The Working Roots of Canadian Feminism

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In the 1960s, the labor movement in Canada was predominantly male. So how did unions and other working class women get unions to make the fight for women’s rights a union issue? They organized within union spaces, possible in part because of the 144% increase in women workers in unions from 1965 to 1975.

“As their numbers grew, unionized women challenged the gender structures and organizational cultures of their unions and worked to get unions to adopt positions that would directly affect women,” said Meg Luxton, professor of labor studies. gender, sexuality and women. Explain.

According to Luxton, there were three distinct feminist movements in Canada in the 20th century. A movement in Quebec, a movement in the rest of Canada and a movement of aboriginal women. The second was largely led by trade unionists and other working class women.

Union leaders also recognized that the appointment of women to leadership positions was important in dismantling a “boys club” culture. In 1984, for example, the Canadian Labor Congress created a requirement to have a minimum of six women in vice-presidential positions.

“They recognized that when capable female leaders are visible, more women are likely to participate and more men and women are able to accept women into leadership positions,” Luxton writes.

Through their organizing work, women have also managed to convince the public that they are a crucial part of organizing. This was seen during the The Eaton Strike of 1985, who fought for Eaton workers to get a fair contract. « The women on strike and the organizers of the RWDSU [Retail and Wholesale Department Store Union] were clear that the support of the women’s movement was very important to help them hold out the long strike over the winter.

This is not to say that working-class feminism has not had its difficulties. Putting “liberal feminists, women’s liberation activists, labor feminists and working class women” on the same page has not always been an easy task. “The homophobia and conservatism of aspects of working class feminism was exposed for example in 1979 during the organization of International Women’s Day (IWD) in Toronto when organized working women proposed that the abortion and lesbian issues be dropped for fear of offending and alienating union women. .”

A positive aspect of this movement led by trade unionists and other working class women was the recognition of how class and race also impact people’s experiences in the workplace and in society. “The demands explicitly linked struggles for women’s equality and anti-racism to working class struggles for a more equitable distribution of wealth and access to resources.”


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From: Meg Luxton

Labor / Le Travail, vol. 48 (Fall 2001), p. 63-88 (26 pages)

Canadian Committee on Labor History and Athabasca University Press

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