|This chapter is based on reflections arising from research on women
factory workers over a number of years. The issues and questions in each
phase of research changed as our own understanding grew, along with changes
in the general political and economic environment. In spite of variations
in research objectives, there were certain common themes concerning the
ways in which women were perceived and their self perception as workers,
and as women, the possibilities and the limits to organising, the differences
between the interests of women and men workers as well as the differences
between women workers themselves. In the first section of this chapter
we discuss the theoretical implications of the relationship between identity,
consciousness and strategies. The second section looks at existing struggles
within the theoretical perspective elaborated earlier.
Considerable work has been done in recent years on women's employment,
locating features ranging from restructuring at an international level
to labour control on the factory floor and the use of gender divisions
to place women workers in low paid, unskilled, part time and casual jobs
(D. Elson & R. Pearson, 1981; Swasti Mitter, 1986; N. Redclift &
E. Mingione, 1985). Theories of women's employment have moved from a critique
of dual labour markets and orthodox Marxist categories to highlighting
the linkage between production and reproduction, domestic labour and wage
labour and the necessity to study gender construction within the labour
process as well as within the sexual division of labour in the household
(V. Beechey, 1986).
One theoretical area which remains `underdeveloped' is the question
of women workers' consciousness. The issue of consciousness is essential
to any discussion on strategies for organising, and in this chapter we
will explore certain areas which link identity, consciousness and strategy.
The relationship between perception and action is extremely complicated.
We examine two approachs - the marxist and post-structuralist feminist
analyses of the relationship between identity, consciousness and strategy,
and then elaborate a tentative framework.
The dominant model in orthodox Marxist debates has been the model of
dual consciousness initiated by K. Kautsky and Lenin, and systematised
by G. Lukacs. On the one hand is actual consciousness, i.e. what
the worker normally thinks, and on the other hand is ascribed consciousness,
i.e. the consciousness that the worker ought to have given his position
within the production process. Identity in this formulation is singular,
fixed and derived from positioning in the production process. This model
not only constructed an ideal type model of class consciousness, but it
also assumed a one-to-one correspondence between the objective class structure
and consciousness. Further, this conception transferred the locus of radical
consciousness from the working class to the intelligentsia. Since classes
are seen as passive objects determined by economic functions, their conciousness
is also seen as completely controlled by dominant ideologies. The concept
of `false consciousness` not only ignores the existence of `everyday forms
of resistance', but also reduces a worker's identity to that of class positionality.
An alternative to the above orthodox problematic was developed through
rich historical studies of the `moral economy' and resistance of working
classes and slaves in the work of E.P. Thompson and E. Genovese, as well
as more specific studies of the labour process and the politics around
the points of production by M. Burawoy. (E.P. Thompson, 1963; E. Genovese,
1974; M. Burawoy, 1985) These studies have highlighted that there is no
`objective' notice of class prior to its appearance in action, as for example
in Thompson's well-known formulation of class as a `happening' whereby
classes are constituted in history. Rejecting the distinction between `objective'
and `subjective' as arbitrary, Burawoy also emphasizes the need to look
at the formation of consciousness as an effect of the combination of economic,
political and ideological realms. He also highlights the formation of a
specific type of consciousness arising specifically from the structures
of the workplace. Instead of the notion of `habituation' used by H. Braverman,
which refers to an extreme form of objectification, eliminating the subjective
moment, Burawoy uses `adaptation' and examines, in the struggles over the
labour process, the ways in which `fragmented arenas of subjectivity expand
into collective struggle, or, more narrowly, under what conditions... adaptation
turn[s] into resistance' (M. Burawoy, 1985:76).
The application of Gramsci's notion of `commonsense', the discovery
of counter hegemonic discourses developed by subaltern groups, and the
acknowledgement of covert forms of resistance in recent historical and
contemporary studies have opened the way towards developing a more `grounded'
theory of consciousness (A. Gramsci, 1985; J. Scott, 1985; also see the
work of the Subaltern Studies group). For instance James Scott, in his
sensitive study of peasant resistance through the creation of an oppositional
culture, points out that:
Class after all, does not exhaust the total explanatory space of social
actions. ...within the peasant village, ...class may compete with kinship,
neighbourhood, faction, and ritual links as foci of human identity and
solidarity. Beyond the village level, it may also compete with ethnicity,
language group, religion, and region as a focus of loyalty. Class may be
applicable to some situations but not to others; it may be reinforced or
crosscut by other ties; it may be far more important for the experience
of some than of others. Those who are tempted to dismiss all principles
of human action that contend with class identity as "false consciousness"
and to wait for Althusser's "determination in the last instance" are likely
to wait in vain. In the meantime, the messy reality of multiple identities
will continue to be the experience out of which social relations are conducted.
(James Scott, 1985, p. 43)
Scott's work has moved from a critique of the Gramscian concept of hegemony
and the notion of false consciousness, to emphasise the creative capacity
of subordinate groups to reverse or negate dominant ideologies. A similar
project is envisaged by the Subaltern Studies historians who recover the
subject in the social history and resistance of subordinate groups in the
colonial period. However, although both Scott and the Subaltern Studies
group do look at men and women in struggles and point out areas of gender
discrimination, their work does not incorporate the categories and relations
of the sex/gender system into the analysis of the construction of wider
political relationships. It is to feminist theory that we have to turn
for a re-conceptualisation of working women.
The first fracture in the notion of a monolithic working class identity
was in fact made by feminists when they highlighted the fact that the working
class had two genders. The specificity of women workers lay not only in
that they had special issues, e.g. maternity benefits, equal pay, sexual
harassment, but also that their position in the labour market was determined
by their position within the household. The double burden of wage work
and domestic labour, and the ideology of domesticity implied that women
entered the labour market already determined as `inferior bearers of gender'.
Elson and Pearson succinctly identified three tendencies in the dialectic
of capital and gender: `a tendency to intensify the existing forms of gender
subordination; a tendency to decompose existing forms of gender subordination;
and a tendency to recompose new forms of gender subordination' (D. Elson
& R. Pearson, 1981). Women workers therefore had to struggle as workers
as well as women. The lack of participation by women in trade unions was
located in certain structural features: male domination in unions, the
internal structure of union organisation, the dead-end nature of women's
jobs, the fact that women were employed in industries which are difficult
to organise, the double burden which implied that women simply did not
have the time for union activities. However, in many studies on women workers,
the traditional marxist model of consciousness still operates. The focus
on gender has also led to the setting up of another model of `feminist
consciousness', and women who do not exhibit these characteristics are
seen as victims of patriarchal ideology, backward and reactionary (For
a critique, see V. Beechey, 1986.)
Another approach to women workers' (lack of) consciousness, has argued
that women's lack of participation in unions was due to gender socialization
and the reinforcement of women's roles as mothers and wives through the
ideology of domesticity. An extreme formulation of this argument, and one
that is often used in developing countries, is that women's consciousness
is based on a `fatalistic approach to life' (K. Purcell, 1981). Women workers
were seen as more fatalistic than men in that they had little or no control
over most aspects of their lives, a fact that was reinforced in the working
environment as well. Further studies emphasized the `familial orientation'
of women workers (A. Pollert, 1981). These concerns of women are not seen
as a sign of backwardness, but as a reflection of the fact that for women
`it is gender subordination which is primary, while capitalist exploitation
is secondary and derivative' (D. Elson & R. Pearson, 1981, p. 89).
N. Banerjee for instance points out that `the ideology of the superior
male worker' does not originate in the labour market, but rather arises
from the position men occupy in other areas where their dominance is guaranteed
by `powerful social institutions of the family, religion and the state'
(N. Banerjee, 1991: 307). However, such a formulation could result in focusing
only on social institutions outside the labour market, depicting women
workers as trapped within a vicious circle of `traditional patriarchy'.
Recent socialist feminist theory on women's employment has stressed
the importance of looking at all areas, i.e. the labour market, household,
and labour process as well as the state and other institutions as sites
for the construction and reconstruction of women's subordination. Cynthia
Cockburn has argued for the significance of the `socio-political
and the physical dimensions as constituting the material basis for
male domination'. A focus on these dimensions and on processes opens
up examination of:
questions about male organisation and solidarity, the part played
by institutions such as church, societies, unions and clubs for instance.
And the physical opens up questions of bodily physique and its extension
in technology, of buildings and clothes, space and movement.
(C. Cockburn, 1986, p. 96)
While these formulations have been useful, in the 1980s the notion of
dual identities was challenged further as the significance of race, caste
and ethnic differences in structuring the labour force as well as in being
a locus of consciousness was highlighted. It is no longer possible to use
the category `woman' without specifying distinctions such as race, caste,
ethnicity, and stage in the life cycle. In trying to accommodate these
differences, there has been a tendency to stress the primacy of one identity
over the other, or simply to add together gender, ethnicity and class as
parallel identities based on parallel systems of domination: patriarchy,
colonialism, racism and capitalism.
On the basis of research and discussions with women workers, we feel
that there are serious limitations in the priority as well as the additive
approachs. Further work in the area of consciousness would have to account
for the pluralistic expressions of feminism and consciousness on the basis
of multiple identities, rather than subsuming them under class or gender.
Feminist theorising on women's employment has to take on the challenge
of multiple identities and the deconstruction of the category `woman,'
articulated by black and third world feminists, as well as the analyses
presented by the corpus of theory referred to as poststructuralist feminism.
In pointing out the limitations of the concepts of `double and triple jeopardy'
(discrimination on the basis of race, sex and class) for assuming that
the relationship between various discriminations are merely additive, Deborah
King argues not for the simultaneity of several oppressions but for the
multiplicative relationships among them i.e that these are imbricated into
each other in interlocking and mutually determining ways (Deborah King,
1988). The capacity of black women to encompass mutually contradictory
positions and sets of attitudes also points to multiple and creative ways
whereby women have handled these multiple identities.
Poststructuralist feminism has addressed this issue by questioning unitary,
universal categories and has attempted to develop a theory of subjectivity.
De Lauretis highlights what she calls the `third moment' in feminist theory
1) a reconceptualisation of the subject as shifting and multiply organised
across variable axes of diffence; 2) a rethinking of the relationship between
forms of oppression and modes of formal understanding - of doing theory;
3) an emerging redefinition of marginality as location, of identity as
dis-identification; and 4) the hypothesis of self-displacement as the term
of a movement that is concurrently social and subjective, internal and
external, indeed political and personal.
(T. de Lauretis, 1990)
Although there are differences within poststructuralist feminist approaches,
the notion of identity as the locus of multiple and variable positions
which are historically grounded, the significance of the nexus 'language
/ subjectivity / consciousness' in the constitution of the subject, and
the recognition that the subject is defined not only in relation to the
polarities of masculinity and femininity, provide an important corrective
to the limitations of theoretical formulations elaborated earlier. This
approach also maintains a focus on agency, i.e. women and men are
seen as active subjects rather than as passive victims, a perspective developed
by social historians such as E.P. Thompson as well as A. Giddens.
There remain problems, however, in the formulations of some poststructuralist
feminists such as Teresa de Lauretis, in the recourse to pychoanalytic
approaches as explanations for the construction of gender identities. The
fundamental assumptions of psychoanalytic discourse about the acquisition
of gendered subjectivities and sexual difference lie in a almost inevitable
model of psycho-sexual development. The difficulty of transforming such
a realm, as well as its implicit universalism, is open to the well-established
criticisms against such approaches.
The post structuralist feminist perspective, whatever its other shortcomings,
does warn against a notion of essential women's consciouness as well as
the privileging of a particular definition of consciousness as the
feminist or non-feminist consciousness. The construction of ideal feminist/truly
feminist concerns and issues projected as universal, without articulation
of the location from which such a formulation is made, continues in contemporary
women's studies. For instance, a formulation which is widely used in women's
studies as well as in policy formulation today is the distinction Maxine
Molyneux introduced between practical gender interests and strategic gender
interests. This distinction is also based on a certain assumption of what
feminist consciousness should be, i.e. that it should be oriented towards
action on strategic gender issues. It has been pointed out that it is difficult
to make such a distinction in relation to issues (A. Whitehead, 1990).
A struggle around wages or water taps shifts power relations, and the
above-mentioned distinction leaves out the importance of the changes that
occur in any context of mobilisation and struggle. Here, the concepts of
agency and process are vital: the subject as actor, and the struggle itself,
are key components in these changing relations.
The use of `gender' to refer to what are specifically women's issues
(though differentiated by class, etc.) is confusing, since gender refers
to men as well. If it is implied that such issues are also in the interests
of men (as Molyneux in fact does), then it is necessary to distinguish
between short-term and long-term interests. In an immediate sense, many
of these issues (most of the ones included in the practical as well as
strategic interests categories in Molyneux's article) ensure men's interests,
and women's demands/organisation to change these will necessarily involve
confrontation and conflict. The conflation of gender with women in this
case completely negates the basis of women's subordination: a patriarchal
system implies that men benefit from the denial of women's interests.
Caroline Moser substitutes `needs' for `interests', arguing that this
separation is essential because:
of its focus on the process whereby an interest, defined as a `prioritized
concern' is translated into a need, defined as the `means by which concerns
(C. Moser, 1989, p. 1819, endnote)
A further distinction is developed by Kate Young (1988) between `strategic
gender interests and practical gender needs. She points out that the distinction
made by Molyneux differentiates theoretically deducible interests from
empirically verifiable wants or needs. She however find it more useful
to talk of practical needs and strategic gender interests.
The concept of `interests' is a contested concept, yet in all these
formulations the differing basis of the concept of interests and needs
in distinct theoretical approaches is not examined. The notion of interests
emerged historically and is located in the utilitarian view that society
consists of rational, economic men seeking to maximize their satisfactions.
Some feminists have rejected the use of interest theory on the grounds
...human beings are moved by more than interests. The reduction of
all human emotions to interests and interests to the rational search for
gain reduces the human community to an instrumental, arbitary, and deeply
unstable alliance, one which rests on the private desires of isolated individuals.
They argue for needs as an alternative to `interests' and `rights'. Others
such as Anna Jónasdóttir feel that a clearer, historically
located notion of interests which emphasises its form rather than
a particular content, could be useful for feminist analysis. The
concept of interests has consisted of two aspects: the form aspect which
is the `demand to be among' (from the Latin base), which implies the demand
for participation in and control over society's public affairs; and the
content aspect which concerns the substantive values put into effect and
distributed in relation to groups, needs, wishes and demands. In this sense
then, the notion of `interests' only emerges in a context where there is
not acceptance of authority as immutable, divinely ordained or natural.
(Irene Diamond and Nancy Hartsock, 'Beyond Interests in Politics...',
American Political Science Review 75(3), 1981, p. 719, cited in
A.G. Jónasdóttir, 1988, p. 45)
If the focus is on the formal aspect of interests, the content aspect
is kept open. Interests then could be seen as extending the conditions
of choice without presuming the content of the choices offered. Jónasdóttir
points out that discussions of content are better expressed by needs and
desires. However, she sees the use of `needs' in political analysis as
based on a view from above, i.e., it is the perspective of socially engaged
experts, of administrators, who design policies for weak groups who have
their needs met without `first having to overcome their weakness and fight
for their own positions of influence' (A.G. Jónasdóttir,
1985, p. 48).
Three crucial questions arise in discussing the application of the concept
of `interests' to women. Can one ascribe to women objective interests,
irrespective of their subjective consciousness? Do all women have common
interests, given class and other forms of differentiation? Do women and
men have different interests? Jónasdóttir puts forward the
proposition that given the pervasive mobilisation of women in history and
society against their oppression, it is possible to ascribe to them objective
interests. In spite of differences between women, there is agreement on
a `minimal common denominator' that all women share: an interest in not
`allowing themselves to be oppressed as women, or, in fighting patriarchy'
(1988, p. 38). She argues that women and men do have different interests,
due not to essentialist/biological differences, but to the sexual division
of labour which allocates different and hierarchical positions to them.
We feel that such a notion of women's interests, which is both theoretically
deduced as well as historically located, can be useful in examining women
workers' actions and strategies for organising. The focus on the form
aspect of `interests' does not impose any specific content on what ought
to be feminist interests, which is a problem in Molyneux's formulation
of strategic gender interests. Women's interests would therefore imply
extending the conditions for choices to be made about the sexual division
of labour, etc., without presuming what these choices have to be to qualify
for inclusion into a `feminist' agenda.
We outline a series of propositions which form a grid, a shifting of
lenses through which we examine and develop a further understanding of
women's work and consciousness, and strategies for organising.
1. The contradictory and historically specific impact of patriarchy,
colonialism and capitalism has resulted in a fragmentation and wide diversity
between women's experience. Both men and women workers possess multiple
identities. Identities refer to subject positions which are made available
and mobilised in specific historical contexts.
2. Identities are selectively mobilised in response to economic, social,
political and cultural processes. Identities are therefore constantly shifting,
not only historically, but also at a given point in time.
3. Identities involve the interplay of objective and subjective factors;
class, gender, caste, race, ethnicity, for example, therefore have both
a material and ideological existence.
4. Consciousness cannot be read off from objective positions. The expressions
of adaptation and resistance, overt and covert are the result of complex
processes (hidden and public scripts), which are constantly constructing
the subjectivity of actors in multiple subject positions.
5. Women's interests are represented and reflected at all empirical
and theoretical levels. Given the very nature of multiple identities, interests
vary with the nature of the broader persona, or grouping, seeking change.
Women's interests in this context represent the expansion of women's conditions
of choice. The conditions of choice will change, as the process of asserting
interests changes the subjects and the arena within which the protagonists
6. The separation of private and public, of factory and home, of personal
and political creates misleading dichotomies. Donna Haraway states:
If it was ever possible ideologically to characterize women's lives
by the distinction of public and private domains - suggested by images
of the division of working class life into factory and home, of bourgeois
life into market and home, and of gender existence into personal and political
realms - it is now a totally misleading ideology, even to show how both
terms of these dichotomies construct each other in practice and in theory.
I prefer a network ideological image, suggesting the profusion of spaces
and identities and the permeability of boundaries in the personal body
and in the body politic. (1991, p. 170)
7. The double burden of women's work is not necessarily an impediment
to organising; it can also be an impetus.
Multiple Identities, Multiple Sites of Struggle
Women, with their multiple positionings in the family, the home, the
workplace and the community, respond to the sometimes reinforcing, sometimes
contradictory pressures arising from these contexts. These disparate positions
are reflected in the nature, forms and categories of organising and struggle
in which they engage, in the extensiveness and necessarily comprehensive
nature of the terrain which they contest, and in the alliances which they
create. The wide-ranging issues, foci, and organisations associated with
the women's movement, for example, give a very partial picture of women's
mobilizing and organising, or of the extent of women's struggles, or of
the breadth of the areas in which women act. Many of the struggles are
carried out in the context of, or in alliance with, other groups with related
interests and demands.
The very process of conscientising, mobilizing, and organising inherent
in struggle undermines the power and intended certainties of dominant discourse,
and, as significantly, creates new perspectives for those engaged in confrontation.
Thus, the mobilisation itself and the creation of coalitions, and the character
of the organisations or categories involved, may act to modify or to transform
the very sites, forms and direction of struggle, with structural, organisational,
and individual effects.
While much organising is carried out independent of the state, the mobilising,
organising and positioning undertaken is eminently "political", in terms
of the political dimension being represented in all social practice (Laclau,
1985, p. 29); and in terms of the agendas and priorities regarding recognised
and contested relations of power symbolised and/or privately discussed
in homes and in gatherings among disaffected others, now gaining voice
and impetus in fora of action and/or confrontation. Equally, it is political
in terms of feminist theory linked to strategy, which recognises and forefronts
the pervasiveness of hegemonic patriarchal ideology and practice, historically
and specifically constructed. Within this ideology and practice, unequal
gender-based power relations are the norm. Action which addresses these
and associated structures and relations of inequality, and differential
access to resources, reflects, where it does not directly confront, the
structure and fabric of relations of power in society.
The varied nature of political cultures and processes, the development
of a culture of civil society, and the nature of the relation between the
state and civil society, necessarily affect the possibilities and forms
of response to specific issues (K. Young, 1988). The contexts in which
categories of women act, the bases on which they act, the issues which
they address, the alliances and linkages which they create, and the contradictions
and conflicts which arise, cannot be generalised. Differences among women
may militate against, but do not preclude, general unity. Alliances may
be created on the basis of affinity (D. Haraway, 1991; K. Young, 1988).
Affinity provides the scope for multiple and temporary alliances, and for
organising on numerous fronts.
The possibilities of women organising are predicated on the availability
and interaction of time, space and place. Time signifies not only time
available to meet and organise, but also time lacking, the constraints
of time, due to multiple obligations, which may prevent women from even
beginning to organise or participate in struggle, or which may galvanise
women into necessarily actively engaging in struggle, in a bid to reduce
the pressures of those conflicting obligations. Place is intended here
as primarily locational (the site of work, and/or struggle), while space
has a broader meaning, indicating the psychological and strategic creation
of, or perceived need for, room to manoeuvre, to negotiate, and to challenge
existing structures and controls.
Confronting Capital and the State
The constraints imposed by the double burden of domestic labour and
waged labour - or, in some countries, the "triple shift" of domestic labour,
waged labour, and party political activity - have had a profound impact
on women organising. But with regard to this double burden, triple shift,
and multiple obligations of women, we have demonstrated above, and we would
posit that the very multiplicity of roles and plethora of pressures may
provide both the impetus and the necessary networking and organisational
structures or base for women to organise.
The pressures of multiple forms of work may reinforce each other, with
the contradictory nature of these obligations ultimately precipitating
action and strengthening women's demands at the various work sites (Coulson,
Magas and Wainwright, 1982; P. Hunt, 1980). Conversely, workplace organising,
in terms of process (conscientisation, negotiation, incorporation in struggle,
re-examination and revision of demands, etc.) and outcome, can lead to
re-evaluation of other areas of labour and unequal power relations such
as the home, and to unequivocal demands for change.
The importance of the concatenation of women's multiple identities in
women organising, in organising women, and in creating coalitions with
other workers, and other categories of persons through alliances of affinity,
has been demonstrated in numerous contexts. In South Africa, organising
has been successfully carried out in relation to domestic service, the
waged occupation most recalcitrant to the improvement of labour conditions.
Here, through the growth and strength of community organisations, access
to and support from the union organising body, sections of the women's
movement, and the shared commitment and involvement of a large grouping
of women united also by race and class, action was undertaken to organise
and recognise the body of domestic workers.
Conflicting demands upon women, and the ideology buttressing the sexual
division of labour, have provided the basis for women's seeming incorporation
in the reserve army of labour, moving in and out of waged employment as
state and capital, working at times in conjunction, and at times in contradiction
to each other, have decreed. However, this movement has been contested
and resisted, with historical studies demonstrating that women's waged
labour did change in form and locus, but that women retained, wherever
possible, their stake and involvement in, and earnings from, waged labour.
Thus, for example, Rosie the Riveter may have been forced out of heavy
industry, but she moved into the office, the shop, the cafe.
The very structures and institutions which define the public/private
ideology, which has served to define and constrain women, are changing,
and being changed by women's actions. We have seen how women in developing
countries have responded to pressures created by changed economic conditions,
and have initiated or joined in actions at various levels to support themselves
and their kin, with family and neighbourhood ties and relationships necessarily
being modified in the process. Such changes may take very different forms
depending on production relations, nature of the state, etc. It has been
suggested that US women are becoming less "domestic" beings: fewer women
remain in conjugal families, or marry at all; neighbourhoods are dispersed;
and more women are engaged in waged labour (Alice Kessler-Harris and Karen
Sacks, 1987). "Family" concerns are then necessarily extended to a wider
framework. Kessler-Harris and Sacks note:
As women come to perceive "family" issues as social and public ones,
they move beyond the community to the national arena. ... with a corresponding
shift in locus from community struggle to workplace and state-centered
(1987, p. 81)
One sees a significant move to other levels and areas of struggle, and
from the privatised and localised arenas of the community and home, thus
also providing the context within which to broaden the struggle, and the
issues, as more persons are directly affected.
Analysts differ with regard to the effects of state intervention in
domestic matters. Jónasdóttir (1988) suggests that in states
with strong welfare provisions, changing state policy and increasing intervention
in domestic matters increase public consciousness concerning the possibility
of transformation of oppressive living conditions and domestic relations.
In this case, she finds that it is the state-led revision which precipitates
action among women to make further gains. Others find that that very intervention
provokes confrontation with the state, as public/private boundaries shift.
From dependence on individual men, women seemed to have shifted towards
dependence on the state. Given the cut-backs and dismantling of the welfare
state today, women are being forced to confront the state and engage in
party political actions. With the present massive changes in state ideology
and practice, and the move to free market economies in Eastern Europe and
elsewhere, women organise on new bases as they find long-held and assumed
rights affecting their bodies, their work, and all aspects of their lives,
swept away in waves of religious, ethnic, nationalist, and capitalist fervour.
Women have allied to question assumptions arising from the relations
between waged and domestic labour, and from the assumptions underlying
marital and domestic ideology, in order to assert alternative positions
in relation to the community and the state. For example, in a South Korean
case (Suh Myung Sun, 1985), issues regarding labour legislation, domestic
ideology, valuation of domestic labour, economic provisions for married
women, and the rights of the individual were raised and queried in the
context of an injury compensation case, fought to the highest level through
the support of a coalition of women's organisations. Perhaps the most striking
example of women's querying of and resistance to a hierarchical and oppressive
sexual division of labour was the national action taken in Iceland, with
the Women's Strike of October 24, 1975 (S. James, 1985; W. Hardadottir,
The building of alliances in relation to women's mobilising around issues
of labour is and has been of the utmost importance, although this is an
area where the establishment of allies has long been problematic. Historically,
there have often been uneasy, when not openly conflictual, relations between
women and men within the formal labour force, and the history of first
world trade unionism has not often exemplified worker solidarity in relation
to gender. Coalitions which have been created have sometimes worked around
formal union structures, rather than through them, and certainly even at
present, women workers may find more immediate (and useful) support through
women's organisations, the church, ethnic groups, civil rights groups,
etc., than through the labour structures, although this reflects also present
limitations set on union powers, as in free trade zones.
Women sometimes tend to straddle opposing camps in labour relations,
and indeed the growth of women workers' organisations, in-house unions
as a preferred organising strategy, and "active non-participation" in unions
reflects these considerations. However, the creation of coalitions is an
important and effective strategy for women workers; and of course certain
benefits extend throughout the coalition. These may not relate directly
to the workers or to the labour process, but rather to the changed consciousness
brought from the shared perspectives of the coalition, and the effects
The actions elaborated above have led women workers into direct confrontation
with capital, patriarchy, and the state. All the examples discussed demonstrate
the importance of coalescing strategies. By coalescing strategies,
we mean the formulation of demands which overcome divisions such as factory
and household, wage work and domestic labour, private and public.
The practical demonstration of coalescing strategies has occurred in
situations of economic, social and political crisis. However, even in `normal'
situations it should be possible to develop organisational strategies which
go beyond defensive reactions, and address multiple identities and their
multiple linkages. For instance, in relation to women workers in industry,
the following demands could break through the constructed divisions of
capitalist society, as well as the compartmentalisation of organisational
a demand to include domestic labour in minimum wage determination
would link together strategically household and factory, as well as the
interests of women and men workers;
a demand to redefine industry so that it would include the whole chain
of subcontracting in a particular industry, would therefore make it possible
to extend labour legislation to a wide range of casual work, including
home-based work and related work of rural women; and
a demand for compensation in relation to divorce, injury, etc., incorporating
proper recognition and valuation of domestic labour. This would link labour
law with family law, ensure greater financial, social and possibly physical
security for women, and be more effective than the notoriously elusive
Such demands are practical and therefore could be the basis for discussions
around these issues in unions, women's centres, and other organisations.
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