Although the most visible banners of feminism were carried by educated, white-collar, professional women, in fact, working-class women were a powerful force in the campaign for gender equality. “Rights, Not Roses” explores how unionized wage-earning women led the struggle to place women’s employment rights on the national agenda, decisively influencing both the contemporary labor movement and second-wave feminism.
Drawing on union records, oral histories, and legislative hearings and debates, Dennis A. Deslippe unravels a complex history of how labor leaders accommodated and resisted working women’s demands for change. Through case studies of unions representing packinghouse and electrical workers, Deslippe explains why gender equality emerged as an issue in the 1960s and how the activities of wage-earning women in and outside of their unions shaped the content of the debate. He also traces the faultlines between working-class women, who sought gender equality within the parameters of unionist principles such as seniority, and middle-class women, who sought an equal rights amendment that would guarantee an abstract equality for all women.
A thoughtful and thorough study of working-class feminism, “Rights, Not Roses” raises important questions about the meaning of equality for working women, the connections of women to their unions, the gendered nature of equal rights, and more.