Thursday, August 2

Union Workload - a barrier to women surviving labour-movement leadership?

Workaholism is deeply rooted in labour-movement culture.

While unions have successfully fought to reduce the work day and week for members, these same unions demand long hours of work from their leaders. These workload expectations assume that union leaders - elected, hired, and volunteer - are men who are always available and have no competing responsibilities or interests. For those who do not fit this male-leader model, becoming and remaining a leader in the union movement is impossible or onerous.


Keith Z-G said...

Umm . . . that argument seems tenuous at best, outright illogical at worst.

Anonymous said...

For the naysayers

Here is what women in the labour movement say are the barriers to participation in their union

These could include childcare, caring for a sick or elderly relative, housework,
general household planning etc. This works as an obstacle for women because
it is expected that women will do most, if not all, of this work. This takes a
great deal of time as well as physical and psychological energy.
If workers (women and men) are under the impression that activism and
leadership are men's domains, they are not likely to support or encourage
women activists or candidates. Women who share this view are less likely to
become activists or to run in the first place.
Sexual harassment emphasizes women's identity as sexual objects and can
leave women feeling powerless, isolated, vulnerable, afraid and incapable of
taking on leadership roles OJ getting involved in something.
Women who experience physical and/or verbal violence at home are rarely
allowed by their partners to have time for their own interests. As well, the selfesteem
of abused women has often been so damaged that even the thought of
taking on a leadership role or getting active IS unlikely for them.
Racism can leave women of colour, who are multiply oppressed in a
predominately white environment/societyfeeling very vulnerable, powerless and
isolated. It prevents women from joining together to support or elect
representatives who will pursue common goals.
Adapted from the PSAC and from the CLC Organizing and Bargaining for Women's Equality Course, 1999
For some immigrant women whose English or French is not as proficient to be
able to participate at union meetings in a meaningful manner can be frustrating.
At times, having an interpreter and 'having translated materials are a big help.
The language barrier can also be experienced by native born women for whom
the school system failed. Problems 'with literacy are some of the ~ost well
kept secrets among Canadians. Forty percent of Canadians have problems with
literacy. Another example of language barrier is the extensive use of union
jargons. For women who are getting active for the first time, it is quite a
, ,
daunting task to overcome.
The self-confidence level of activists gets tested- regularly, especially when
there is opposition to a course of action. Without reasonable amounts of selfconfidence
and self-esteem, it is difficult to imagine surviving the trials and
tribulations of activism and leadership.
FEAR ~ Fear of failure. Fear of challenging the status quo or "norms" and negative,
unsupportive reactions from friends, family, co-workers, community. This fear
presents a very big obstacle to women's involvement in becoming involved or
in running for leadership positions.
Women who feel they cannot speak well in front of groups or who think their
reading, writing or analytical skills are not good enough are unlikely to seek
positions where these skills'-seem to be necessary. Rather than understanding
literacy needs as simply being skills that need to be met, women are often
ashamed and may think of themselves as less capable then they really are.
Self-confidence suffers and they may never attempt activist or leadership roles.
Women who have childcare or other home-centred responsibilities are unlikely
to see how they can join a bargaining team that works 16 hour days and/or is
away from home for weeks or months of the year. Similarly, if local union
elected leaders routinely hold meetings and make decisions in bars or at
sporting events after workl many women will have a hard time imagining how
they can fit in.
LACK OF MONEY Women, particularly single support mothers, may not be able to afford the
additional childcare that seems to go with activist or leadership work. Or, they
may need to have more than one job just to make ends meet, making it
impossible to take on any additional activist or leadership responsibilities.
LACK OF SUPPORT SYSTEMS c;:' '~~,.,.- ,,.;,,',:
The idea that each woman has to be able to do everything on her own makes
it very difficult for women to be ~ctivists or leaders. The socialization of
women to compete with each other instead of'supporting one another is very
damaging when it comes to forming political systems or taking action. Think
about how women have been taught to compete with each other for jobs or
partners. The socialization of men to work together on teams results in big
rewards for them' at work, in the union, or in the political arena.
In some workplaces, the jobs women do are considered to be "support" jobs or
jobs of less importance than those done by men. Women in these workplaces
will have difficulty becoming recognized as activists or leaders because they,
personally, will be seen less capable than men who do the "real" work. Also,
there may be divisions between women who work in plants and women who
work in offices. ,
"Feminist" is often used as a negative description of women who work (and
have worked) hard for rights (exactly the same strategy is used by employers
and those with power to put down trade unionists). Those in power are most
successful when women internalize this berating of their efforts and agree that
being a feminist -strong and determined -is a bad thing. Women who are not
aware that this internalizing of oppression has happened will try to avoid any
behaviour that looks as if it might be judged "feminist" -including taking on
activist or leadership positions.
Women who break into new areas as activists and leaders often feel as if they
must represent all women in the world -every mistake (and these are
impossible to avoid as leaders) seems as if it ruins every other woman's
chances to be leaders in the future. This is especially true of women who are
multiply oppressed -women of colour! aboriginal women, women who are,
disabled and others -who are even less fairly represented in activist or
leadership positions than white women.
To the extent that women have been socialized to be passive and to see other
women as passive, they will not think of themselves or other women as having
activist or leadership potential. If women have been taught to understand that
it is men who act in the public sphere of political life while women's rightful
place is the private domain of the home, they are unlikely to envision
themselves as activists or leaders.
If women perceive th'atnurturing, sharing power and talking about feelings have
no place in activism or leadership, the;n those who value these qualities may not
want to risk losing what they consider to be the best of themselves. If
women's experiences with activism or leadership have taught them that
domination, power elites and the IIstar" system is what activism and leadership
are all about, then many women may feel they simply can't or won't get
involved. '.
For some people, an "accent" means that the person with accent is not
qualified or capable of being in a leadership position. This is a form of racism,
because the accents that seem to be most subject to negative stereotyping are
spoken by people of colour. .
The extra burdens women carry with family and household duties takes a toll
in terms ;of physical and psychological exhaustion and stress. Women who
already feel as if they have too much on their plates are unlikely to add yet
another demanding responsibility like leadership or being actively involved.
Women in organizations that do not take the specific actions needed to support
their involvement in activist or leadership positions are not likely to succeed, or
if they do succeed are not likely to stay for long in these positions. A good
example of this is where women have finally won non-traditional jobs after
years of trying, and then suddenly quit because the working atmosphere on a
day-to-day basis is simply too oppressive. The concrete support and emotional
climate of an organization is crucial.
Women who constantly see themseJves portrayed as sexual objects can be
negatively affected and lack the psychological/social reinforcement men receive
when thinking about taking on activist or leadership roles; Our imaginings
about what we can be are powerfully influenced by how we see o~rselves
portrayed in the media.
Lesbians, bisexual and transgender women may chose not to become active or
run for elected office in the first place because they fear being "exposed" and
sublected to the hatred of members. On the other hand, those who are "out"
about their sexuality and decide to run may have difficulty getting the support
of members because the culture of the workplace or union assumes that
ev~ryone is heterosexual. These kinds of attitudes don't make for a welcoming
and inclusive culture for these women.
Members who perceive women as too old or too young to be leaders or active
are acting with age discrimination. .This perpetuates a notion that there is a
"right" age for leadership.
In what ways do/could the politics of the local union operate to keep women
out or to keep wom,en powerless once they become active or are in positions
of leadership 7' Do some men in leadership positions support/promote only
women they know who won't challenge what they do or the way they do
things 7
Women who work and have families (especially children) often feel their
working hours already take them away from home too much. Many simply
won't consider taking on activist or leadership roles that keep them away even
more. For those who do become activists, guilt is an ever-present
psychological burden that weighs very heavily over time.
The attitude of many people towards women with a disability is one of pity and
condescension -the last things that are wanted or needed. Pity and
condescension do not inspire people to support someone for elected office, nor
do they inspire those with a disability to run or get involved. For a woman with
a disability the obstacles to activism and leadership are even greater than for
a man. ::;.
Taking on the responsibilities of activism and leadership are difficult enough for
women, but some have the added stress of dealing with partners who offer
neither psychological nor physical support. Some partners may resent a
woman's new opportunities and actively make things even more difficult at
home. For some women, the negative changes in relations at home simply
aren't worth it.
Believing the negative things oppressors say is a form of self-hatred that leads
to a strong identification with those oppressors. This can mean believing what
society "tells us" about women not being capable enough for leadership roles.
For some women, this can mean refusing to support other women as leaders.
Adapted from the PSAC and from the CLC Organizing and Bargaining for Women's Equality Course, 1999
opeiu 225