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Sisters and Solidarity: Women and Unions in Canada Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: May 30th, 2019

Overview

Julie White is the author of the book Sisters and Solidarity: Women and Unions in Canada. This book provides a vivid and well researched overview of the women’s position in the labour movement in Canada.

White studied the development of the labour movement over a long period of time and noted the influence that the women had on the labour movement. The book looks at both what the unions have negotiated with the employers and the position of the women within the union movement.

The author also studied and provides information about how women were represented in the unions by being part of the conventions, staff, committee and executives. She describes the women’s participation in the committees. In her study, she looked at how the unions responded to the society demands. Such demands included those of cases of harassment, responsibilities and the need for union education.

She also looked at the position of the marginalized groups such as the disabled people, the racial minorities and those who had different sexual orientation (gays and lesbians). The efforts of the unions and labour centrals towards meeting the needs of such workers were also discussed.

White also outlined some of the challenges that face the women in the ten leading occupations between the year 1891 and 1921 (White 7). This paper seeks to provide an analytical review of the book by White.

Subject and thesis of the book

The subject and thesis of the book is on women and the unions. The information is derived in Canada since the author examines the labour movement and the influence that the women have had on it. It provides the overview of the position taken by the women in the unions and how they influence the activities within it. The book also looks at the position of the minorities and marginalized groups in the union movement in Canada.

How well organized the book is

The book, Sisters and Solidarity, is well organized since it is divided into chapters, each uniquely touching on the issues discussed in the book in order to come up with a masterpiece. The first chapter of the book provides the general history of women and the unions. The second chapter in the book discusses some of the advantages associated with forming of unions for women.

This chapter of the book seemed to provide an update of her previous volume, Women and Unions. This book was published in 1980 – more than a decade ago. It was about the same subject but the author was trying to find out whether unions were appropriate for women. In the second chapter, the author provides an overview of what unions are and how they may be of value to the women.

The unions were important (benefits) in that the women who were part of it enjoyed better pays than those who had not joined. They also had greater control in the workplace due to their numbers (Yates 298).

Chapters three and four of the book provide information about the positions that were occupied by the women in the labour movement. The way they are represented in the management of the unions is also looked at.

Chapter five discusses on the women who are not members of the unions and looked at the way women were organized to form unions and alliances. Chapter six looks at the marginalized groups that include the disable people, gays, lesbians and the people discriminated against because of their race.

How well researched the book is

The book is well researched and this is seen in the way the author got the information. The author conducted research before providing her take on the issue of women and unions. First of all, White surveyed the development of the labour movement.

This way, she was able to understand how the women influenced the Canadian labour movement by increasing their participation in unions. This way, she was also able to know the roles played by the women within the union movement.

The author also conducted primary research which included conducting interviews. These were done with the labour centrals and the unions under study. It is through this research that the author was able to get information about the position of the women in the committee, staff and executives in the women unions.

White examined three case studies; the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. These showed how unionization of the home workers and cleaners was attempted. It also provided information about the labour relations legislation that had been introduced in Ontario.

The author uses both secondary sources and data from Labour Canada and Statistics Canada to do her analysis. With all these studies conducted by the author, the information provided in the book can be said to be based with pure facts.

Is the author biased?

The author also does not show biasness in her book. This is seen in the way she discusses mainly about the women but at the same time touches on other affected groups in the society. These groups include the disabled, those facing racial discrimination and those who have different sexual discrimination. The sexually discriminated individuals include both the gays and lesbians.

The author discuses on how the minorities were discriminated against due to their differences in race or sexual orientation. This means that she also looks at the affairs of the males in the society. It would have been biased if she, as a woman, only dwelled upon women issues and neglected the men.

The book’s importance to the study of Canadian working class history

The book provides relevant information to the study of Canadian working class history. It shows how the labour market has changed a lot for the women. For a long time, women were not allowed to be part of the labour unions but the study by White shows how the labour market changed and how the women slowly started understanding the importance of unions as they started joining them.

White argues that they were made to stay at home and did not work away from home for fear that their maternal development and roles would be affected negatively (White3-5). Their numbers have increased tremendously and the women constitute 46% of the labour force (Yates 297).

However, despite this increase in number, the women still held the low paying jobs and suffered harassment and discrimination at work. White argued that women were subjected to closer supervision and more severe penalties than the men (White 14-16). She even provides some examples. This was a great hindrance to their development since the hardly ever moved up the job hierarchy.

The women who held the same positions as the men received lower pay than the men. White also argues that the turnover was very high in many occupations. She spoke about this in a way to suggest that the women were mostly affected despite the figure she gives showing that the men were also affected (White 13).

According to Julie White the unions played the role of trying to mitigate those issues faced by women. By the mere fact that their numbers were increasing in the union, this would mean that they would have a greater voice and enhance their control. It was also meant to reduce the pay gap due to discrimination in (Yates 298).

Therefore, the author believed that the larger proportion of the women who had not yet joined unions should have made an effort to do so. White showed her appreciation when the policy of ‘equal pay for equal work’ was enforced in 1914 (White 33-34).

The book is also important in the study of Canadian working class history since it addresses two major questions addressed in chapters 3 and 4 respectively. The first is the question of how the role of women in the labor market influences and affects their participation in the labour movement. The second question was on the experience that women had inside the unions.

White tackled the first question by providing an analysis of the history and contemporary issues concerning the changes that occurred in the labour market. This was in terms of the change in participation of the women.

She looks at the evolution of the gender labour market. This shows how the women moved from working in discriminatory, low paid jobs to working in personal service jobs and finally taking administrative positions and positions in other recognizable sectors. The author pointed out three key barriers that hindered the success of the unionization of women.

One of them was the fact that the women took up most of the domestic responsibilities, which drained most of their energy and leaving too little energy for the women to successfully engage in unions.

The second barrier was the fact that the workplaces where women worked were characterized by being small as they segregated into small groups under authoritarian management. This affected their confidence in joining unions due to the intense pressure from the management. The last barrier was those related to legal issues. Some of the laws did not favor the women’s affairs in the unions.

White also examines the experiences that women had inside the unions and shows the benefits they reaped. She uses statistical data to conclude that unionized women enjoyed better pay and had more control in the workplace (benefits).

They also benefit in terms of increased pay and the employment equity laws ensure that they experience equity in terms representation. Specifically, the Employment Equity Act ensured that there was an increase in the representation of the minorities in employment.

Journal review

Yates acknowledges the work by White saying that she made a major contribution to the study of women and the unions (Yates 300). She provided a historical and contemporary analysis of the changing participation of women in the labour market. He also points out that the work is accessible to both trade unionists and university students and therefore, it is important to the study of Canadian working class history.

Neigh (a critique) criticized the book and said that since it contained few chapters, it could not be as detailed as he would have desired (Neigh 3). However, he acknowledges that the ideas brought about by the author in the book are worth thinking about.

Works Cited

Neigh, Scott. Review: Sister and Solidarity. A Canadian lefty in the land of King George, 9 Jun. 2007. Web. <scottneigh.blogspot.com/2007/06/review-sisters-and-solidarity.html/>.

White, Julie. Sisters and Solidarity: Women and unions in Canada. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, 1993. Print.

Yates, Charlotte. “Sisters and Solidarity.” Le Travail, (1998): 297-300. Print.

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