pasquale. Salaries were as low as $11.88 a week, and employees were expected to work as much as two extra days a week without pay. An arbitrator set new minimum pay rates at $14 a week, but a strike ensued in 1940 over continued union recognition and new wage scales. Workers devised a new strike tactic-telephone picketing. New York Credit Clearing House had seventy-seven trunk lines, and unionists and their friends and relatives kept two thousand calls an hour coming in to jam the phones and stop business.52 When the union’s no-strike pledge prevented a strike in early 1942, UOPWA officials took workers’ demands for a new contract to the U.S. Conciliation Service:

The day before the UOPWA called upon the conciliation service, CCH workers tried their own hand at winning a settlement without a strike.

With the boss directly behind her, little Lena de Pasquale, office chairman and leader of the 1940 strike, blew a signaling whistle. From every comer other whistles resounded. All employees left their desks and walked quietly over to one section of the office.

A boss asked the cause. Lena bluntly told him it was a protest against the firm’s stalling tactics…

Another boss told the workers “Whoever wants to go back to work, go right ahead.” No one budged.53

Taking on a huge corporation, however, was far more difficult. At the New York office of L. Sonnebom Sons, Inc., an oil and paint company with widespread operations throughout the Northeast, Beatrice Limpson and six of her officemates organized and won a NLRB election for Local No. 16 in 1941. A strike in February ensued when contract negotiations broke down, and sympathetic picket lines were thrown up by UOPWA locals around Sonnebom operations all over the country. Longshore- men, seamen, teamsters, and painters all refused to cross picket lines, and names of scabs were advertised daily on picket signs. In an interesting reversal of family sympathies, Joseph Sonneborn, nephew of the company president, walked the picket line, while


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Jack Gompers, nephew of AFL founder Samuel Gompers, went to work at Sonnebor as a scab. Picket captain Ruth Nettbor, “who once vowed she would never be seen on a picket line,” was ar- rested while picketing Gompers’s home. One observer reported that despite arrests, the strikers were “gay and lively,” with one clerical worker teaching sister picketers the rumba to the music of a donated phonograph.54

UOPWA organizers realized early on they would have to reach Sonnebor’s customers to make the strike effective. Accounts had

to be visited, and if persuasion failed they were to be picketed or boycotted. The company’s executives were hit with a barrage of telephone calls from strikers and their families; the “swanky Savoy Plaza,” residence of the company president, was the target of a demonstration. Although Sonnebor eventually agreed to some of the union’s demands, it refused to reinstate strikers, and rumor had it that new defense orders were making the company stronger than ever. Office workers at Sonnebor went back to work without a contract.55

The UOPWA had a better record than most CIO unions in

organi7ing women workers, but it also reflected prevailing sexual attitudes of the period, despite its leftist leadership. The president of the national was always a man, and national organizers of the UOPWA frequently aired patronizing views of clerical workers in articles like the condescending weekly column signed by “Susie the Secretary.” Susie said in 1937 that she didn’t know if there were “any other girls in my department who have sense enough to stick together. They seem to be just out for themselves and not to care about how anyone else gets along. I used to be pretty dumb too, thinking that unions were just for common laborers and mechanics, so perhaps I can show them that organi7ation is the thing.”56

The UOPWA consistently allowed professional and higher-paid office workers, most of whom were men, to write contracts which excluded clerical workers or bargained away their contract rights. And in 1939 the union decided to launch a major cam- paign to organi7e insurance agents, almost all of whom were men. Although the insurance agents had suffered reduced salaries and worsened working conditions as a result of the Depression, they were not really devoted to industrial unionism, and routinely ex- cluded clericals from their contracts and their locals. Clericals had

to join separate locals of the UOPWA. The national accepted this sexism as the price it had to pay for attracting insurance agents to


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the union, but it meant that dues collected from clerical workers were sent to male locals with no intention of ever serving them.

The UOPWA had successfuly organi7ed insurance agents at most of the major insurance corporations by the middle of World War II. In its desire to make these inroads, however, it essentially abandoned any attempt to include clerical workers in the in- surance industry. Eventually the insurance workers bolted from the CIO and created independent craft unions or joined the AFL.

Not surprisingly, these unions specifically excluded clericals. In 1952 striking AFL insurance agents set up a picket line outside a Prudential office building in Newark, New Jersey, hoping to con- vince clericals not to go to work; the clericals crossed the line. This episode was recorded as another example of how women workers, especially clerical workers, will not honor picket lines, but the story, as we have seen, was far more complicated.57

The arrival of the CIO in the 1930s must be viewed as a mixed blessing for women workers. Although many made gains in wages and working conditions, countless others were never offered in- dustrial unions. The CIO acquiesced in the sexual division of labor and even actively sought to maintain it. And, whenever women were organized into unions without some sense of themselves as women, they tended to abrogate their rights. They usually became an adjunct to male unionism, paying in dues and receiving little else but a union card in return.

Women workers needed to challenge women’s place to organize effectively in the thirties. They were not only establishing unions, but also the right to work, to have feminized occupations accorded equal treatment under federal statute, to earn comparable pay, and to win the support and cooperation of working-class men. In other words, women faced a complicated mesh of ideological, social, and economic obstacles in organi7ing that were peculiar to them. Where was this challenge to come from? To argue that working-class women could somehow have mounted a viable feminist movement on their own is to engage in the worst sort of wishful thinking. To perceive as an individual woman that one’s exploitation as a wife, a mother, a daughter, an employee, and a unionist were all connected was one thing; to struggle collectively on occasion against one or more of these conditions was another; to band together in the face of women’s economic dependence on men and attack them all at once was impossible. There were no existent forms of protest or organi7a- tion along these lines, no popular symbols to evoke, no terms


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with which to identify the process of liberation, no audiences who would have taken such rhetoric seriously. Unions should have been the forum where the connections between women’s

problems as workers and as women were made; where the begin- nings of a feminist consciousness should have emerged.

Leftist activists from both the working and middle classes were most likely to perceive these connections and to be able to act on them at the same time. Already in an antiestablishment posture, they might be able to see similarities between forms of patriarchy and forms of capitalism. As members of political groups or parties they would have alternative means of personal support other than traditional patriarchal families.58 Socialist feminists had developed such connections earlier in the century. Women in the Socialist party articulated a far-reaching platform of goals for working women, including suffrage, birth control, and pay for housework. Anarchist Emma Goldman and socialist theorist

Charlotte Perkins Gilman had attacked marriage as a capitalist in- stitution ensuring male property rights. Their point of view was missing from leftist ideology in the thirties. The Communist party viewed women’s issues as important but inferior to the issues of race and industrial unionism. When all three of these issues com-

bined, as in the pecan sheller’s strike in St. Louis in 1933, the Communists did some of their best work. But in organizng women they were prone to use them for the greater good of the party, not for engaging in an ongoing struggle to eliminate sex- ism. Yet Communist women were probably more engaged with women workers than were any other groups in American politics during the Depression. They helped women to articulate their own issues in a movement which would otherwise probably have ignored women as much as possible.

Whatever the failings of both feminists and leftists in the thir- ties, they did try to organize women workers and pioneered in the organization of clerical workers. Hundreds of clerical workers responded by joining CIO office worker unions, and their numbers grew larger during World War II. The contributions of leftist and feminist women during the thirties and during the war stand out in high relief when we look at women in unions in the fifties, a time when feminism was at its lowest point since the ear- ly nineteenth century. The Left was driven from the industrial union movement, and all three industrial unions for office workers were expelled from the CIO.

When can women organize? Women workers-whether they


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are domestics, nurses, clericals, hairdressers, or seamstresses- must be given the impression by someone-male unionists, middle-class feminists, or leftist activists-that unions are ap- propriate for women, that unions are receptive to the elimination of sexism, and that taking the risks of losing jobs by striking will be worth the effort. The recent public attention paid to such sobering examples as Crystal Lee Jordan, on whom the film character Norma Rae was based, and the Willmar Eight may pro- voke more fear than courage, and it is easy to see why; women fighting for unions seem to get themselves fired.

It may also be true that years of experience with unresponsive male-dominated unions may account for the deep and abiding antiunion sentiment which many organizers find in women workers. Women may very well prefer dealing with one form of patriarchy-in the workplace-to adding another layer of patriar- chy-the union-to their lives.

Women workers no longer have the vitality of a growing in- dustrial union movement from which to draw inspiration. They do have a more consciously feminist atmosphere. There is con- siderable disagreement, however, over how strongly unions should be tied to the women’s movement. Working Women has recently forged an alliance with Service Employees International Union to organize clerical workers for the AFL-CIO, and it will continue to maintain an independent existence as an organization representing women’s interests. Yet workers as a group remain ambivalent about their feminism and its role in union organizing. Although they want to draw on some of the issues related to equal pay and equal representation raised by the feminist move- ment they are also reluctant to identify themselves as “women’s libbers.”59 Recent strikes have shown that union women can use some aspects of feminist ideology to bolster their own self-esteem and create a rationale for the redressing of their grievances. “Feminist baiting,” however, is also a tactic available to the op- position, and it will probably be increasingly used in the next decade.60 Feminists who are also socialists will probably be par- ticular targets of the corporations, hospitals, banks, and insurance companies, just as Communist women and men were particular targets in the McCarthy era. A unionist movement for women in this country will be successful to the extent that it acknowledges its past in radical industrial unionism and its future in militant feminism.


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I would like to thank Susan Porter Benson, Kate Dunnigan, Ruth Milkman, and Bruce Laurie for reading an earlier draft of this paper and providing helpful suggestions.

1. Alice Kessler-Harris, “‘Where Are the Organized Women Workers?”‘ Feminist Studies 3 (Fall 1975): 92-110. 2. Some recent sources include Rosalyn Baxandall, Linda Gordon, and Susan Reverby, eds. America’s Working Women: A Documentary History-1600 To the Present (New York: Random House, 1976); Ellen Cantarow with Susan Gushee O’Malley and Sharon Hartman Strom, Moving the Mountain: Women Working for Social Change (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1980); Phillip S. Foner, Women and the American Labor Movement, 2 vols. (New York and London: Free Press, 1979-80); James J. Keneally, Women and American Trade Unions (St. Albans, Vt., and Montreal: Eden Press, 1978); Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), Alice Lynd and Staughton Lynd, eds., Rank and File: Personal Histories of Working-Class Organizers (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973); Meredith Tax, The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917 (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1980); Bar- bara M. Wertheimer, We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America (New York: Pantheon, 1977). 3. Leslie Tentler, Wage-Earning Women: Industrial Work and Family Life in the United States, 1900-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). 4. Ruth Milkman, “Organizing the Sexual Division of Labor: Historical Perspectives on ‘Women’s Work’ and the American Labor Movement,” Socialist Review 10 (anuary- February 1980): 119. 5. Foner 2: 279-81; and Lois Scharf, To Work and To Wed: Female Employment, Feminism, and the Great Depression (Westport, Conn., and London: Greenwood Press, 1980), 110-33. Scharf provides the most thoroughgoing analysis to date of the New Deal’s impact on women. 6. Scharf, 45-50; Foner 2: 278. 7. Foner 2: 257; Scharf, 50. 8. Scharf, 45, 104, 106-7; Grace Coyle, “Women in the Clerical Occupations,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 143 (May 1929): 183-84; U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, The Employment of Women in Offices, by Ethel Erickson, Bulletin no. 120 (Washington, D.C. 1934), 12-13. 9. For an overall analysis of the impact of the Depression on women’s work see Ruth Milkman, “Women’s Work and the Economic Crisis: Some Lessons from the Great Depression,” Review of Radical Political Economics 8 (Spring 1976): 73-97; Scharf, 86-109.

10. Molly Haskell, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1974), 141-52. 11. Keneally, 155; Foner, 2: 270, 272-73, 281-82, 285, 314-18. 12. Foner 2: 286-88; Keneally, 155-56; Irving Bernstein, The Turbulent Years: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1933-1941 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), 122-23; “Store Clerks Win Philadelphia Strike,” Ledger 2 (December 1936): 1. 13. Sidney Fine, Sit-down: The General Motors Strike of 1936-1937 (Ann Arbor: Univer- sity of Michigan Press, 1969), 156; Robert Schaffer, “Women and the Communist Par- ty, USA, 1930-1940,” Socialist Review 45 (May-June 1979): 99.


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14. Jeremy Brecher, Strike! (San Francisco: World Publishing, 1972), 203, 207-9; Foner 2: 311-12. 15. Foner 2: 312-13.

16. Brecher, 208-9. 17. For discussions of women’s auxiliaries see Baxandall, Gordon, and Reverby, 264-65; Fine, 200-1, 279-80; Foner 2: 290-92, 302-12. One of the most important sources on the auxiliaries is the 1977 film, With Babies and Banners: The Story of the Women’s Emergency Brigade, directed by Lorraine Gray, produced by Anne Bohlen, Lyn Goldfarb, and Lorraine Gray and distributed by New Day Films, P.O. Box 315, Franklin Lakes, N.J. 07417. 18. With Babies and Banners; Foner 2: 303-4. Ruth Meyerowitz found that working women were instrumental participants in the brigade (“Organizing the UAW: Wives, Workers, and Leaders, 1933-1974,” Ph.D. diss. in progress). 19. Schaffer, 99-100. I have been influenced in this article by the views of Heidi Hart- mann, who argues that working-class men actively tried to maintain traditional patriar- chal controls over guilds and unions during the historical evolution of modem capi- talism. They also convinced many capitalist employers to maintain the sexual division of labor, even when it was in the interest of capitalists to create a totally exchangeable labor market. See her “Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation By Sex,” in Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zillah R. Eisenstein, (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1979), 206-47. Ruth Milkman argues persuasively that Hartmann ignores the extent to which working-class families (my emphasis), not just working men, used traditional patriarchal ideology to protect capitalist relations from totally encompassing the home and its members. Moreover, union men sometimes sup- port equal rights and wages for women; the question is when and why. See Milkman, “Organizing the Sexual Division of Labor,” 95-150, and her article “Redefining ‘Women’s Work’: The Sexual Division of Labor in the Auto Industry During World War II,” Feminist Studies 8 (Summer 1982): 337-72. Hartmann and Milkman both agree that working-class men have a vested interest in maintaining women’s dependence on men in order to secure female childcare and housework services.

20. Fine, 201.

21. Beatrice Marcus, quoted by Shaffer, 89. 22. Scharf, 43-65. 23. Shaffer, 86-87.

24. Anne Prosten, interview with author, 5 February 1977, Brookline, Massachusetts. Vivian Gornick’s recent book based on interviews with members of the CP, despite its judgmental style, does hint at the wide variety of sexual relationships within the party. The CP membership evidently encouraged some women to establish fuller and more assertive lives, but doomed others to horrible marriages in which they sacrificed themselves to the dual tyranny of their husbands and party discipline. One senses, however, that the activism of women in the party kept the “woman question” alive on a personal basis, whatever the official view. This ongoing struggle may explain the at- traction of the current women’s movement for many Old Left women. See Gomick’s The Romance of American Communism (New York: Basic Books, 1977). 25. See Milkman, “Redefining ‘Women’s Work,”‘ 357, for an important discussion of this idea and its likely effect on women’s militancy. 26. For a more detailed explanation of this argument see David A. Brody, Workers in Industrial America: Essays on the Twentieth-Century Struggle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 127-35. 27. Henry Kraus, quoted in Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People’s


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Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (New York: Pantheon, 1977), 156. The authors do not consider sex as a variable in their analysis. 28. Clinton S. Golden and Harold J. Ruttenberg, The Dynamics of Industrial Democracy (New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1942), 82, 310. 29. See Foner 2: 316-17 for a brief discussion of women in the UE; Piven and Cloward, 156.

30. Ruth Milkman, “The Reproduction of Job Segregation by Sex: A Study of the Changing Sexual Position of Labor in the Auto and Electrical Manufacturing Industries in the 1940’s” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1981). Milkman argues persuasively that the greater numbers of women working in industry during World War II allowed them to exert more influence in the CIO and to raise women’s issues

more frequently. 31. Ruth Meyerowitz generously shared this information with me. 32. Fine, 324; Foner 2: 332; U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, Women in the Economy of the United States of America by Elizabeth Pidgeon, Bulletin no. 155 (Washington, D.C., 1937), 76-78. 33. Foner 2: 322, 324. 34. CIO News 2 (11 Sept. 1939): 7. 35. Genora Johnson Dollinger makes this point in With Babies and Banners. Also see the interview with Stella Nowicki in Lynd and Lynd, 83-84. 36. U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, The Woman Wage Earner: Her Situa- tion Today by Elizabeth D. Benham, Bulletin no. 172 (Washington, D.C., 1939), 44; Of- fice and Professional News 13 (December 1946): 4; Foner 2: 327, 329; “Stenos Strut,” CIO News 2 (20 Feb. 1939): 3; and “Sweetheart of the CIO,” CIO News 1 (6 Aug. 1938): 7.

37. Anne Prosten interview; “Regions Give ‘All-Out’ Aid to Organizing Drives,” Federal Record 4 (3 Apr. 1941): 1. 38. Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer, The Female Labor Force in the United States: Demographic and Economic Factors Governing its Growth and Changing Composition (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976), 149. 39. Milkman, “Women’s Work and the Economic Crisis,” 530. 40. For a brief history of these unions see Sharon Hartman Strom, “Clerical Workers in the CIO, 1937-1950” (paper presented at the Society for the Study of Social Problems, San Francisco,3 Sept. 1978); and Jurgen Kocka, White Collar Workers in America, 1890-1940: A Socio-Political History in International Perspective (London and Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1980), 218-37. 41. Kocka, 20, 218-19, 226; Carl Dean Snyder, White-Collar Workers and the UA W(Ur- bana: University of Illinois Press, 1973); “Wage Cuts in Steel Offices Hit by Union,” Ledger 4 (February 1938): 1, 8; “Union Grows in Rubber Company,” Office and Profes- sional News 6 (March-April 1940): 1; “Organizing the Unorganized White Collar Workers,” Career 2 (15 Oct. 1949): 4. 42. Kocka, 224-25, 227, 230-31. 43. Nathan Glazer, The Social Basis of American Communism (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961), 116-17, 130. When Jessica Mitford worked in Washington for the Office of Price Administration during World War II, she assumed that joining the UFW would put her in touch with the CP (A Fine Old Conflict [New York: Knopf, 1977], 49). Len DeCaux, editor of the CIO News, said that the “new-type” leaders of white collar unions “differed little from the blue collars. Some college was common for all … many … were trained in the Communist movement as I knew it-a move- ment, that is, of militant unemployed; of Union pioneers before New Deal permitted or


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Sharon Hartman Strom

CIO paid salaries; of rebels against corrupt inaction or reaction in AFL unions.” See his Labor Radical: From the Wobblies to CIO, A Personal History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970), 288-89. 44. For some sources that discuss the mechanization of clerical work, see Harvey Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1974), 293-358; Coyle, “Women in the Clerical Occupations”; Erickson; C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (NeW York: Galaxy Paperback, 1956), 189-212; Orlie Pell, The Office Worker-Labor’s Side of the Ledger, pamphlet published by the League for In- dustrial Democracy (New York, January 1937); and Strom, “Clerical Workers in the CIO.”

45. Lewis Corey, The Crisis of the Middle Class (New York: Covici, Freide, 1935), 259; and Hans Speir, “The Salaried Employee in Modern Society,” Social Research 1 (February 1934): 116-18. Also seeJ. Raymond Walsh, C.I.O. Industrial Unionism in Ac- tion (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1937), 148-155. 46. For instance, Joseph Starobin recalled that at a June 1945 meeting of the CP that a “Lew,”-certainly Lewis Merrill, president of the UOPWA-argued in favor of openly admitting membership in the party. However, as a representative of white collar workers party leaders felt his union was not among “the most crucial elements in the working class.” See Starobin’s American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1957 (New York: Harvard University Press, 1972), 96-97. 47. Len DeCaux, “Unionizing the White Collared,” CIO News 1 (21 May 1938): 4. 48. “Typewritten notes for speeches,” circa 1936-40, Florence Luscomb Papers, Schlesinger Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 49. The UOPWA claimed 22,000 members and forty locals in 1937 out of an estimated white collar work force of four or five million. See “Merrill Article Shows White Collar

Progress,” Ledger 3 (November 1937): 5. By 1943 the UOPWA had 43,000 members and 118 locals. See Florence Peterson, Handbook of Labor Unions (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Public Affairs, 1934), 259. 50. Murray Nathan, “The Margon Strike,” Ledger 2 (March 1936): 5-6; “Unity Pledged at Joint Rally,” Ledger 2 (March 1936): 9; Murray Nathan, “The Margon Strike Con- tinues,” Ledger 3 (April 1936): 9. 51. Nathan, “Margon Strike.” 52. “Union Recognized in Credit Firm …,” Ledger 3 (September 1937): 1; “Local 16 Pickets CCH by Telephone,” Office and Professional News 6 (February 1940): 1, 3. 53. “Government Mediation Averts Credit House Strike,” Office and Professional News 8(11 Feb. 1942): 1. 54. “Local 16 Wins NLRB Poll in Oil Office by Two to One,” Office and Professional News 7 (anuary 1941): 1; “Sonneborn Strikers Win Coast to Coast Support,” and “Strikers Burned Up-Put Heat on Oil Company” 7 (February 1941): 1, 2, both in Of- fice and Professional News. 55. “Strike Spirit Rises as Sonneborn Accounts Fall” (March 1941): 8; “Sonnebor Begins Talk in Strikes’ 9th Week” (April 1941): 12; and “Local 16 Maps Changes in Sonneborn Strike” (May 1941): 8, all in Office and Professional News. 56. “Susie Steno Discovers the Union,” Ledger 3 (une 1937): 6. 57. Harvey J. Clerment, Organizing the Insurance Worker: A History of Labor Unions of Insurance Employees (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1966), 176; and Strom, “Clerical Workers in the CIO.” 58. Ronald Schatz found that the women organizers of union locals at electrical plants in the thirties were even more likely than men to be children of radicals, socialists, or


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386 Sharon Hartman Strom

union activists, although none had belonged to a union before joining the UE. They were also more likely than other female workers to come from female-headed households. See his “Union Pioneers: The Founders of Local Unions at General Electric

and Westinghouse, 1933-37,” Journal of American History 66 (December 1979): 586-602.

59. “Women’s Group Set to Organize Office Workers,” New York Times, 4 Mar. 1981: A12; “Women Clerical Workers and Trade Unionism,” Interview with Karen Nussbaum, Socialist Review 10 (anuary-February 1980): 151-59. 60. See for instance, Gail Gregory Sansbury, “‘Now, What’s the Matter With You Girls?’ Clerical Workers Organize,” Radical America 14 (November-December 1980): 67-75; and the 1980 film Willmar 8, directed by Lee Grant, produced by Mary Beth Yarrow and Julie Thompson, and distributed by California Newsreel, 630 Natoma St., San Francisco, Calif. 94103.

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  • Issue Table of Contents
    • Feminist Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Summer, 1983), pp. 219-415
      • Front Matter [pp. 222-324]
      • Erratum: Musing about the Muse
      • Preface [pp. 219-221]
      • Out of the Stream: An Essay on Unconventional Motherhood [pp. 223-234]
      • Who Gets the Child? Custody, Guardianship, and the Rise of a Judicial Patriarchy in Nineteenth-Century America [pp. 235-260]
      • Of Patriarchy Born: The Political Economy of Fertility Decisions [pp. 261-284]
      • Poetry
        • New Year’s Eve [pp. 285-286]
        • A Green Place [pp. 286-287]
        • Letter from the Alpes Maritimes [pp. 288-292]
      • A Hateful Passion, a Lost Love [pp. 293-323]
      • An Art Essay
        • In the World: An Art Essay [pp. 325-334]
      • Rebel Girls and Union Maids: The Woman Question in the Journals of the AFL and IWW, 1905-1920 [pp. 335-358]
      • Challenging “Woman’s Place”: Feminism, the Left, and Industrial Unionism in the 1930s [pp. 359-386]
      • Notes and Letters [pp. 387-401]
      • Publications Received [pp. 403-415]
      • Back Matter [pp. 402-402]
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