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The Communist Women’s Movement (CWM) emerged in 1920 following the foundation of the Communist International (the Comintern). The CWM’s program for women’s emancipation included total equality of rights, universal suffrage, and the participation of women in national and municipal governments. The economic emancipation of women and women’s rights at the workplace, however, were core points of the communists’ agenda. Communist women were active within the Red International of Labour Unions (or Profintern), a Comintern auxiliary organization established to coordinate communist activities in trade unions. Using unpublished archival sources and the press, this chapter recovers numerous unknown facets of communist women’s activities within the Profitern. It focuses on two aspects in particular: communist’s women’s activism within the Profintern, and the complex relationship between men and women within the trade union international of the communist movement. I demonstrate that organized communist women played a crucial role in setting up structures for women within the Profintern. These organizational bodies became particularly active in 1927–1928 and took up and promoted the specific demands of women workers. Their efforts were only partially successful, however, due to the lack of cooperation and sometimes open sexism of the male-dominated Profintern structures and leadership.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work

Abstract

Nada Oristo Hudson, born in Croatia in 1922, arrived in the United States just as the Great Depression began. She and her sister Zlata grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin that was mixed ethnically and even modestly diverse racially, unlike many other areas in the deeply segregated city. This setting, along with ongoing exposure to South Slavic organizations that frequently aligned themselves with labour-left groups, led Hudson to become increasingly involved with popular front causes in which she became an advocate for racial egalitarianism. Discussing the history of the life and activism of a Croatian American woman in the industrial city and exploring family and migration as well as neighborhood and organizational influences, this chapter seeks to explain Hudson’s role in a 1944 dispute over race and housing, when she confronted segregationists and helped defend the right of a Black family to live in a newly renovated apartment just a few blocks from where she lived. Hudson’s labour-left Americanization set her on a path toward racial egalitarianism, not only as an abstract ideal but as an objective to be achieved through concrete local action.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work

Abstract

In 1967, women’s experts were in charge of a newly established countrywide women’s organization called the Czechoslovak Women’s Union (CWU). The organization promoted a sophisticated and nuanced approach to women’s issues, including paid labour and (un)paid care work. Between 1967–1969, in the context of the Prague Spring, women’s experts advocated women’s freedom to stay at home with small children for up to 3 years or to place them in a high quality nursery and return to paid labour as soon as possible. The CWU promoted the establishment of foster care rather than institutionalized care. Local chapters concentrated on care for “abandoned” children—in children’s homes. Between 1967 and 1969, the CWU promoted women’s equal access to all areas of paid work. The Warsaw Pact occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 had strong repercussions for the CWU, as by the end of 1969, prominent leaders of the organization left it. In the 1970s, the new leadership continued to promote pro-women changes in the arena of paid work, but the discourse about what was suitable for women changed significantly. In the 1970s, the CWU approved of and subscribed to the (over)protection of the female workforce and the feminization of some kinds of work, and full equality was construed as a political goal that would be achieved only through the automation of the production process.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work

Abstract

How did the two most influential Austrian and Hungarian bourgeois-liberal, feminist women’s organizations use their press to try to convince their followers (members, readers of their journals, and supporters) to join trade unions and (actively) participate in labour activism? How did the official press organs of these associations function as an important forum and scene for labour activism? How were women’s labour activism and the exploitation of women workers interpreted in the articles? The chapter seek answers to these questions based on a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the official organs of the General Austrian Women’s Association (Allgemeiner Österreichischer Frauenverein, GAWA, Vienna, 1893–1922) and the Hungarian Feminists’ Association (Feministák Egyesülete, FA, Budapest, 1904–1942; 1946–1949). The official organ of GAWA, Neues Frauenleben (New Women’s Life) was published between 1902 and 1918 in Vienna, and FA’s A Nő és a Társadalom (Woman and Society) appeared in Budapest between 1907 and 1913. This chapter examines how these journals covered issues related to the integration of middle-class and working women from the lower classes into trade unions and their concrete efforts to facilitate such integration before the outbreak of World War One.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work
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Abstract

One of the great promises of state socialism was gender equality. Socialist realist films across the bloc promised women that personal and professional fulfillment would go hand-in-hand—that romance was to be found on the construction site. In the 1970s, filmmakers began to openly question this and many other myths of the socialist realist period. In Poland in particular, a series of workers’ strikes drew attention to the discrepancy between official discourse and actual labour conditions, particularly the “double burden” placed on women, who were expected to put in a full shift at work and at home. Filmmakers were instrumental in making the difficult material conditions of these women’s lives palpable. Unsurprisingly, many of these films were produced by a new generation of women documentarians. This chapter homes in on several short documentaries by Krystyna Gryczełowska and Irena Kamieńska, analyzing the strategies they used to illustrate the “double burden” and, ultimately, advance a critique of the socialist state predicated specifically on the way it failed its women citizens.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work

Abstract *

This chapter discusses the activism of women associated with the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia and the newspaper Proletárka (Proletarian Woman), which was published in Slovakian and addressed Slovak women. An analysis of Proletárka, one of the most important sources of information on the activism of communist women in the Slovak lands, sheds light on the journal’s program of social and gender justice, its criticism of women’s position on the labour market and women’s second shift, its pioneering approach to sexual liberalization, and its treatment of nationalism. The chapter investigates how communist women connected their demands for access to contraception and abortion to class struggle and working women’s double burden, focusing on the main arguments for understanding the sexual liberation of women as a working-class issue advanced on the pages of Proletárka. The chapter points out the difficulties faced by the communist women’s movement in Slovakia as its activism moved beyond mainstream party goals and exposed the tension between reproductive rights and class struggle.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work

Abstract

The history of the Women’s Publishing Cooperative (Женская издательская артель, WPC) is an important example of a women’s professional coalition in nineteenth-century Russia. Its founders pursued the twin goals of pursuing women’s right to engage in publicly visible work and providing women with jobs. During its fifteen years of existence, the WPC published books for children as well as books addressed to women professionals. The enterprise represents a branch of the Russian feminist movement that is usually neglected in discussions about the conflicts between nihilists and aristocrats. Reconstructing the full list of WPC publications, members’ biographies, and analyzing the organizational particularities of the enterprise, this chapter explores the limits of women’s participation and representation in the print market. Further, by using book history to explore the history of Russian feminism, the author discusses the strategies for transforming the individual precarious intellectual worker into a collective agent that might create an imagined community based on gender.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work
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Abstract

The Austrian socialist Hilde Krones (1910–1948) grew up in Red Vienna and joined the proscribed Revolutionary Socialists in 1934. After Austria’s liberation from Nazism in 1945, she was an elected a member of parliament for the Socialist Party of Austria (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ), a leading member of the Party’s Women’s Organization and was one of the few female members of the Party Executive Committee until her suicide in 1948. As a political activist, life and love were closely tied to Krones’s political work. Focusing on this conceptualization of work, her “ways of relating” (Beziehungsweisen), and the idea of “fulfillment” once promised to her generation of young activists, this chapter investigates the “haunting” texts, concepts, and objects of her personal archive. Embodying Jetztzeit moments of the present, Krones’s archive is put into dialogue with current political concepts and feelings such as left melancholy and the urgent matter of envisioning emancipatory futures in the face of political depression and “capitalist realism” in the twenty-first century. In a theoretical séance, the chapter aims to make use of “hauntology” and the “imaginative archive”—methodologies that engage with traces, phantoms, gaps, and fissures in order to find resources for political hope in the present.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work

Abstract

There is a long-term absence of attention to care work in the history of women’s labour activism. This chapter places women caregivers center stage, highlighting their participation in the field of care. Using examples of elderly care in East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, it provides a comparison of care arrangements from the state-socialist period to the postsocialist transformation after 1989/1990. Findings from qualitative interviews provide more detailed insight into the East German case. Because women’s care work was not accompanied by mainstream forms of protest—in contrast to women’s labour in general—care activism has so far remained under-researched and under-conceptualized in gender and labour history. This chapter introduces the term “care activism,” tracing different forms of small-scale or even the silent activism of women care workers, and thereby contributes to a more nuanced understanding of activism in general, and women’s labour activism in particular.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work
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Abstract

In the winter of 1964, the workers of the Berec Battery Factory in Turkey, most of whom were women from rural areas of the country or migrants from the Balkans, initiated a strike under the leadership of the Petroleum, Chemical and Rubber Industry Workers’ Union of Turkey (Türkiye Petrol Kimya Lastik İşçileri Sendikası, Petrol-İş). Through relations and acts of kinship, workers and union delegates forged a culture of solidarity and co-constructed the labour union as a family. Working-class women engaged with labour activism within this framework of family and kinship. Women’s labour activism in Turkey has not received adequate attention from labour historians or feminist scholars. By analyzing the discursive and material practices of union leadership, employers, and workers during the Berec strike, the chapter explores a different dimension of women’s activism by focusing on labour women’s experiences. It argues that during the 1960s, participation in labour unions became an effective mechanism to unite the family and labour-based identities of working-class women who were torn between the demands of wage labour and the desire to start or maintain families. Utilizing the publications of Petrol-İş, labour newspapers, and magazines documenting the strike, the chapter foregrounds the familial relationship between workers and labour unions, paying particular attention to women workers.

In: Through the Prism of Gender and Work