Patriarchal Bureaucracy

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(12) In order to provide a social structural context within which to understand the analysis of the graphical images to follow, it is first necessary to briefly indicate the power of women and men in the union by the relative positions they occupied. This will be done for the international union, followed by the union in Canada.

A. INTERNATIONAL (Patriarchal Bureaucracy)

(13) Throughout its history, the international RWDSU was dominated by male presidents – Irving M. Simon, Samuel Wolchok, Max Greenberg, and Alvin E. Heaps. These men were not elected, then defeated and re-elected. Rather, they held office for fairly long and uninterrupted terms. Wolchok was president for the 11 years between 1937 and 1948, Greenberg for the 21 years between 1954 and 1975, and Heaps for the 10 years between 1976 and 1986. FN_4 However, compared to Max Greenberg, Heaps’ stay in the president’s office was relatively shortlived – only ten years – cut short by an untimely death in September, 1986. This unexpected event suddenly propelled the first woman, RWDSU secretary-treasurer Lenore Miller, into the president’s office. FN_5 She had served a long apprentice and, because of her extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the union, was the only ‘logical’ choice to become president. She proved that she had ‘earned her spurs.’ During her 28 years on the RWDSU staff, she had been a local union Secretary Treasurer, Pension Plan Trustee, assistant to the president of the international RWDSU, a member of the international Executive Board, and international secretary treasurer since her appointment by Heaps in 1980. Miller was also a board member of the AFL CIO’s Food and Service Trades Department and Department of Professional Employees, and of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers. She had served as Secretary Treasurer and Chairperson of the Secretary Treasurer’s Conference of the AFL CIO, and on many committees of the AFL CIO. FN_6 Women who wanted to break through the male control of the RWDSU apparently had to integrate themselves into its patriarchal structure and ingratiate themselves to its male members, without challenging the sexist assumptions on which they held power. For example, in 1959, the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ published a `pin-up’ of Lenore Miller in a seductive pose, flowing hair, white bathing suit, and high heeled shoes, with the caption: “Pretty Lenore Miller urges: drive carefully on your vacation.” FN_7 By this time, she had already moved onto the staff that serviced the RWDSU international executive. In her new position as president in 1986, Miller milpres3-7346395was surrounded by a sea of men on both the Executive Board and General Council.

(14) Taking a long historical perspective, the proportion of women among the RWDSU membership at the international level (US and Canada combined) climbed from 15 per cent in 1952 to 40 per cent in 1974. Between 1954 and 1966, there were no women among its senior officers or on its International Executive Board, the highest decision-making body of the union. FN_8 In 1970, women constituted on average only six per cent of the committees of the International Convention. FN_9 There was some improvement in 1974 when women accounted for an average 24 per cent of the committees at the International Convention, although their underrepresentation continued. FN_10 In that year, there was only one woman in the 32 positions on the International Executive Board (a 3.1 per cent representation), and none among its senior officers and officials. FN_11 Several RWDSU women used such underrepresentation to push a resolution through at the union’s June, 1974, international convention, urging “more active roles for women at all levels of union leadership, including employment at full time positions within the union.” FN_12 In the floor debate on the resolution, speakers congratulated one another over the large number of women occupying leadership positions in their respective local organizations. Eleanor Tilson pointed out that women occupied 6 of the 12 full-time staff positions in her local, New York’s United Store Workers, and “over 75 per cent of our local officers and stewards are women”. Hank Anderson boasted that, at this convention, women comprised more than half of the delegates from his organization, the Chicago Joint Board. He added that “some of the best pickets on the picket lines are women, and some of the toughest pickets on that picket line are women. Usually when you want a job done on that picket line, or in the strike, you can feel sure it is going to be done where there is a woman handling a particular job.” Al Meloni proudly noted that women fill 8 of 10 positions in Philadelphia Local 1034 (of which he was president). While these statements struck a positive chord, Eleanor Tilson felt that she had to correct a misconception among the delegates that this was a resolution on ‘women’s lib’; rather, it was a resolution “on a very important segment of the trade union movement, trade union women.’ Although the resolution passed, delegates did not deal with women’s lack of representation at the highest reaches of the international RWDSU. FN_13 Under a 1973 agreement District 1199, the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (RWDSU’s largest division) was saddled with a reduced representation on the RWDSU Executive Board and General Council as a tradeoff for its privilege of being a semi autonomous unit that contributed only one quarter of the normal per capita dues to the international. FN_14 Given the fact that 1199 accounted for approximately 42 per cent of total RWDSU membership in 1974, and 70 to 80 per cent of 1199 consisted of women (mostly black and hispanic), the political power of a substantial proportion of women in the union had been seriously eroded. FN_15

(15) By 1978, even though women still constituted 40 per cent of the rank and file membership, their representation on RWDSU’s International Executive Board and General Council had increased only slightly to 8 per cent after the addition of two more women. FN_16 With few exceptions, throughout the 1970s RWDSU women who sought policy making positions in the labour movement had to go outside their own union. Several RWDSU women held leadership roles in the Coalition of Labour Union Women (CLUW) (the inter-union body pushing for women’s rights in the American labour movement), even though they were excluded from the highest offices of the RWDSU. FN_17 The RWDSU urged its women members to join CLUW, and supported its programme for organizing the unorganized and increasing job opportunities for women, but did not act on its demand for a substantial increase in women at its most senior positions. FN_18 During the 1970s, the union regularly carried news of CLUW activities in the ‘Record’, including involvement of its own women members; FN_19 this practice ended after the mid-1980s, even though other labour organizations still reported on CLUW, FN_20 and there does not appear to have been any more resolutions passed in support of CLUW. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, there developed a glaring contradiction between, on the one hand RWDSU women attending women’s trade union conferences devoted to feminist consciousness raising and discussions of employment inequities and ways of gaining greater access to trade union offices, and on the other hand the lack of access by RWDSU women to their own International Executive Board and General Council. FN_21

(16) In 1980 when the RWDSU secretary treasurer Frank Parker retired, the Executive Board appointed Lenore Miller, then vice president and Heaps’ administrative assistant, to replace him. President Alvin Heaps proudly announced that this appointment “…has put our union in the forefront of those organizations that are opening positions of leadership to women.” FN_22 However, the underrepresentation of women at the top persisted during the 1980s. Women constituted only 9 per cent of the International Executive Board elected for the 1982 6 term. At the 1982 International RWDSU Quadrennial Convention, the proportion of women on various bodies fell to an average of 16 per cent. FN_23 Instead of giving women substantial power by instituting affirmative action in its International Executive Board, the RWDSU made a symbolic gesture in 1983 by appointing Shirley Carr, then Executive Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress, as honourary vice president. FN_24 The RWDSU did not set up a women’s committee at the international level until 1986, long after many other unions had such committees in place. FN_25

B. Canada (Patriarchal Bureaucracy)

(17) The loss of the struggle by women in the US for affirmative action in the leadership of the international RWDSU was reproduced in * Canada partly through the appointment of the Canadian Director, and all of its international vice presidents, regional directors, and organizers by the international president, subject to the approval of the Executive Board and/or General Council in the US. FN_26 During the 1962 82 period, women never constituted more than 37 per cent of the RWDSU membership in Canada. FN_27 Their representation was much lower at the higher levels of the union hierarchy, although it increased at lower levels. In Canada, all of RWDSU’s international representatives (who numbered between 9 and 11 in any given year), as well as the Canadian and regional directors and most of the business agents, were men. FN_28 There was an under-representation of women attending the meetings of the Canadian District Council from RWDSU locals in Canada. In the early 1970s, women made up 32 per cent of all RWDSU members in Canada. In 1972, they comprised only 13 per cent of delegates and alternates attending the second Canadian District Council meeting. FN_29 By 1979, women made up 36 per cent of Canadian RWDSU union members, but only 17 per cent of the delegates attending the 1979 Canadian District Council meeting in Moncton, New Brunswick. FN_30 In 1981, women made up 37 per cent of all RWDSU union members in Canada, but only 11 per cent of the delegates attending the 1981 Canadian District Council meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba. FN_31

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