1940s Labor Feminism

World War II required companies to hire women because of the draft reducing the men available to work, and increased demand from the government. Women had jobs in industry before this, in areas like switchboard operation, but there was a significant increase because of WWII, so many women were working in industry for the first time. Women employed in this time were given severely reduced wages compared to men, on the order of 77 cents to each dollar in one example (Borden). Women appealed to several unions for the first time. The unions responded in a variety of ways, with the Teamsters union initially barring women from joining at all, while the UAW and FTA allowed women to join and began demanding equal wages (Vosko and Witwer). There seem to be little correlation between their field and support for women, even though at least the Teamsters cited the masculine character of commercial driving as inherent to the job and worthy of being preserved (Vosko and Witwer). Women in unions often found themselves improperly represented by said unions, having separate seniority lists and often having the local fail to support them in strikes to raise their wages (Borden). As time went on, women adopted strategies to gain support from unions. At least two locals in the Teamsters adopted incrementalism, using the existing grievance system to make small changes and prevent individual incidents of discrimination, assuming those changes would build over time (Vosko and Witwer). UAW Local 12 women did wildcat strikes against the union and their employer when their wages weren’t raised (Borden). Complaining to the government worked during the war because the War Labor Relations Board could enforce decisions on unions, like it did with the Teamsters in 1943 (Vosko and Winter). They had mixed success, in that unions didn’t always listen, and companies didn’t change much besides desegregating workspaces and not reserving roles for women and men. They did manage to integrate themselves into the leadership of the CIO in the immediate postwar era, but were unable to prevent a lot of women from being fired at the end of WWII.

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