|Feminism and Politics|
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As noted in Chapter 1, the resurgence of feminism in the latter half of this century has been characterized by the development of at least two wings of feminist organization. One wing, the autonomous feminists described in Chapter 2, has been more concerned with creating alternatives than with exerting political influence, particularly in Britain (Lovenduski 1986:63). The other wing has tended to emphasize rights and legal change and to operate within the decision-making process via traditional parties and unions or through a new set of lobbying-oriented interest groups. In this chapter, we explore two different approaches to legal and political change as manifested by British and American feminists, each constrained by the context of movement politics.
Despite the striking absence in British feminism of a counterpart to the dues-paying, mass-membership orientation
of American feminism represented by such organizations as NOW, one way contend that in the British political system, such mass-based feminist groups are not necessary or even desirable. It may be argued that the functional equivalent of liberal feminism exists in Britain because, as suggested in Chapter 1, British feminists have historically been organized and influential as pressure groups within existing institutions, namely political parties and trade unions. Despite concern about co-optation and ideological dilution by male-dominated structures, feminists, especially on the left, have sought to develop alliances with these institutions to further their political goals. Nonetheless, this chapter suggests that increased activism by feminists has not ended a pattern of women's participation in these institutions that has been marked by "marginalization" and isolation from power. We thus share the view that existing political structures give little priority to feminists' interests; rather than seeking to solidify feminist strength and advancing women's interests, they have aided in their dissipation and fragmentation (Rasmussen 1983a, 1983b).
We will examine the role of women within party organizations in three ways: the role of women's groups within the parties, the role of women within the party hierarchy, and the party's approach to promoting women as candidates for political office. Underlying this chapter's perspective is the view that as Britain is becoming a more administrative state, the importance of feminist influence within groups whose major impact is on the legislative process may, in any case, be seriously debated.
Although women compose at least half the membership of the Labour and Conservative parties (Hills 
estimates a female membership of 40 percent in the former and over 50 percent in the latter), their role within party structures appears to be circumscribed. Women in parties and unions are organized into separate advisory groups having few powers and little ability to gain acceptance for resolutions they have passed. In addition, they are limited to reserved or set-aside seats on key decision-making bodies. In the main, the more significant a policy-making body is, the fewer women it has on it. Somewhat surprisingly, the Labour Party (founded in 1906), though closer to feminists on some policy issues and in ideological terms, has had no better a record on representation and power sharing than its Conservative opposition. Women are poorly represented within the party's annual conference (11 percent in 1980) and are allotted five seats of 29 on the party's National Executive Committee (NEC), the dominant administrative and policy-making body (Hills 1981:17; Randall 1982:75). (Since 1960 only two women have been selected for the NEC by the constituencyor localsection of the party; none have been elected by the trade unions.) The principle of setting aside women's places on executive bodies is a well-established one in parties and unions, as we shall see. Because trade unions are dominant in the Labour Party and unions cast their vote in block fashion, in practice the set-aside women's seats are union controlled (Hills 1981). Hence, most women selected for the NEC are not independent feminists.
The Women's Section of the Labour Party is constituency based. Like other women's groups in similar institutions, it holds annual meetings and passes resolutions (interview, Gould, July 1982). Resolutions are forwarded to the NEC, which may or may not choose to
consider them. (A National Labour Women's Advisory Committee acts as a liaison with the NEC.) In essence; then, the women's organization is powerless to affect policy and has no direct representation at the party's annual conference.
Unlike the Conservative Party, the Labour Party is a confederal organization, with a vast array of women's groups (as well as countless other political factions). In recent years, women's Labour groups have grown and proliferatedfrom the Women's Action Committee (WAC), associated with the far-left Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), to a Women's Rights Study group established with M.P. Jo Richardson as chair. A group called Fightback for Women's Rights is active at the party's fringes. It has been especially vigorous in pressing for more channels to the Labour Party hierarchyadvocating that five resolutions be sent to the party's annual conference by the Women's Section and that women members be elected to the NEC directly by the Women's Conference. Fightback and WAC both espouse an end to all-male parliamentary shortlists (lists of candidates for final consideration). A Woman's Charter has been developed and promoted by WAC.
A measure of the expanded interest in women's activities was the upsurge in the number of women's delegatesfrom 320 in 1980 to 650 in 1981at the annual Women's Conference. This increase indicated an intensified resolve to use the conference as a forum from which to articulate concerns and press demands on the party hierarchy. In recent years, there has been growing evidence of serious debate on key feminist issues (Perrigo 1985:142). At the 1982 party conference, party feminists sought to establish a more significant policy-making role. Their resolutions (thus far unheeded by the
party) called for the right both to elect the women members of the NEC directly and to send to the conference five resolutions that would be automatically considered. Surprisingly, the Women's Conference defeated an effort to make selection of women on candidate shortlists mandatory (Perrigo 1985:143; Vallance 1984:301).
The Labour Party hierarchy has responded to feminist pressure by appointing a national women's officer and, more recently, designating a shadow minister for women's affairs (with no counterpart in the present government), formerly M.P. Joan Lestor and now M.P. Jo Richardson. A women's subcommittee of the NEC has been created to formulate policy on women's issues. Its members are also members of a National Women's Committee elected by women at regional conferences around the country, thus providing a direct link between the NEC and grass-roots women. A National Women's Charter drawn up by the NEC in 1982 calls for greater women's representation at all party levels and for day-care services for women attending all party meetings (Perrigo 1985:143). Joyce Gould, the national women's officer, has sought to promote more female candidacies for office. As of the mid-1980s, the NEC recommended, though it did not mandate, at least one woman on each shortlist. Constituency parties were permitted to establish women's sections without prior approval from the party hierarchy (Coote and Campbell 1987:148).
The extent of feminist participation within the Labour Party is impressive and often channels socialist feminist energy into party activities, but because of the party's disarray at present, any victory may be a pyrrhic one. In addition, there is some suspicion that several groups seeking dominance within the party may be using the feminist issue to build their own power basewith little actual regard for feminist concerns.
And although the Labour Party committed itself (in its 1983 manifesto) to supporting abortion and contraception rights, measures against rape and wife battering, and equal pay for work of equal value, and to ending job segregation, promoting positive action, and strengthening the Sex Discrimination Act, it has yet to make these policies central campaign issues (Vallance 1984). Rather, as with women in general, such policies are isolated as women's issues and even treated as ethical matters on which M.P.'s need not be bound to party policy. Hence, it may be premature to contend that British women are emerging from a decade of isolation and an exclusive grass-roots focus to help unite the left and the Labour Party (Jenson 1982:343). In fact, though the party's feminist activity in recent years has expanded, it is not a new development. Nor is it clear that, at national-level party politics, major claims for feminist influence are supported by the evidence.
In the Conservative Party, women's participation in local politics is significant (perhaps 50 percent of constituency party chairs are women) but has not altered the pattern of "marginalization" we have suggested. While women are better represented at the party's annual conference (38 percent of the delegates were women in 197778), this body lacks the policy-making powers of its Labour Party counterpart (Randall 1982:74; Hills 1978:4, 8). Women constitute about 20 percent of the membership of the Executive Committee of the National Union, which is the highest point in the party hierarchy, although its policy-making and administrative powers are limited by the primacy of parliamentary leadership, consigning it to more of an advisory role. As of 1982, 50 of the 200 members were women, 19 of these being in statutory or mandated seats (European Union of Women 1982). At least one analyst (Hills 1978:6) has
contended that although Conservative women are better represented than their Labour sisters, they have only limited impact at party conferences because they are not very vocal.
As in the Labour Party, there is a women's national advisory organization with its own annual conference, now called the Conservative Women's National Committee. This committee often discusses women's issues in the guise of such concerns as education (interview, Hooper, July 1982). Another group affiliated with the Conservative Party, the British section of the European Union of Women, is active on behalf of women's issues as well and was instrumental in stopping cuts in Social Security proposed by the Thatcher government (Rogers 1983:34). This group has pressed for a party rule to include at least one woman candidate on shortlists and for mandated interviews of women by candidate selection committees. It also recommended in 1982 that women's groups within the party undertake candidate education and training.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's leading political role in the party has not altered the position of women in her party at all. She has consciously distanced herself from women's interests and has neither appointed other women to key positions (with the exception of Baroness Young, who spent a brief time as Lord Privy Seal) nor advanced policies of concern to women. (A vice chair, Emma Nicholson, charged with encouraging more women to join the party and Parliament, was appointed after the 1979 election [Vallance 1984:302]). Although Thatcher's campaign in 1979 stressed her image as a housewife and mother, she has made it clear that she does not view women's issues as a cause for concern (Rogers 1983:171). (In 1986, however, Thatcher announced
that women must be shortlisted for all public appointments and that an explanation must be provided for failure to comply [Economist , Nov. 1, 1986:53]). Thatcher has openly suggested that women with children should leave the labor force, and her government has steadily reduced nursery and child-care provisions, maternity and child-care benefits, and women's work rights (Rogers 1983:161). It is difficult to disagree with Richard Rose (1986:159), who has written that of the four women in the British cabinet from 1964 to 1969 (Thatcher, Barbara Castle, Judith Hart, and Shirley Williams), in no instance was their political stature derived from their sex or from their expression of feminist views. Both Thatcher's critics and supporters see her sex as largely irrelevant and her political views as significant. As the only woman in her cabinet, Margaret Thatcher demonstrates that high positions for women are an exception (Rose 1986:160). Nonetheless, Thatcher is assessed favorably for leadership qualities, for standing up for Britain, for ability to communicate, and for crisis management, suggesting that as a role model her position may augur well for future women in British politics (Butler and Kavanaugh 1984:296). However, as an indication that many women find Thatcher's policies wanting and may tend to reject them, the 1983 election saw a move toward the Alliancethe Social Democrat-Liberal partnershipand away from the major parties among women voters (ibid., 296; Rogers 1983:159).
Finally, with regard to candidates standing for election, women have continually been underrepresented in both major parties. They have also been consistently underselected by constituencies; even when they are chosen, they are selected disproportionately for unwinnable or marginal seats (Vallance 1984:304; Hills 1978).
Although in 1983, for the first time over 10 percent of the party's candidates were female, a third higher than in 1979, it has been argued that with regard to selection women are worse off today than they were a century ago (Rasmussen 1983b:309). As of 1983, only 3.5 percent of M.P.'s were women, in contrast to 5.1 percent of representatives in the U.S. Congress (Sainsbury 1985:4). By 1987, however, partially reflecting the effort by parties to reach out to women voters in a hard-fought campaign, over 6 percent of the M.P.'s selected were women.[*]
In the Labour Party the "A" list is union-dominated. In 1972, two of 100 candidates nominated were women; in 1977, three of 103 (Hills 1978); and in 1983, seven of 153 (or 4.5 percent) (Hills 1978; Vallance 1984:306). The TUC's increasing sympathy for women's concerns (to be discussed later) may aid in the future expansion of women's role in the Labour Party, but there is little evidence that much change has occurred as yet. The limited support extended by unions to women denies them the crucial access to monetary and other resources enjoyed by men. In 1982, Labour with 11 women M.P.'s had just 25 women on a list of 250 candidates (Guardian , April 16, 1982). By 1983, Labour had increased its female representation on candidate lists to 15 percent, resulting in 12.5 percent female candidates, of whom just 10 (of the 78 who ran) were elected (Vallance 1984). As of 1987, of 85, or 16 percent, female candidates nominated, 21 were elected.
In 1982 the Conservative Party had just eight women M.P.'s (of whom one was the prime minister). In the past, according to Hills (1978:1214), the Conservative Party may have attracted more women candidates than the
Labour Party (perhaps more a function of class than party policy), but that did not seem to be the case in 1982. A centralized party office keeps a list of approved candidates. In 1982, of 600 names on the list, only 10 percent were women (down from 15 percent in 1977) (Guardian , July 18, 1982). The Conservatives shortlisted 10 percent female candidates, with 6.3 percent (or 40) selected, resulting in an increase to 13 female M.P.'s (Vallance 1984). In 1987 the party nominated 36 women, or 7 percent (a continued decrease), with 17 being elected.
The new Social Democratic Party (SDP) has recruited women discontented with the other parties' attitudes and practices, and its National Steering Committee has adopted two of three women-sponsored resolutions. These resolutions mandate that women be included on every shortlist (at least two of nine candidates) and that four of the eight members on the party's National Steering Committee be women. A mail ballot to party members resulted in the defeat (by 57 percent of the voters) of a resolution requiring equal representation by sex to the party's central decision-making body, the Council for Social Democracy (interview, Toynbee, July 1982). Despite this defeat, the SDP has gone a bit further than its better-established partisan colleagues in meeting some feminist demands for sharing power and issue concerns. Together with the Liberals, the SDP has disseminated endorsements of far-reaching policy changes related to women, including better child care provisions, strengthening of antidiscrimination legislation, parental leave, and rights for part-time workers (Coote and Campbell 1987:149). The SDP and its Alliance partner, the Liberals, also sought to increase female representation in 1982. The SDP nominated 17 percent women to its shortlists, resulting in 14.4 percent female
candidates, of whom, however, none won (Vallance 1984)! In 1986 the Alliance nominated 100 women (SDP, 20 percent; Liberals, 13 percent), although only two were elected. The Alliance and the Labour Party, apparently competing for the women's vote, thus nominated increasing numbers of women. The SDP threat (supported by pre-election surveys), though not yet translated into electoral power, may have galvanized Labour in particular to adopt a more "feminist" perspective in the most recent election.
Each party seems to be firmly committed to the continuation of separate women's committees. These committees are endorsed by feminists as an important forum through which demands may be articulated and attention focused on women's issues. In each case, feminist party activists would like to see women's groups play a stronger consultative role. Dahlerup and Gulli (1985:19) have suggested that separate women's organizations within parties have five purposes: 1) to get women to support the party, 2) to recruit women members to the party, 3) to activate women and train them for top party posts, 4) to influence party policy, and 5) to create linkages to women in other groups. Apparently few, if any, of these aims have been achieved by women's organizations in British parties. In Chapter 5, we will examine the degree to which separate Swedish women's organizations within four of the five major parties have affected nominations, party policy, and recruitment to leadership roles.
It seems that only limited benefits have accrued to British women as a result of separatist organization in parties. In 1973 the merits of retaining a separate women's
conference were debated at the Labour Party Conference meeting, and its continued existence was endorsed as a mechanism to provide encouragement and training for female activists, as well as to promote solidarity (Holland 1984:6263). However, women remain underrepresented in policy-making and leadership roles at all levels. In any event, parties appear to provide less of a link to policy-making in a system, such as the British one, increasingly controlled by bureaucratic functionaries. In addition, the hierarchical, mass-based structure of party groups in the United Kingdom is antithetical to the ideals of women's liberation, and so the relationship between many women and party activism is at best ambivalent.
While women in parties have called for mandated positive action with regard to candidate selectionas most obstacles to women's selection appear to exist at the local levellittle change has occurred. In response to pressure, the parties have moved toward expressions of greater concern for the nomination of women, but they have not insisted on equality of representation in the final selection process or in any other aspect of party politics. The ability of the 300 Group to attract over 1,500 women to training sessions for political activism points to the continuing gap between rhetoric and reality in much of British party politics. As an all-party group that defies traditional British political dictates, its endurance and continuing appeal say a great deal.
Political parties are less central to the political process in the United States than in Britain, and feminist interest groups such as the NWPC, NOW, and other groups
have played an important role in recruiting women for political office, providing training and some campaign support, and actively campaigning for key political issues such as abortion rights and the ERA. In the United States, the tradition of separate women's groups and the principle of numerical reservation of seats for women in the party hierarchy within the parties have largely been viewed as anachronistic. However, in the Democratic Party, women moved to mandate equal representation of male and female convention delegates via the 1972 McGovern-Fraser guidelines. The 1972 Democratic Convention had 40 percent female delegates, while the Republican Convention had 30 percent (up from 17 percent in 1968). Since then, women's task forces in both parties have pressed for women's concerns within the parties and the provision of some funding and training for women candidates (Mandel 1982:21113). After the numbers of women delegates to conventions fell somewhat in 1976, the Democratic Party in 197880 moved to equalize convention representation by men and women and to provide support for such key feminist concerns as the ERA, election of more women to state and local offices, and even abortion rights. At the same time, the Reaganite Republican Party moved further to the right and away from commitment to feminist concerns. Nonetheless, in 1984, 48 percent of Republican delegates were women, as were about half of the Democratic delegates (Freeman 1987:236), an apparent response in both parties to Democratic-inspired rules reforms.
The increasing significance of feminist interest groups in the Democratic Party has been particularly striking during the past decade. Jo Freeman has pointed to the different political cultures that dominate the Republican
and Democratic parties. In the Republican Party, power flows from the top down and delegates' relationship to party leaders and loyalty to the party itself tend to be significant. In contrast, in the Democratic Party, constituencies are seen as the party's building blocks, and power flows from the bottom up (ibid., 232). These cultural distinctions help explain the important role feminist groups have been able to gain in the Democratic Party. In the Republican Party a Woman's Division was created in 1983, joining the (virtually defunct) National Federation of Republican Women, but its major functions were to mobilize, recruit, and publicize party accomplishments rather than to work as an advocacy group within the party. In fact, in the Republican Party, feminists are viewed as having competing loyalties and have been eliminated from leadership and administrative roles (ibid., 23542). Instead, right-winger Phyllis Schlafly has become the major policy arbiter on women's issues.
In the Democratic Party, because of the different structure and mechanism for representation, feminist groups came to have a major role. Building initially on the turmoil surrounding the 1968 convention, which opened the Democratic Party to reform, feminists gained one vice chair for their ranks (one each also went to blacks and Hispanics) (ibid.). In 1976, disturbed by the falloff in female representation, feminist groups, especially the NWPC, together with the Women's Caucus of the Democratic National Committee and NOW, fought for a 50-50 rule guaranteeing equal representation to women and men. The Carter campaign, initially hostile to this idea, eventually acquiesced. Apparently Carter operatives felt that their refusal to support these feminist concerns would lead to a pro-Kennedy move. By 1980, over 20
percent of the Democratic delegates were members of NOW or of the NWPC (ibid., 230). They gained support for a proposal to deny Democratic Party funds to any candidate who did not support the ERA. NARAL, like the NWPC, had its own floor operation and lobbied successfully for the addition of another minority plank to the platformone supporting government funding for abortions for poor women (ibid.).
Therefore, by 1984, feminists had demonstrated their political clout. NOW met with five of the Democratic presidential candidates and pressed them on their support for women's issues, female appointments, and willingness to select a female vice presidential candidate. NOW Vice President Mary Jane Collins was appointed to the platform-drafting committee and given the leading role on matters of concern to NOW (Freeman 1985). A coalition of women's groups presented a list of acceptable female vice presidential candidates to Walter Mondale (who had earlier received the endorsement of NOW and later got that of NWPC and NARAL as well). After the nomination of Geraldine Ferraro, a committed feminist, the feminist coalition had little to do at the convention itself.
At the time of this writing, it is not clear how Republican (and some Democratic) efforts to label feminism as an electoral liabilitybecause of its identification as a "special interest" and because of the failure to deliver a "gender gap" vote on behalf of Ferrarowill affect feminist access to power at future Democratic Party conventions (Freeman1987:242).
Despite real gains in representation and support for women's issues (at least in the contemporary Democratic Party), the role of convention politics in the American policy-making process is limited and marginal at
best. In addition, numerous (if not most) women seeking political office at all levels in the United States have by-passed traditional centers of candidate support and sought other routes to elective and appointive office. This contention is confirmed by a recent study of female candidates appointed to political office in state government: party-related factors were important for less than a third, with only 15 percent indicating that efforts by state and national party leaders had been very important (Carroll 1984:102). Younger women perceived party leaders as having played virtually no role in their appointments and, in contrast to some of their older female colleagues, had almost no history of party activism or campaign activity (ibid., 103). Crucial to women candidates is a network of women's political organizations, which provide financial aid, research and information, and financial campaign assistance, and generally encourage women's active participation in the political process. Especially prominent in this regard are the Women's Campaign Fund (WCF) and NWPC (Bomafede 1986:2178).
In the United States, once a candidate is elected to political office, partisanship is only one influence that defines his or her political behavior. In Britain, only the 300 Group, an all-party organization that trains and recruits women who wish to run for political office, is analogous to the American model (especially the NWPC).
In the United Kingdom it can no longer be claimed that the women's vote is more "conservative" than men's nor that women are more conservative in their political attitudes, but neither can it be claimed that they are more left-wing. To the degree that a "gender gap" is emerging in Britain it does not represent the result of a feminist organizing effort. What it does seem to represent
is a slight movement away from the two major parties, neither of which has met feminist aspirations effectively (Norris :13; Edgell and Duke 1983:35776; Rogers 1983:159).
In the United States, what had appeared to be a significant "gender gap" in 1980, involving female rejection of Reaganite social policy and, in particular, opposition to defense spending and support for domestic spending, was reduced in 1984 to 8 percent in the presidential race, although still providing evidence that fewer women supported Reagan (Light and Lake 1985:105). Nonetheless, despite the feminist movement's role in gaining a place for Ferraro on the ticket and efforts to mobilize against Reaganite conservatism, at the national level this strategy was not effective in attracting a majority of women voters. Feminist efforts in congressional elections and the women's vote at state and local levels in 1984 and 1986 resulted in greater evidence for the existence of a gender gap.
An early link between trade unions and the "new feminism" was evident in Britain in the 1970s. The NCCL held a conference in 1974 that brought together some 550 representatives of women's groups and labor, which was followed by the London Trade's Council's issuance of a ten-point Working Women's Charter drawn up by Communist Party feminists (Coote and Campbell 1987:56). Nonetheless, what appeared to be a promising relationship has not developed into a set of positive, concrete developments for feminist activists. In contrast to the United States, where about 15 percent of women are union members (fewer than 20 percent of all workers
are unionized) and women compose about 30 percent of union membership, in Britain about 31 percent of women are union members and they account for about 40 percent of union membership (fewer than 50 percent of all workers are unionized) (Milkman 1985:300; Ellis 1981; Equal Opportunities Commission 1983a:11). Swedish women, reflecting the national trends, are among the most highly unionized in the world, despite their extensive part-time status.
In Britain, as well as the United States, the number of women unionizing has increased dramatically in the last decade. Of 12 million British TUC members in 1980, about 4 million were women (TUC 1982). Female union membership increased from 1961 to 1980 by 111 percent, while male membership increased by only 17.6 percent (Coote and Campbell 1987).
While many socialist and nonaligned feminists have organized autonomously in their local communities and sought to develop specific feminist projects and activitiesshelters for battered women, day-care facilities, self-help clinics, and the likeother socialist feminists have sought to forge links with trade unions in order to reach out to working-class women. Nonetheless, because of the largely middle-class composition of the movement, the separatist ideas that some union women find abhorrent, and the lack of time that plagues many working-class women, it has often been difficult for the women's movement to make headway with its working-class sisters (Hart 1982:161). It is unusual in Britain for campaigning organizations such as feminist groups to have links to trade union politics; particularly at the local level, there is suspicion of women's liberation (ibid.). But there has been an increase in exchange of ideas between union and other feminist women,
Representation of Women in Unions and the Labour Party
(% of total)
(Women and Total)
(Women and Total)
|AEUW||13.5||7 nonvoting seats/66||1 district
1 area/of 51
|SOURCE: Women's Fightback
, March 1982:67.
*TGWU Transport and General Workers Union
GMWU General and Municipal Workers Union
AEUW Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers
USDAW Union of Shop, Distributive, and Allied Workers
NUTGW National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers
NUPE National Union of Public Employees
|NALGO National and Local
Government Officers' Association|
NUT National Union of Teachers
CPSA Civil and Public Services Association
ASTMS Association of Scientific, Technical, and Managerial Staff
TASS Technical and Supervisory Section [of engineers' union]
APEX Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical, and Computer Staff
facilitated by such groups as NAC and the NCCL, which have ties to both.
Efforts to politicize newly organized women workers (especially in white-collar unions, where their numbers have greatly expanded) have met with some success, and socialist feminists have gained support for some key issues from the trade unions. But, in the main, women have virtually no power in unions and have been unable to alter existing patterns of low pay and job segregation. Women lack representation in key union committees, among full-time officers, and at the local shop level as stewards and district committee members.
A 1980 survey by Coote and Kellner (1981) showed that while 38 percent of union members surveyed were women, only 11 percent of the executive members, fewer than 6 percent of the full-time officials, and under 15 percent of delegates to the TUC in these unions were women. Of 1,600 trade union officials, only 90 were women in 1983 (Holland 1984:66).
At the 1981 TUC annual meeting, 116 of 1,188 delegates were women, and at the 1983 meeting, 121 of 1,155 (Trades Union Conference 1982:1; New Statesman , March 23, 1984). Although a number of unions have a majority of women workers, men remain in control of top positions in individual unions and the TUC. For example, the National Union of Education, with 70 percent female membership, had only four women members on the Executive Committee of 44 in 1980. Several major unions, including the two largest, the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and the General and Municipal Workers Union (GMWU) have not a single female executive member among them (Coote and Campbell 1987:52, 67, 14567). (See Table 3.)
Feminists have sought greater influence in two ways.
One approach, as in parties, has been to advocate "positive action/positive discrimination," retaining or establishing set-aside or statutory seats on executive committees and seeking other types of special representation, through advisory committees, women's conferences, and the like. In some instances, such efforts do not represent a "new approach"; in the TUC, the Women's Advisory Committee and annual women's conference date back to the 1920s and 1930s, respectively (Randall 1982). In 1920 the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), a women's labor union, merged with the TUC in return for two protected seats on the TUC Executive Committee. At the same time, another militant women's union, the National Federation of Women Workers, merged with what is now the TGWU. (In short order, the number of women officials fell from 16 to one. It has been an uphill struggle to regain strength ever since [Rogers 1983:31; Lorwin and Boston 1984:145].) In the late 1920s the TUC Women's Conference was created, essentially establishing a group without power. As is true for parties, advisory committees have a solely consultative role and depend on the (often lacking) sympathy of general councils and other policy-making bodies for acceptance. The TUC Women's Action Committee has ten members appointed by the General Council and eight appointed by the Women's Conference; hence, like similar party-related bodies, it is not truly representative of women activists (Breitenbach 1981). In 1981 the TUC, to which most British unions are affiliated, responded to a Women's Conference demand by increasing the number of statutory delegate places reserved for women on the TUC Executive Committee from two to five (out of 41).
However, among the white-collar unions, whose female membership is growing especially rapidly, there
have been efforts to create special opportunities for women. Some unions have appointed a national women's officer (e.g., the Technical and Supervisory Section [TASS], of the engineers' union). Others have introduced the practice of setting aside executive council seats for women. Still others, including the GMWU and the Association of Scientific, Technical, and Managerial Staff (ASTMS), have established women's advisory committees or set up equal opportunities groups or women's rights groups at the district level. Even consciousness-raising and special-training sessions for women have been introduced into several unionsincluding the GMWU, TASS, and the TUC. But, in the main, what has distinguished these efforts has been their "from the top down" quality. In Britain, unlike the situation in Italy and, to a degree, in France, consciousness-raising and feminist groups did not emerge in the workplace (Elliott 1983:6869). Except in a few instances (as in NALGO and the ASTMS, where several local women's groups were established, and in unions providing women-run courses "for women only"), most women's committees and efforts are institutionalized, segregating their concerns and removing them from grass-roots feminism (ibid.). The lack of a tradition of autonomous women's labor organizations, like those in other European countries and in the United States (to be discussed shortly), has lessened the impact of these efforts. The tensions created by efforts to develop autonomy yet gain influence have not seriously been addressed by trade union feminists in Britain.
The second approach feminists in unions have taken to increase their influence is their drive to gain union support for feminist-related issues. Even in the 1960s, prior to the activization of feminism, the TUC had lobbied
for the Equal Pay Act. Later, prompted in part by the 1974 Working Women's Charterthe London-based effort to promote a minimum set of feminist demands in trade unionsthe TUC set about revamping its own charter, "Aims for Women at Work." The feminist campaign for child care found expression in the TUC's Charter for Under Fives (1978), calling for comprehensive and universal child care and flextime. The TUC has recognized the "outdated" concept of the family wage and has called for positive action in employment and education. A 1979 TUC ten-point "Charter for Equality" for trade union women advocated special efforts to include women on decision-making bodies and supported child care and awareness-training programs to aid in increasing women's union participation. In addition, the TUC has held conferences on women's issues, established guidelines for positive action in employment, and taken an active role in supporting amendments to the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination acts.
A dramatic instance of union support for feminist issues came in a massive demonstrationa joint TUC-feminist march in 1979to protest the possibility of restrictive antiabortion legislation, then pending in the House of Commons in the Corrie Bill. This demonstration marked a unique expression of union support that moved beyond the rhetorical level to practical action.
In 1983, partially owing to pressure from the Labour Party Women's Action Committee, the biennial conference of the largest union in the country, the TGWU, supported a series of resolutions on positive action, including "a call for the extension and formal constitution of effective womens' organizations" in the union and in the Labour Party. It also instructed the union's Labour delegation to support proposals designed to improve
women's access to and participation in the party (Spare Rib , Sept. 1983:29). This action represented a victory because trade union feminists mobilized the delegates in opposition to the proposed platform, voted down a compromise proposal, and successfully pushed for a strong program of positive action (Rogers 1983:31).
Nonetheless, with regard to key feminist demands (also endorsed by the TUC and other unions)equal job opportunity for women and an end to pay discriminationonly limited progress has been made. As suggested earlier, male dominance still exists in the unions at all levels, from regional councils to the shop floor to the industry-wide negotiating teams. In crucial negotiations with employers and with the federal government, bargaining priorities related to women have been neglected. The gap between stated policy in resolutions and its implementation in agreements and at the local and plant levels remains a key hurdle for union women (interview, Turner, July 1982). Hence, while unions have provided rhetorical support for "social issues" of concern to working women (e.g., abortion, welfare, housing benefits, day care), their impact has been minimal on economic and industrial matters such as pay and maternity leaves. It is those matters over which men still retain firm control and discretion, limiting possibilities for the implementation of the numerous resolutions passed in union conferences. To a large degree, women's interests are viewed as secondary to the larger concern for social and economic issues. The resulting subordination of feminist demands leaves male bastions of power and sexism untouched (Scott 1982; Bouchier 1984). The indifference with which unions treat women is reflected in a survey that found clear hostility to unions among women factory workers. They articulated the view that
unions cared only for men (e.g., holding shop meetings early in the morning) and pointed to the exclusion from unions of part-time workers who are disproportionately female (Speakman 1984:4445). Policies such as affirmative action ("positive discrimination") have been met with hostility and suspicion owing to high unemployment and concern for male jobs (Lewis 1983:221).
Several conclusions appear in order. The first is that, in the main, trade unions are unwilling to extend their purported support of feminist concerns to meaningful action in concrete areas. While they have endorsed and supported legislation related to women, they have usually not translated such support to other arenas of power. Although most unions are affiliated to the Labour Party, and effectively control its policies through their majority of votes, they have neither pressed for greater representation for women nor supported other efforts that increase women's power in the party. Nor have their representatives (female or male) on public bodies, such as the EOC (to be discussed in Chapter 4), been advocates on behalf of women's concerns. Hence, there is a need to move beyond the current stage of rhetorical support to a broadened perception of feminist issues in the unions themselves and in the larger society. As Labourite Audrey Wise has said, the aim of feminists is to feminize general issues of policy and generalize issues that are currently defined as women's issues (Perrigo 1985:143). (In Chapter 5, we will see that the situation of Swedish women in trade unions has been similar to that of their British counterparts, with the dominant Swedish union being even more reluctant to deal with feminist demands in a climate that discourages "conflictual" grass-roots activity.) Given the analysis presented
here, it is difficult to justify Hewlett's (1986:170) contention that the most effective women's groups in Britain are in parties and unionsnot in separate feminist organizations. In addition, though women's committees, equal opportunity officers, and the like exist in most unions, their failure thus far to alter power relations and policy priorities leads to the conclusion, to be explored later, that autonomous women's groups, which organize outside the union structure, may have the best opportunity to produce meaningful change.
Women compose 16 percent of the unionized labor force in the United States. If employee associations are included (in a work force that is less than 20 percent unionized), the number rises to 30 percent (Milkman 1985:304). As in Britain, the percentage of women currently unionizing is greater than that of men, although total membership in unions is declining precipitously. Like their British counterparts, few American women appear in leadership ranks, one exception being the National Education Association (NEA), a predominantly female union in which they constitute a majority of the board (ibid., 306).
In the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), where they also compose over three-fourths of the membership, they hold 25 percent of the board positions. In public sector unions, such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is 40 percent female, women's increasing membership and their participation in union activities have resulted in more of them running for office and becoming shop stewards (Bell 1985:288). In
1982, 33 percent of local presidents were womenup from 25 percent seven years before. In 1982, women also held 45 percent of local union offices (ibid.). Within the last few years, a woman was elected international vice president of the Service Employees International Union
(SEIU), which has an estimated 45 percent women members, while two women were elected to the international board of the AFSCME. The SEIU held a conference in 1981 to discuss women's issues such as organizational roles, leadership, and collective bargaining; and several unions, particularly SEIU and AFSCME, have been active in fighting in the courts for women's concerns such as pregnancy disability insurance and comparable worth.
In general, women hold an increasing number of local-level union positions as stewards and officersthough there are still many more female secretaries than presidents. More women have been elected to high office and more resolutions passed on women's recruitment and promotion. Nonetheless, women do not hold top leadership positions in any unions and make up only a small minority of executive board members (Wertheimer 1984:298). In 1978, women held 31 of 655 elective or appointed offices in unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO and 109 of 662 positions in unaffiliated unions and employee associations. They constituted 7.2 percent of national executive board members in AFL-CIO affiliates and 35.3 percent of board members in employee associations where female membership is over twice that in traditional unions (ibid.).
Women's caucuses and committees have been created in a number of unions, and feminist activity has spurred a new interest in union activism among many women workers. Women in the ILGWU and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) organized to gain support at union conventions for such issues as affirmative action (ibid., 309). Elsewhere, women's divisions have pressed for increased child-care and flextime provisions. As in Britain, the class separation between the larger feminist movement and the working-class women involved in
union politics has resulted in considerable distance between these two groups. Nonetheless, despite a reluctance of union women to identify with "women's lib," they have adapted consciousness-raising and other innovative feminist techniques and have been especially interested in issues of gender equality in the labor force (Milkman 1985:307, 309). Efforts to organize around women's issues within unions have most often come from women themselves rather than from union leaders.
However, an aversion to the creation of special interests within unions, as well as the persistence of "male culture," has prevented women from gaining access to substantial internal power in unions, although as in Britain, the trade union movement has become an important ally of the women's movement in the political process. In the United States this support has gone beyond lobbying for legislation to active coalition participation in the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights and similar groups, in which the two movements have in many instances developed a joint agenda for policy. Such coalitional activity has been especially valuable with regard to the legal process and intervention in the administrative sector.
It has become evident that women compose a large segment of unorganized workers and, more importantly, are likelier than males to join unions. Evidence also indicates that unions win more representational elections when they stress women's issues (ibid., 310). Unions have therefore become more receptive to such issues, as they assess their options in a situation of crisis and decline.
However, the American tradition of feminist autonomy from established groups is evident in relationships with the trade union movement as well as with parties.
Feminists have organized withinbut also outside the labor movement. As in Britain, a tradition of women's worker groups, such as the WTUL, gave rise to networks of women at the perimeter of the organized trade union movement (Kessler-Harris 1985:131; Hyman 1985:24). But while some groups, such as the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), operate within the traditional labor structure, an alternate approach to organizing, untested in Britain, continues to exist outside the American unions.
In 1974, after a set of legal challenges to force unions to comply with provisions of antidiscrimination measures (particularly the Civil Rights Act of 1964), the leading arm of the American labor movement, the AFL-CIO, helped establish a women's caucus within its ranksCLUW. Like women's groups within British unions, CLUW has pressed for greater sensitivity to women's concerns, increased representation in leadership circles, and an end to job discrimination. (In addition, it lobbies for legislation and aids in organizing potential women union members.) CLUW has created a women's base and forum for networking within the labor movement, and the result has been more representation of women in union offices and the creation of women's departments and committees in some unions. CLUW has taken the union structure as a given, with the goal of advancing women's interests as workers and unionists within it (Milkman 1985:310). Membership in CLUW is limited to those who were already both union members and activists in the trade union movement along traditional lines (e.g., elected leadership and committees). Thus, CLUW functions as a means to network within union
circles, creating pressure to act on women's demands. In the main, the group has served as a mechanism to promote women into leadership ranks; its chapters rarely include the union rank and file (ibid., 312). At present, CLUW's membership comprises only about 1 percent of union women members, themselves a minority of union workers. As currently constituted, the group serves best as an internal union "watchdog," effective at leadership levels and only nominally attentive to the unorganized and the rank and file (ibid., 315).
Like its British counterparts, the CLUW has largely met with an uneven response. Progress in increasing the representation of women in leadership ranks has been slow, but one visible result of CLUW's efforts was the selection of Joyce Miller in 1980 as the first woman on the AFL-CIO's executive council. Although union support has been generated for such issues as the ERA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and for coalitions formed to promote them, there has been limited progress in gaining support for matters like affirmative action. (In Britain the rhetorical level of support for some issues appears to be greater.) With 16,000 members and 72 local chapters, CLUW operates within the constraints of labor union politics and has avoided confrontation with the union hierarchy (Goodin 1983:146).
In the United States a second tradition of organizing labor women has developed, owing in part to the ambivalence of many professional Americans toward the organized labor movement and perhaps also to the absence of a vigorous socialist (feminist) presence. This alternate route involves independent organizations of working women, primarily white-collar workersgroups like
Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), Working Women, and Union WAGE. Unlike unions that concentrate on collective bargaining, these groups seek to enforce antidiscrimination and affirmative action legislation, demonstrate against employers, and engage in educational efforts to promote safety, organization, and job rights (Seifer and Wertheimer 1979:168; Gelb and Klein 1983:34). As unions have perceived the growing strength of autonomous groups of women workers, they have sought to establish links with them, such as the relationship recently forged between Working Women (office workers) and the SEIU, which created a new union, District 925, to organize women.
In the 1970s, a younger group of feminist activists, who had roots in the New Left and the seminal women's liberation movement but who were also critical of labor politics, organized among previously uninvolved office workers. The group Working Women, formerly called 9 to 5, was a particularly successful result. Rather than dealing directly with unionization, this group concentrated on consciousness-raising and public dramatization of issues involving union organizations as well as on developing participatory democracy (Milkman 1985:315). After 1975, Working Women moved closer to the organized union movement when Local 925 was organized in conjunction with the SEIU. The new "union" was charged with organizing office workers all over the country and, although a part of the SEIU structure, drew staff direction from Working Women and retained autonomy within the union structure (ibid.). Working Women has continued as a separate entity outside the union as well. In addition to concentrating on unionization, it has focused on other issues of concern to women, including age discrimination and bank and insurance
company relations with women workers. The group's emphasis on participation by all members continues and visible public actions, involving media attention, are utilized (ibid., 316). In its emphasis on developing specifically female organizational forms and concerns, Working Women seems to be almost a direct descendant of the WTUL.
The dilemma for autonomous groups is how to maintain independence while at the same time influencing the larger union structure. If the Working Women experiment proves successful, it may point the way to the creation of a uniquely feminist worker's presence, with influence in the union and access to its resources and power.
Another approach to women's employment is WOW (Wider Opportunities for Women), which grew from a locally focused volunteer organization stressing part time work to a national nonprofit organization with several staff members. WOW has sought to combine service and advocacy, providing training programs and job placement in nontraditional occupations. Through monitoring, coalition building, and advocacy, as well as publicizing and documenting job inequity, WOW and other groups have sought to reach women who are not union members and are outside the traditional labor market (Fleming 1983). The independent tradition continues and autonomous groups of working women, together with groups such as WOW and Catalyst, have been active in finding jobs for women in all levels of the economic ladder and in fighting job discrimination.
Recent efforts at the local level of British politics suggest that in some instances it may be possible for feminist
women to work closely with Labour councils and local authorities. New developments in numerous British urban areas have interacted effectively with the decentralized structure of British feminism. Since 1969, a variety of multifaced action groups have developed in many British urban centers, focusing on feminist collectives, rape crisis centers and shelters for battered women, health clinics, black women's groups, and groups of women in law, the media, and other professions (Bouchier 1984). Feminists have turned to local council governments for funding, access, and space to maintain their activities; and, fearing hierarchy and male co-optation, they have tended to prefer local-level dialogues to those at the national level. Since 1982, aided in part by the increased number of local councilors who are women (18.4 percent) (Equal Opportunities Commission 1983a:95), several local councils have created women's committees to promote representation of women and women's interests (Goss 1984). Such committees have been established by the Greater London Council (GLC), numerous London boroughs, including Camden, Islington, Southwark, and Hackney, and by 22 other British urban centers (including some in Scotland). Virtually all these constituencies are under Labour Party domination. In some communities, support for women's committees came from local councilors (e.g., London), while in others the initiative for commission establishment emanated from the women's movement itself. In Leeds, for example, a local conference that drew together Labour Party and SDP women, trade union members, and local women's groups (including Rape Crisis, Asian Women, and the 300 Group) resulted in the formation of a women's Subcommittee of the Policy and Resources Committee (Flannery and Roelofs 1984). This body strengthened the work already begun
by the Women's Equal Employment Group, which had been established in 1982 by trade union and other local women. By 1984, the Leeds council had trebled childcare funding (Rowbotham 1984).
The greatest resources were those of the GLC, which in 1984 devoted nearly £8 million to funding local women's groups and projects (interview, Wise, July 1984). The GLC Women's Committee sought to involve a wide spectrum of women by holding open meetings and coopting women to represent such groups as lesbians, the disabled, and trade unionists (Goss 1984). Funding was given to Greenham Common women for day care and to a female transportation service, as well as to day care and health facilitiesall to a generally hostile press reception (Flannery and Roelofs 1984). A major thrust of the GLC Women's Committee was to foster multiaction centers for women, thus bringing some order to the centrifugal politics we have described, perhaps building on the women's action centers that already existed in many British cities (interview, Wise, July 1984). At the GLC, efforts were made to emphasize participatory democracy and openness through public meetings, which received enthusiastic response and enjoyed large attendance (Flannery and Roelofs 1984:77). Meetings were open to all interested women and tasks were rotated, in accordance with feminist theory. Despite media emphasis on funding of "radical" projects, child-care subsidies, in fact, accounted for the bulk of GLC funding efforts.
The GLC budget for grants to women increased from £300,000 in 1982 to over £7 million in 1984 (Goss 1984:112). Between April and December 1983 alone, 227 projects were funded for a total of £4.5 million, an unusually large infusion of funds for previously impoverished feminist groups (Spare Rib , Feb. 1985:20). Nonetheless,
the portion allocated to women still was only a fraction of the total GLC 198384 budget of £824 millionless than 1 percent, in fact (Livingston 1984:261). However, by 1986, the fourth and final year of the GLC Women's Committee's budget existence, its budget had grown to £90 million (Coote and Campbell 1987:1058). In this committee, as in other women's committees, local councilors retained the right to outvote and override the interest of the feminist consultants (Spare Rib , Feb. 1985:19 -128; -147;20)a situation that has led some observers to suggest that in this instance women's groups are relatively autonomous but lack effective power (Goss 1984:125). However, the GLC did provide a meeting place at County Hall for a wide variety of women's activities and purchased a building for the specific use of two feminist groups, A Women's Place and the Women's Research and Resources Center (Rogers 1983:173). In addition, the GLC Women's Committee played a campaigning or mobilizing role, aiding efforts related to working women, child care, and Greenham Common (Flannery and Roelofs 1984:80).
Women's committees established in the London boroughs of Camden and Islington have had varying degrees of success and funding. The Camden group, with strong support from local Labour councilors, has devoted considerable funding to women's efforts. A Woman's Bus has traveled the community to focus discussions and provide information and advice, circumventing the media by going directly to local women (Goss 1984; Flannery and Roelofs 1984). However, in Islington, as of 1984, the Women's Unit was all but defunded and defunct (interview, Potter, July 1984).
The women's committees have been unique in creating new structures that bring women into the political
process. They have aimed at breaking down traditional hierarchical processes and, through innovative systems of publicity and participation, tried to seek out women who are not normally part of the political process. They have also attempted to broaden the framework of service provision from a feminist perspective. Some feminists, especially those wary of Labour Party practices in the past, fear that such efforts may co-opt the movement (Goss 1984:128). In fact, however, these committees may act as a bridge between the movement and both labor and governmental structures, if they are successful.
A major drawback to these promising efforts has been the attack of the Conservative government on both the GLC and local London council governments (12 of which have had women's committees) (Spare Rib , Feb. 1985:20). The GLC itself was dissolved in 1986 by the Thatcher government. Although the trend toward local-level support for women's efforts in Britain is still too new to measure, these efforts are notable in providing linkages between traditional, socialist, and radical feminist groups and in seeking to reach out to the vast number of British women who have heretofore been unaffected by the feminist movement. Can local-level priorities be reorganized and feminists given real power rather than just their customary advisory role? Can a modus vivendi be reached between feminist democracy and traditional hierarchical government structures? These questions are as yet unresolved.
This chapter has assessed two different approaches to feminist political organizing: the British one, in which movement activity has been contained within the existing parties and unions, and the American one, in which gender-based groups have sought to interact with a
weaker party and union system. It seems evident that the British model of organizing women's groups within parties and unions has had only limited impact on representation and policy. Whether, as Coote and Campbell (1987:148) have recently argued, the new forces of radical activism in the Labour Party are sufficient to "break down some of the barriers that had stood between the women's movement and parliamentary politics in the 1970's" is not clear from the analysis presented here.
In the United States, independent groups such as NOW, the NWPC, and NARAL have gained a significant voice in the Democratic Party, pressing their views effectively on a still predominantly male leadership. The role of feminist movements as constituents in electoral politics appears to be clearer from the American case, although in Britain there have been some (more half-hearted?) efforts to mobilize them in order to create new alignments of political power.
Unions in both countries present an ambiguous picture, although in the United States the innovative model created by 9 to 5, emanating from an independent feminist base, has suggested new alternatives for workers and organizers. In Britain a new model of feminist activism, at the local level, has seemed to represent a fresh, more "political phase" of the movement where it has felt most at home. The effect of the abolition of the GLC, which had the most resources and influence of all local committees and working parties, is still undetermined.
In Chapter 5, we will explore the rather different Swedish model of integration into existing structures. But first, we examine the role of feminists in policy-making in Britain and the United States.