The Evolution of Women in the Workforce
Female class solidarity has always been tightly connected to women’s positions in the workforce. The first solidarity efforts among women occurred due to their treatment in the workforce, as these efforts helped improve their working conditions.
While female class solidarity may not be seen as necessary for modern women’s professional development in the workforce, it is essential for securing fair working conditions. Analyzing the evolution of female class solidarity in the workforce is imperative to benefit modern women in their professional lives.
Rejecting Unequal Treatment
Looking at the history of previous class solidarity efforts helped facilitate the formation of female class solidarity.
The first women’s caucuses were inspired by the caucuses first formed by blue-collar Black workers (MacLean). These caucuses enabled the working women to increase gender consciousness and band together to push Title VII to fruition (MacLean), and take actions to combat workplace discrimination.
In these caucuses, women rejected the expectations of low wages and the separation of men’s and women’s jobs in the first place (MacLean). By developing and strengthening their class solidarity, women were able to petition “sex-based salary inequities” (MacLean), resulting in more company accountability in creating equal opportunities for women.
New Opportunities From WWII
Even in the absence of official consciousness-raising groups like unions and caucuses, women have benefited from developing workplace female class solidarity.
World War II encouraged women to enter the workforce since men were off fighting the war. Jobs that were previously only available to men and required years of training, women started doing after only a few weeks of training.
By learning these new skills, women proved to themselves that they were capable of more than "unskilled" work, like being maids or dishwashers. Through these new job opportunities, they realized they could excel at jobs thought of previously as only for men and do so with less time in training—yet they still thrived in those positions. Even when working with computers, women directly helped the war effort by performing ballistic calculations (Erickson).
Furthermore, women in Top Secret Rosies created the field of programming by themselves to use the machines the engineers had invented and given to the women to learn how to use (Erickson).
Despite how many women were performing these ballistic calculations or programming the machines, in the publicity of their accomplishments, they were erased (Erickson). In reporting of the new ENIAC, there was little to no mention of the women who had programmed the computer itself (Erickson).
When developing modern-day female class solidarity, consideration of this event can guide current class efforts. Since being erased from their accomplishments has happened to women in the past, modern women being aware of this can make proactive efforts to combat their own erasure and to correct the erasure of women in the past.
"Since being erased from their accomplishments has happened to women in the past, modern women being aware of this can make proactive efforts to combat their own erasure and to correct the erasure of women in the past."
Due to the nature of many of the war jobs, women transitioned from being isolated, like working as a maid in someone’s home, to being surrounded by a team of workers. “Oh it was good to work with people,” steelworker Wanita Allen said in Connie Field’s documentary The Secret Life of Rosie the Riveter. “It’s something about that camaraderie that you really need on a job,” and many women had lacked that camaraderie in their previous pre-war occupations (Field).
The combination of working with other women and completing these technical jobs gave women more confidence and negotiating power in the workforce. Women realized the disparities between their treatment compared to men and among themselves due to race—for example, many black women were given the more dangerous jobs (Field).
The Danger of These New Positions
While these new experiences provided new opportunities, many of these jobs were perilous. Despite the safety ensured in the propaganda reels, some of the jobs the women had were rather deadly.
One of the mill workers in The Secret Life of Rosie the Riveter spoke of regularly seeing her coworkers getting injured or dying on the job. Class solidarity, especially in the form of unions, helped protect them from the dangers of the job, in addition to losing their jobs and unjust wages.
The Post-War Workforce
Between the wartime and postwar propaganda, the double standards society had for women were made very apparent.
During the war, propaganda was used to encourage women to join the workforce to help the war effort (Field). Propaganda immediately switched from encouraging women into skilled jobs to encouraging women to perform their national duty and leave their current jobs to allow work for the men returning from war (Field).
Despite women’s financial needs not changing, women were pushed out of their jobs (Field). The country no longer needed women in large numbers in the workforce and made many actions to remove them, pushing them back into the home or their isolated, domestic work from before the war. Propaganda made clear the “correct” action of women was to step down from their "temporary" jobs and that their "true" roles were to care for their homes and their husbands (Field).
However, women could not just forget the experiences they had gained during the war. Once her capability is proved to herself and her employer, a woman cannot just forget it and return to her isolating working positions from before. Even laid off, women cannot merely forget the skills they’ve learned or the camaraderie they’ve experienced in their war jobs.
Knowing History to Improve the Present and Future
The maintenance of female class solidarity is imperative for securing women’s positions in the workforce. Through solidarity efforts, women can make stronger demands for fairer wages and conditions.
It’s important to take note of past solidarity efforts to make modern efforts as efficient as possible. Like the first women’s caucuses learned from caucuses made by Black workers, women can also learn from their own past instead of trying to reinvent the wheel in modern class consciousness efforts.
- Connie Field. The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter. USA, 1980.
- Erickson, LeAnn, Kenneth Erickson, Sara Erickson, Sandy Kyrish, Cynthia Baughman, Charles Roberts, Kevin Hachenberg, Ben Semanoff, Haute P. Van, Patrick . Caumette, Doris B. Polsky, Jean Bartik, Joe Chapline, Marlyn W. Meltzer, Shirley B. Melvin, James Mickle, Edward Sage, Joan Bressler, and Nicole Shiner. Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II. , 2010.
- Maclean, Nancy. “The Hidden History of Affirmative Action: Working Women's Struggles in the 1970s and the Gender of Class.” Feminist Studies 25 (1999): 42.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Christina Garvis