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Union Women

Forging Feminism in the United Steelworkers of America

2002
Author:

Mary Margaret Fonow

Union Women

How a feminist agenda took hold in a male-dominated union.

In Union Women Fonow uses statistical, archival, and ethnographic research methods to provide a broad historical account of women in the steel industry.

Social Movements, Protest, and Contention Series, volume 17

Union Women is an engaging and well-written book that relies on a rich foundation of archival evidence and interview data. It provides an original analysis of the transnational activism of the United Steelworkers union, and is a major contribution to the literatures in labor studies, social movements, and women's studies.

Karen Beckwith, author and coeditor of Women's Movements Facing the Reconfigured State

For more than a quarter century, steel mills in the United States and Canada have produced more than metal: they have produced a new kind of worker and union activist-"Women of Steel." In an era labeled postfeminist and postindustrial, women have created spaces in this quintessentially male-dominated workforce from which to mobilize for their rights as women and workers. In Union Women, Mary Margaret Fonow captures the stories of the women of the United Steelworkers. She focuses on a tenacious group who used their developing power in the union to challenge sex discrimination and to advocate for women’s rights, and applied their transnational resources to construct a feminist response to globalization and economic restructuring. In the process, they have transformed the organizations, resources, and networks of both the labor and women’s movements, and have in turn transformed themselves into feminists.

In Union Women Fonow uses statistical, archival, and ethnographic research methods to provide a broad historical account of women in the steel industry. Fonow’s sweeping approach allows her to examine several key issues in social movement, feminist, and political theory, and to show that insights from these fields shape each other. She explores how social movements are gendered, how working-class women develop a feminist consciousness, and how this process is informed by intersecting demands of race, class, and gender. As a comparative, cross-national study, Union Women also demonstrates how different political and social cultures affect women’s organizing and strategic decisions. Finally, Fonow emphasizes that economic restructuring and globalization pose immediate challenges for women as laborers and activists, and that, in order to survive, all unions must develop organizing and mobilization strategies informed by feminism and other social movements.


Union Women

Mary Margaret Fonow is associate professor of women’s studies at Ohio State University.

Union Women

Union Women is an engaging and well-written book that relies on a rich foundation of archival evidence and interview data. It provides an original analysis of the transnational activism of the United Steelworkers union, and is a major contribution to the literatures in labor studies, social movements, and women's studies.

Karen Beckwith, author and coeditor of Women's Movements Facing the Reconfigured State

Union Women is an impressive account that goes to the heart of grassroots activism in the United Steelworkers of America. Mary Margaret Fonow captures the personal perspectives of working women and reflects the growing vitality of the ‘Women of Steel’ movement.

Leo Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers of America

This boook is a fine, accessible and much-needed addition to the literature on women’s union activisim, and its focus on the emergences of union feminism in an occupation and union that have hisotrically been male dominated is especially welcome. I feel that this is a valuable book for feminist scholars of women’s work and union activism and for students interested in the importance and success of women’s labour struggles.

Resources for Feminist Research Documentation

Fonow’s account of Women of Steel demonstrates just how wide an array of strategies any social movement advocating positive change needs in order to achieve its ends.

Labour History

[Fonow’s] writing is sharp and exact, which makes he reading of the book as enjoyable as it is informative....our understanding of this very real world inhabited by women of steel is much enhanced through Fonow’s sensitive and sophisticated documentation of her subjects’ transformations as women, as workers, and as members of a global political economy and society.

British Journal of Industrial Relations

Union Women

Contents

Acknowledgments

1. Union Feminism, Social Movements, and Gender
2. Women in the Workshop of Vulcan: Gender and the Making of Steel
3. Bread, Roses, and Rights: Gender Equity and the Law
4. What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? Life on the Shop Floor
5. Mobilizing Women Steelworkers for Their Rights
6. Making Waves: The Calumet District 31 Women’s Caucus
7. Women of Steel Crossing the Border: Union Feminism in Canada
8. Building Feminist International Solidarity in the Age of Globalization
9. Forging Union Feminism and the Fight for Social Justice

Methodological Appendixes

A. The Study
B. Telephone Survey of Women of Steel Course Participants
C. Interview Guide for Activists

Notes
References

Index