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(72) Several distinctive patriarchal practices of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union can be isolated from the discussion on sexism and the domestic sphere. While these features of the union — union wives, anti-union women, and sexuality as a union tool — naturally overlap with the previous discussion, nevertheless they are sufficiently distinctive as to merit s eparate analysis.


(73) During the 1950s and early 1960s, the RWDSU viewed women primarily as wives who performed traditionally domestic reproductive tasks for their husbands. In 1954, Lynne Bortnick wrote in the ‘RWDSU RECORD’: “When a member of the RWDSU’s District 65 in New York comes to union headquarters for his monthly membership meeting, more often than not he’ll bring his wife and children and make a family night of it. While Dad attends his meeting, Mom and the kids spend the evening in the ’65’ Consumer Service, shopping for any of the 1,000 stocked items and saving an average of 30 per cent on their purchases.” FN_88

(74) In 1954, union wives and daughters served lunches and drinks at RWDSU’s merger convention. Luanna MacLachlan, wife of Canadian Director Tom MacLachlan, and Ruth Freeman, daughter of internatio nal representative John Freeman, were the “pretty purveyors of goodies.” FN_89

(75) During the 1950s, the labour press, as well as the mass media, experienced difficulty dealing with women who violated the traditional image of the union wife or the ‘pinup’ by becoming union of ficials.

(76) The ‘RWDSU RECORD’ reprinted an article, “Fifteen Men and a Girl”, from the ‘Toronto Telegramplamondon’ which wrote a piece on Huguette Plamondon, a member of the United Packinghouse Workers and pr esident of the Montreal Labour Council. In 1956, she reportedly became the first woman in Canada to achieve a national union executive position by becoming a vice-president of the newly-formed Canadian Labour Congress. Rather than treating her as any ot her male union executive, an attempt was made to fit her into a patriarchal sexual mould. She was described as “a comely woman vice-president”, “a pretty 30-year old brunette”, and “an attractive unionist…whose measurements are the classic 36-26-37.” E ven though the labour and mass media do not comment on how male union officials are dressed, she was described as wearing “a black dressmaker suit trimmed with velvet, a black and white pill box, a red carnation in her lapel and matching lipstick… . She looked very chic and feminine and French.” There was also an attempt to reconcile her apparent independence with the traditional image of the family woman. Thus, she stated that her father ” ‘…thinks I should do like my sister, get married and have children… . I look to marriage some day. It is a normal thing for a woman…”. In case the point was not lost, a ‘picture’ accompanying the article showed her, not with the other male executives of the CLC, but with the wife of Claude Jodoin, presiden t of the CLC. FN_90

(77) From 1963 onwards, but especially starting in the mid-1970s with the founding of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, RWDSU’s attitude toward union wives and union women had changed to one of militancy and independence; they were now portrayed as participating in consciousness-raising feminist union workshops, demonstrating and picke ting in strikes and rallies, singing ‘Bread and Roses’, and forming women’s union committees to fight for their rights. FN_91


(78) During the 1950s the RWDSU often portrayed women as anti-union. In 1954, it published a cartoon of “an old woman in a shoe” with her many children; they were described as “anti-union”, “scabs”, “chislers”, and “free loaders”. At the bottom of the shoe was written, “Right to Work Laws”, the name of the open shop anti-union campaign in the US. FN_92

(79) By the 1960s, women were more often portrayed as pro-union. In 1961, the RWDSU published the musings of a woman who crossed the picket line in two different strikes by the International Typog raphical Union. She gradually realized that she had been wrong, quit both jobs, and concluded: “I have learned a lesson and learned it the hard way. If I never join or become a member of any union, I still will never cross a picket line.” FN_93


(80) During the 1950s, the RWDSU often viewed union women as objects of male sexual pleasure in both ‘PASSIVE’ and ‘ACTIVE’ senses.


(81) The union had some difficulty reconciling on the one hand its image of women as union wives or anti-union strikebreakers, and on the other hand the reality of some activist pro-un ion women within its own ranks. It resolved this contradiction by portraying the activists as ‘passive’ objects available for male sexual pleasure, without using them in an active way to organize the unorganized.

(82) In 1955, RWDSU women at Bloomingdale’s Stamford department store in Connecticut, USA, went on strike. One of the strikers was Jeanette Fuller. The union published two photos of her – one in a bathing s uit that partially exposed her breasts, and the other of her wearing a picket sign in front of the store. The two pictures were accompanied by an article entitled, “Beauty on the Picket Line.” In the article, the male editorial staff of the RWDSU wrote:

“Hidden by the picket signs…are Jeanette Fuller’s qualifications for the title of ‘Miss Retail.’ But the photo above [in the bathing suit] proves that she’s definitely qualified as an entrant in the contest. She’s shown her qualifications as a union member too. One of the earliest and most active members enroled in District 65’s drive to organize Bloomingdale’s Stamford store, she and another member were fired by the company for union activity. Strike signs thereupon became standard attire for Jeanette, and she wears ’em six days a week on the picket line. But she found time somehow to get into her bathing suit and enter the competition for ‘Miss Retail’… . Aren’t you glad she did?” FN_94


(83) In a more ‘active’ sense, women were used as sexual objects to strengthen unions in three ways: organizing drives; union meetings; and, union negotiations with management.

a) Organizing Drives

(84) Women were used as objects for male sexual pleasure in union organizing drives. The RWDSU and other unions had reciprocal arrangements with the Screen Actors Guild. The unions used the photos of ‘beautiful’ actresses who were members of the Guild in the ir campaign to organize the unorganized; in return, the Guild received publicity for its members who wanted to increase attendance at movie houses.

(85) In 1957, the RWDSU published a photo of Marilyn Monro in a strip tease like uniform — with the caption: “Is Marilyn Monroe a New Secret Weapon in Organizing Workers? ‘If she won’t work without union pr otection, why should you?'” In an effort to sign up the unorganized, unions distributed photos of Marilyn Monroe and Diana Dores on handbills, along with the message that “if such lovely women recognize the need of union membership, then the unorganized would join up quickly.” One union organizer commented that ” ‘at least the ads with Marilyn have drawn a hell of a lot of attention. [These] pretty girl ads…are being distributed as an example of the advantages of unionization”. Another union official stated that “… at least the male members of our union like to look at nice, big pictures of beautiful women.’ ” FN_95

b) Union Meetings

(86) Women were used as sex objects to encourage the apathetic among the male rank and file to attend union meetings. The RWDSU published a ‘pinup’ of a woman on her back dressed in a bathing suit and very high-heeled black s hoes, and supporting herself by her elbows, kicking her legs high in the air. The insert read: “Attend your Union Meeting.” The caption below the photo: “UNION MAID: A delightful reminder to attend your next union meeting.” FN_96

c) Negotiations

(87) Women were idealized as objects of male sexual pleasure in collective bargaining negotiations with management. In an apparent approving attitude toward sexual harassment, the RWDSU published a cartoon of a blonde woman with a long dress, low-cut neckline, and partially exposed breasts, standing at a table. She was surrounded by five drooling male union officers leaning over the table. With saliva dripping from their mouths, they panted: “With Mary on our Negotiating Committee…, the Company doesn’t stand a chance.” FN_97


(88) From 1961 on, the RWDSU put a halt to the use of sexuality in these passive and active ways to strengthen the labour movement. This type of emergent feminism was weak because it did not involve an active resistance against these manifest ations. However, it did involve expressions of ‘strong union women’ symbolized by the Bread and Roses theme.

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