March 2003, Vol. 126, No.3
Equality for working women
Book reviews from past issues
Equality for working women
Women, Gender, and Work: What Is Equality and How Do We Get There? Edited by Martha Fetherolf Loutfi. Geneva, International Labour Office, 2001, 565 pp., $26.95/softcover.
Women, Gender, and Work is an anthology of articles written by economists, lawyers, philosophers, sociologists, and others that had been published in the International Labour Review between 1996 and 2000. The book fulfills its purpose as a reference that provides information and analysis for policymakers, researchers, students, and activists worldwide.
The authors address numerous aspects of women, gender, and work. In the overview, the editor explains that the anthology is intended "to advance, not conclude the debate" on gender equality and that while substantial, the text is unable to cover all the topics concerning the title subject. A strong policy focus is present in the text.
The book is divided into five parts: an introduction (the editor’s overview of the chapters), followed by sections on concepts and values, statistics and information, objectives and policy, and the role of law. Overall, the authors provide informative and relevant discussions on the subjects, and the text is supported by interesting and well-presented tables and charts. Following the editor’s introduction, the second part, "Concepts and Values," sets the framework for the text. It begins with a philosophical chapter, "New Perspectives on Work as Value," which examines the history of work’s central role in Western society and declares that employment is only a part of a good society. Then, a chapter by Amartya Sen, "Work and Rights," examines four approaches to achieving "decent work": an inclusive, universal approach to work; acknowledgement of basic human rights that transcend legal recognition; placing work within a broad economic, political, and social framework that includes democratic values; and a global, rather than international, approach. The next chapter, "Women and Equality: The Capabilities Approach," first addresses worries over using a cross-cultural framework to improve women’s lives, then presents problems with traditional economic approaches, and finally argues for the application of a cross-cultural "capabilities approach" (focusing on what one is able to be and do) to women’s development.
Part III, "Statistics and information: What do we know?," comprises chapters on various subjects, including labor statistics; measurement of unpaid labor; caveats concerning data on race, ethnicity and gender; occupational segregation and differences in earnings by sex; part-time work; women in management and the unyielding glass ceiling; and labor market indicators from the ILO project Key Indicators of the Labor Market and related gender issues and employment trends.
For example, Chapter 5, "Gender issues in labor statistics," discusses what is necessary for labor statistics to fully reflect the labor market situations of women and men. First, data quality depends on how well definitions and classifications show work situations of women and men. Therefore, definitions must recognize that men and women do not necessarily perform the same tasks, and that they need to encompass all qualifying work. For example, in home-based businesses, husbands and wives might not be described equally in terms of employment status: men are usually classified as the employer, while women are classified as unpaid family workers. Also, for distinctions to appear between women and men, sufficient detail must be provided in describing work situations. Measurement methods can affect how results show gender differences. For example, administrative records may discriminate against workers, who are mostly women, in precarious employment situations. Also, data presentation affects results. The author explains that neglect of women’s economic contribution in statistics is destructive, in that it perpetuates "a vicious circle of inequality between men and women, and inappropriate policies and programmes."
"Objectives, policy: What does it take?" (Part IV) addresses the following topics: assessing equal opportunity in the EU (European Union); the effects of changes in work (for example, women’s entry into the labor market) on the family and society; care workers and resulting gender norms, consequences, and occupational segregations; parental leave; the devaluation of women’s concerns by narrow economic analysis; management styles of men and women; and discrimination against women by social protection systems.
The chapters in Part V, "The role of law: Where have we gotten?," examine affirmative action in employment, equal pay and treatment in the European Union, and sexual harassment in employment.
The chapter on affirmative action analyzes how different courts, faced with similar cases, have reached different conclusions, demonstrating the need for more rigorous reasoning by lower jurisdictions and new international standards to help courts reach more consistent decisions.
The following chapter discusses how European law has promoted legal equality between men and women throughout the European Union. Because of their supranational character, European legislation and case law must be applied throughout the EU. This has resulted in the revision of domestic law in all member states. The chapter presents a selection of case law, which focuses on equal pay and treatment of work.
The concluding chapter evaluates advances in law concerning sexual harassment, focusing on court decisions since 1990 in selected countries.
formerly with the
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Rekindling the Movement: Labor’s Quest for Relevance in the 21st Century, Edited by Lowell Turner, Harry C. Katz and Richard W. Hurd. Ithaca, NY, and London, ILR Press, 2002, 402 pp., $19.95/paperback.
Unions and Legitimacy. By Gary Chaison and Barbara Bigelow. Ithaca, NY, and London, Cornell University Press, 2002, 133 pp., $29.25/hardcover.
No serious observer doubts the challenges in terms of power and influence that the union movement has increasingly faced since the mid 21st century. Happily, two recent books put forward an array of ideas to revitalize the movement and reverse the decline. The books interrelate and complement each other in so many respects that it seems useful to discuss them in the same review.
Rekindling the Movement brings together essays by 19 persons noted for their expertise in labor relations, either through their experience as practitioners or as observers from academia. Authors Lowell Turner, Richard W. Hurd, and Paul Johnston posit the need for transformation of the union movement into a kind of social unionism, building upon issues arising out of broader movements in the society such as civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, and environmental activism. While the first two authors emphasize the need to muster support for improving the overall legal climate for unions, Johnston’s approach sees a strong role for local labor-community-based policy development, to attack labor’s dilemma from the ground up.
In two separate essays, Charles Heckscher and Dorothy Sue Cobble advocate flexibility in the union movement to accommodate the demands, respectively, of a mobile workforce and the occupational orientation of workers whose ties to a single employer are a thing of the past.
A group of essays focuses on organizing strategies and case studies. (It is this section that provides one of the clearest links to the Chaison-Bigelow book, of which more below.) Ruth Milkman and Kent Wong describe organizing efforts involving mostly immigrant workers in California. Their case studies address garment workers, drywall workers, janitors and truckers. They noted that successful strategies, especially where subcontracting was involved, sometimes included avoidance of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) processes, but that an organizing victory does not always mean smooth sailing in the ensuring bargaining relationship. Milkman and Wong argue that where immigrants make up a large proportion of the workforce, the institutional life of unions must be reshaped "so that immigrants are at the vital center."
Several essays describe structural changes and changes in emphasis of the Nation’s largest union body, the AFL–CIO and some of its constituent unions. That the AFL–CIO needed to adapt to today’s challenges is illustrated by this 1972 quotation from George Meany, cited by author Amy Foerster:
"Why should we worry about organizing groups of people who do not want to be organized? If they prefer to have others speak for them and make the decisions which affect their lives, without effective participation on their part, that is their right…I used to worry about the size of membership. But quite a few years ago I just stopped worrying about it, because to me it doesn’t make any difference."
Jill Kriesky of the AFL–CIO describes in some detail the increased emphasis on and influence of central labor councils (CLCs) and their Union Cities programs. She sees an obstacle to their success in the lack of support by international unions for mandatory affiliation with CLCs. Amy Foerster describes the hopes leading to creation of the AFL–CIO’s Organizing Institute and some obstacles to its success, including tensions with international unions over where the power and responsibility to organize should be located. Bill Fletcher and Richard Hurd examine the varying "experiences of local unions attempting to operationalize the organizing priority." Success requires sufficient resources, attention to political demands within the union, and cultural change.
In a section addressing new strategic and institutional orientation, Kate Bronfenbrenner and Tom Juravich review in some detail the evolution of strategic and coordinated bargaining by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). Their chapter discusses, among others, Phelps-Dodge, Ravenswood, Bayou Steel, and Bridgestone/Firestone — a litany of important fights for that union’s members. (The United Rubber Workers merged with USWA in the midst of the Bridgestone/Firestone campaign.) Gary Chaison discusses union mergers over the 1995–99 period, and concludes that mergers strengthen and stabilize unions but do not address general economic and political problems. They cannot substitute for organizing, bargaining, and political action.
Eric Parker and Joel Rogers outline the success of workers and unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere in affecting the "process of industrial restructuring itself…assert[ing] more control of the terms of trade in firm and regional labor markets, and…interven[ing] on the demand side of the skill equation." These efforts, such as the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, have "gain[ed] labor critical leverage in the real economy where it counts the most."
The last two essays, by James Shoch and Lance Compa respectively, address labor’s evolving viewpoint on international issues such as globalization and trade, and worker rights in other countries, and note the mixed successes the union movement has had in advancing its positions.
Space limitations unfortunately dictated only brief treatment of each essay in this book. It should be clear, however, that scholars and activists have been giving significant and useful attention to how to revive the labor movement. (In a short afterword, editor Katz reviews generally the positions of various authors, and points out in some cases where he disagrees.) A recurring theme is the need to involve rank-and-file workers and to dedicate sufficient resources to the tasks ahead. Another point made by several authors is the deliberate decision by some unions to avoid recourse to the NLRB to assert their rights and interests. This issue has significance for those observers who view as essential a change in the legal climate for organizing and collective bargaining. There is a yawning chasm between present reality and the values shared by all the authors (including this one): a belief in the legitimacy of unions, collective bargaining, and the notion of worker voice. The public policy implications of this gap are grave.
In their book Unions and Legitimacy, Professors Gary Chaison and Barbara Bigelow present a fresh and lucid discussion of legitimacy as it applies to labor unions and their role in society. The book complements the volume discussed above in many respects, including the clear connection between unions’ loss of legitimacy and their declining influence. The authors describe the several ways legitimacy can be achieved, including conformity to certification procedures under the National Labor Relations Act, employer respect for the union as representative of employees, and public approval of unions and their functions. The authors also define the terms pragmatic legitimacy—basically the effectiveness of unions in performing their role as workplace representative—and moral legitimacy, which can be conferred by persons outside the membership structure when unions appear to be acting for socially valued objectives.
Chaison and Bigelow review case studies from varied situations involving unions in organizing, strikes, and efforts to influence public policy debates. Their chapter on pragmatic legitimacy describes three case studies: United Parcel Service (UPS) and The Teamsters Union, the organizing campaign by the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, and the AFL–CIOs efforts to reinvigorate the union movement through associate memberships and programs of group benefits. The succeeding chapter addresses the campaign against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and legislative activities by the Massachusetts Nurses Association to advance patient care.
The authors note that unions can attain legitimacy even though their efforts in a particular situation fail (for example, the anti-NAFTA effort). They also make the point that successful pragmatic efforts often have a moral dimension as well. UPS workers found sympathy and support among part-time workers outside the industry. The union representing clerical and technical workers at Harvard took account of the needs of a mostly-female workforce and the special circumstances of working at a highly prestigious institution. The nurses’ issues of improved patient care resonated broadly among the public.
The authors conclude: "The survival of unions depends on their supporters and officers understanding how legitimacy is conferred by constituencies … What we have done is to propose a new way of thinking about unions—a way that unions neglect at their own peril. We will consider our efforts successful if the concepts find their way into research on unions as well as other organizations, are widely considered in unions’ strategic decisionmaking, and spur a debate about the unions’ value and mission among union supporters and critics."
—Joy K. Reynolds
Formerly with the
U.S. Department of Labor
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