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(89) By the late 1960s and early 1970s, depending on the issue, there was a type of feminism emerging within the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. This can best be described as a mixture of ‘liberal feminism’ and ‘trade union feminism’; it combined a focus on trade union and wage issues with legal equality rights of women. This occurred four four reasons:

  1. the increasing proportion of women among the membership of the union and in activist roles;
  2. the increase in the number of women in the editorial offices of the ‘RWDSU RECORD’;
  3. the impact of second wave feminism in the 1960s; and,
  4. the establishment of the Coalition of Labour Union Women in 1974 which mobilized women across union organizations to push for greater representation of women at all levels of the labour movement.

(90) I will briefly outline the changed outlook in the RWDSU in terms of the double day of labour, wage work, and women’s union organizing.


Double Day Menu Graphic | Domestic Time Graphic


The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union supported three programmes in the parental care of children — wages for mothers, maternity leave, and universal day care. They were built on contradictory assumptions about the ‘ proper’ relationships of mothers to wage labour (double day of labour).


(92) The RWDSU appeared to support wages for mothers, a controversial programme with built-in gender biases. In 1969, the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ printed an article, entitled “Wages for Mothers: A Way to Fight Poverty”, by Dr. David Gill, a professor of Social Welfare at Brandeis University. He advocated that the state pay minimum wages to mothers while they care for children at home. Mothers who had to withdraw completely from the labour force to bear and rear children were to receive more than those able to work part-time or full-time in the labour force. Mothers with pre-school children were to be paid more than thos e with older children. FN_98 Because there was no mention in the article of men raising children, or being paid a minimum wage to withdraw their labour from the workforce to rear children, the author implicitly supported the traditional role of women bearing and raising children.


(93) From the 1950s to the 1980s, the union supported unpaid maternity leave for parents and the guarantee of a job at the end of their leave .

(94) In 1955, Campbell’s Soup in Chicago had a policy of laying off newly pregnant women without any assurance of a return to work after the birth of the child. Through RWDSU Local 194’s efforts, women were allowed to work until their sixth m onth of pregnancy, and could return to work six weeks after the birth of the child. FN_99

(95) In 1961, the RWDSU reported on the Fukuoka Municipal Workers’ Union in Japan which demanded in their contract a paternity leave for husbands so they could perform domestic labour while their wi ves were in hospital. FN_100

(96) In 1977, the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ reported on the efforts of other labour organizations, such as the United Steelworkers of America, United Electrical Workers, Communications Workers of America, a nd the AFL-CIO to lobby the US Congress “to prohibit employers from withholding disability pay in absences from work resulting from childbirth or complications of pregnancy.” FN_101

(97) In 1984, during the attempt to organize Eaton’s in Southwestern Ontario, RWDSU international representative Tom Collins, who eventually became the head of Local 1000 at the store, successful ly handled a grievance on behalf of a RWDSU member in London, Ontario, who was refused her old job back due to pregnancy. Collins managed to obtain for her $2,264.69 in compensation from General Bakeries. FN_102

(98) In 1987, the RWDSU supported a US Congressional Bill “that would provide workers of either sex the right to take unpaid time off to care for a new baby without losing their jobs or health ins urance coverage…”. The length of the parental leave was to be 18 weeks. FN_103


(99) The RWDSU supported a publicly-funded and universal-access day care system. As early as 1969, the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ printed an article decrying the lack of adequate day care spaces in the US. The author of the article, Mary Logan of the AFL-CIO Department of Social Security, called for a system of non-profit day-care for pre-schoolers and programs for older children to be paid by the US Federal Government. FN_104In 1973, the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ reported on a union day-care centre set up by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in Verona, Virginia. FN_105 In 1975 in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, Local 1199P of the RWDSU successfully organized the day-care workers who were dissatisfied with their low wages of $1.12 an hour. FN_106In 1977, RWDSU Vice-President Eleanor Tilson joined a day-care study tour to France, Israel, and Sweden sponsored by the Coalition of Labour Union Women. Impressed with what she saw, she returned to the US to press for the legislation of a universal access and publicly-funded system of day care centres. FN_107 In 1981, the RWDSU Canadian District Council passed a resolution supporting “…universal access to a system of publicly funded non-compulsory child care services.” It also suggested pressuring the government and developing educational programs in the union in this direction. FN_108 Speaking in favour of the resolution were Geri Sheedy, Carole Currie, and Tom Collins, all of whom were active in the Eaton’s campaign in Southwestern Ontario.


Wage Labour Menu Graphic | Wage Labour Time Graphic

(100) When wage labour is examined directly, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union began to move in a feminist direction in three respects — job discrimination, non-traditional work and pay equity. While this had its roots in the 1950s, much of the activity took place since the 1970s.


(101) There was a substantial change in the union’s attitude to gender job discrimination. During the 1950s and 1960s, there did not seem to be much consciousness or activ ity on this issue. In 1959, the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ printed a Barney Smokestack cartoon in which the boss complains about his employees who are not willing to work on a hot day; he exclaims: “What a bunch of ‘weak sisters’ I have working for me! A little hot weather never hurt anyone.. . .” FN_109 In 1963, the RWDSU reported on the forced retirement at age 32 of American Airline ‘stewardesses’. Opposition to this policy was aired, not on the basis of gender discrimination, but on the basis of age discrimin ation. In fact, the argument was made that ‘stewardesses’, like Holywood actresses (such as Ginger Rogers, Rosalind Russell, and Ingrid Bergman) retain their beauty in old age. Patriarchal attitudes towards sex, rather than being attacked directly, were being used to oppose the policy of forced retirement. FN_110 In the same year, RWDSU President Max Greenberg announced the union’s campaign against racial discrimination on the job, but was silent about gender discrimination. FN_111


(102) The union’s ambiguous position toward gender job discrimination began to change in the 1970s and 1980s. It started to oppose workplace gender discrimination, and the maintenance of gender barriers that prevented the entry of women into non-traditional male-dominated jobs. The RWDSU celebrated women who had successfully entered such non-traditional male-dominated jobs as tool and die setters, industrial painters, lead miners, autoworkers, truck drivers, machinists, tool designers, plumbers, and carpenters. FN_112 It became a strong supporter of employment equity for women and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment Act (ERA) in the United States. FN_113 In 1974, the RWDSU applied the same standard to its own operations by amending its constitution prohibiting ‘sex discrimination’ against any member of the union. FN_114


(103) After initially poking fun at pay equity with an “equal smoke for equal work cartoon”, beginning in the early 1960s, the RWDSU strongly supported equal pay for substantially similar work between women and men. FN_115

(104) In 1963, RWDSU Local 414, which received the original charter at Eaton’s, successfully negotiated higher wage increases for women than men at Dominion Stores in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario. Women received wage increases of $11 to $13 per week, while men received increases of $3 to $7. FN_116

(105) The International RWDSU lent strong support to the Equal Pay Bill that was passed in the US Congress in 1963. The principle in this bill was equal pay for substantially similar work. FN_117

(106) In the latter 1960s and early 1970s, the union incorporated equal pay for equal work in several collective agreements. FN_118

(107) After the RWDSU grieved on behalf of a woman in an equal pay complaint against a Pittsburg firm, the company was found guilty in court of discriminatory pay and sued the union for joint liability in the amount of $229,000. This money, plus the court costs involved in fighting the suit, led President Alvin Heaps to characterize this case as “a very substantial raid on the union’s treasury”, and persuaded the international RWDSU to approach equal pay cases more gingerly, FN_119 although it continued to pass convention resolutions in support of equal pay for equal work. FN_120

(108) In Canada, the RWDSU made a transition from supporting a weaker to a stronger form of pay equity. In 1972, in the context of the cheapening of wages by part-time work, the Canadian Distri ct Council passed a resolution supporting ‘equal pay for equal work’, which means equal pay for identical or substantially the same work. FN_121 It later swung its support behind a stronger version of pay equity – equal pay for work of equal value which means equal pay for substantially similar or dissimilar work. In 1981, the Canadian District Council p assed a resolution encouraging RWDSU locals to negotiate ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ in their collective agreements. Carol Currie, an organizer at Eaton’s, was one of the speakers supporting the resolution. FN_122


Trade Union Time

(109) Women in the RWDSU had always been active in organizing new workers and in strike participation. The number of strikes in which they staffed the picket lines are too numerous to mention. This had even received wide coverage in the corporate media. However, three factors affecting that participation changed between the 1950s and the 1980s.

  1. As women moved into elected and appointed positions in the RWDSU, their participation in the daily affairs of the union was increasingly from the position of some influence within the union.
  2. The 1980s saw the formation of several women’s committees. This allowed many women to speak with a more unified voice in the union on matters affecting all women.
  3. By the latter 1970s, the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ dropped the more overtly sexist connotations in its visual portrayal of women’s union participation. Women picketers were seen less as ‘sex objects’ and more as genderless workers.

(110) Readers of hypertext/hypermedia are empowered in exploring the depths of the contradictory co-existence of patriarchy and feminism. The complexities of this multi-coloured quilt remain largely opaque to the readers of conventional print journals; other than flipping pages back and forth, they cannot exercise much control over the viewing process. In contrast, electronic hypertext/ hypermedia empower viewers/readers to become controllers of their own thought processes as they engage in a n interactive dialogue with text, graphics, sound, animation and video (sound is available in the WINHELP version of this article but not in the present HTML version). Use of multiple sensory capacities deepens understandings in which the development of ideas is grounded in the materiality of advanced communications technology (at least for this era).

(111) The ideological system of the RWDSU was complex in the dialectical sense that it could simultaneously contain the contradictory principles of patriarchy and feminism. During the 1960s when union officials were promoting equal pay f or equal work, maternity leave, and day care, they continued to manifest patriarchal sexist conceptions of union women, or thought that women should stay at home to take care of children rather than working in the paid labour force. Part of the inconsis tency between simultaneously held patriarchal and feminist principles was rooted in the more rapid advances toward feminism made in the areas of wage work and sexuality than in domestic labour. During the 1960s, the union dropped many of its patriarchal attitudes toward sexuality, but continued to hold, well into the 1970s, patriarchal conceptions of the family wage and domestic labour. Simplistic linear evolutional models of societies and organizations lose much of their appeal when confronted by such closer socio-historical analyses of the contradictory transitions from multi-faceted patriarchal structures, practices, and ideologies to the beginnings of the emergence of feminism, primarily in its liberal face.

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