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Wednesday 12 April 2023 14.00 - 16.00
T-3 WOM03b An Inclusive History of Women’s Labour Activism: Forms and Scales of Organizing and the Politics of Women’s Work II
Volvosalen
Networks: Labour , Women and Gender Chair: Manuela Martini
Organizers: Selin Cagatay, Jelena Tesija Discussants: Ulf Brunnbauer, Daniela Koleva
Moderators: -
Alexandra Ghit : “From an Organizational Point of View, We Must Learn Everything”: International Cooperation and Women’s Trade Union Education in Early-1990s Romania
In 1991, seminars initiated by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) enabled a first contact between women trade unionists from Western Europe and North America and their counterparts in Romania. In late spring 1991, women trade union educators from Switzerland, Austria and the USA visited factories, discussed with ... (Show more)
In 1991, seminars initiated by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) enabled a first contact between women trade unionists from Western Europe and North America and their counterparts in Romania. In late spring 1991, women trade union educators from Switzerland, Austria and the USA visited factories, discussed with women workers and trade unionists, and where possible, held workshops based on the needs formulated by the Romanians. Women and men trade unionists from Romania attended workshops on women in trade unions in Neuchatel, Switzerland, in the fall of 1991, where women’s issues were again a key discussion point. The preserved detailed reports, newspaper clippings and photographs of these encounters suggest an atmosphere of curiosity mixed with pessimism, on all sides.

Using hitherto unexplored archival materials, along with interviews with participants, the paper discusses the bilateral learning process. It deals with the reception among Romanian workers of agendas built up in time by Western women trade unionists (e.g. anti-discrimination, birth control), as well as the reception of issues outlined by Romanian women among Western trade unionists. In what way were these first encounters productive? What forms of solidarity did they allow? In what ways were these meetings and seminars difficult dialogues? And was there a long aftermath from these encounters?

The paper contributes to a better understanding of attempts at re-incorporating post-socialist labour activists into the world of Western labour activism. It can also contribute to refreshing discussions on “women and transition” in Eastern Europe, by spotlighting labour activism as areas of action for women during the period. (Show less)

Jelena Tesija : Converging Divergent Systems: Yugoslav Women Co-operators and the International Co-operative Women’s Guild in the 1950s
The co-operative movement, although still often overlooked by labour and gender historians, can be seen as a specific example of collaboration between women’s labour activists coming from different political and economic systems. It was, for example, the only pillar of the interwar social-democratic internationalist organizations which had an institutionally independent ... (Show more)
The co-operative movement, although still often overlooked by labour and gender historians, can be seen as a specific example of collaboration between women’s labour activists coming from different political and economic systems. It was, for example, the only pillar of the interwar social-democratic internationalist organizations which had an institutionally independent women’s organization with a strong Soviet branch. After WWII this organization – the International Co-operative Women’s Guild (ICWG) – accepted the Yugoslav branch into its membership. This paper sheds light on the activism of women co-operators from socialist Yugoslavia, its relationship with and the contributions to the work of the ICWG during the 1950s before the ICWG transformed into the committee of the International Co-operative Alliance in 1963. It focuses on Yugoslav women’s agendas in the ICWG while trying to capture how activists from different political and economic systems and different types of co-operatives negotiated their positions, built networks, and addressed differences among themselves.

The paper improves our understanding of perspectives that women’s co-operators from East-Central Europe brought to the transnational level and their contributions to the overall co-operative movement – dimensions which are still almost completely left out from historical narratives on co-operation. Foregrounding Yugoslav women’s co-activism in the international co-operative organization, the paper seeks ways in which the history of co-operatives could be written more inclusively: taking the gender dimension into account and overcoming the challenge of bringing different types of co-operatives from different systems under the same analytical framework. (Show less)

Eszter Varsa : Gender, Anarchist Thought and Women in the Agrarian Socialist Movement in Hungary and Internationally, 1890s-1900s
This paper addresses the influence of anarchism, including peasant religious anarchism and a specific variety of anarchism developed in Hungary, called ideal anarchism, on peasant women’s labour activism in Hungary at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Anarchism was an influential movement at the time in different European ... (Show more)
This paper addresses the influence of anarchism, including peasant religious anarchism and a specific variety of anarchism developed in Hungary, called ideal anarchism, on peasant women’s labour activism in Hungary at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Anarchism was an influential movement at the time in different European regions and across the Atlantic, including rural Southern Italy and Spain, the Latin American contexts of Mexico and Argentina as well as the US. While in these contexts women’s particular contribution to anarchism has already been richly discussed, there is still a lack of a systematic gendered analysis of anarchism and women’s involvement in anarchist activism in Eastern Europe.

Despite anarchism’s limited presence in Hungary, it affected the agrarian socialist movement that first enfolded on the Hungarian Great Plain and the South-Eastern border regions of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the 1890s. In the mid-1890s a rapidly growing group of poor peasants split from the Social Democratic Party due to its lack of attention to the cause of agricultural workers and started their own weekly agrarian socialist paper called Földmível? (Agricultural Worker). Following two congresses in 1897 they founded the Independent Socialist Party. The independent socialist movement was affected by anarchist ideas that were close to Tolstoyanism.

Relying on texts written by peasant women published in Földmível? between 1897 and 1904 the proposed paper discusses the mixture of religious elements and socialist ideas in agrarian working women’s labour activism. It contributes to the new global labor history and to feminist historiographies of women’s labour activism by shedding light on the yet unexplored activism of rural working women in Hungary. (Show less)

Susan Zimmermann : A Dance Around a “Sacred Cow”: Trade Unions, the ILO, and Women’s Third Shift in the Hungarian Textile Industry, 1960s and 1970s
In a 700-pages Report on the Textile Industry carrying the main title The Sacred Cow, well-known author György Moldova, in disarming precision, depicted hardship and complexity characterizing the work and life of textile workers in state-socialist Hungary. In the 1960s and 1970s, the industry formed a backbone of the country’s ... (Show more)
In a 700-pages Report on the Textile Industry carrying the main title The Sacred Cow, well-known author György Moldova, in disarming precision, depicted hardship and complexity characterizing the work and life of textile workers in state-socialist Hungary. In the 1960s and 1970s, the industry formed a backbone of the country’s economy. Around 1970, nearly 80 000 textile workers, the large majority of them women qualified as “unskilled” or “semi-skilled”, worked three shifts. This state of affairs massively and permanently violated applicable labour law. In 1936, Hungary ratified the Night Work (Women) Convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which abolished many forms of night work in industry. This paper explores a two decades-long dance around the “sacred cow” of night work in the textile industry, which saw many rounds of interaction between a variegated set of high-ranking political, administrative and trade union actors, before finally, in 1977, the decision was taken to abrogate the Night Work Convention C41.

The history of the decades-long political dance around women’s night work highlights and exemplifies three overlapping tensions which were, as the paper argues, at the core of the gendered history of labour in state-socialist Hungary. First, the practical politics of work and remuneration reflected the interests of many actors, including factory and enterprise managements, trade union functionaries and activists, and women workers themselves. By the 1970s, these interactions had generated a set of contradictions which in effect ruled out the option of a clear-cut policy of restricting women’s night work. Secondly, the question of women’s night work massively accentuated the conflict between the politics of gendered labour protection pursued by high-ranking Hungarian women trade union functionaries co-responsible for the politics of women’s work and the gendered politics of the mass worker in the service of state-socialist economic development which characterized the Hungarian labour regime. The abrogation of C41 in 1977 signalled a bitter defeat for the Central Women’s Committee of the National Federation of Trade Unions. These leading women trade unionists had to adapt their inherited policy script which construed women’s equality and difference as complementary (rather than mutually exclusive) to the altered circumstances. They instantly put in the balance their – relatively – weighty position in the circle of decision makers to turn the defeat in an opportunity to so implement such adaptation. Thirdly, the dance around women’s night work in Hungary was driven by tension and negotiation between international law, the reform of national labour law, and the ongoing blunt violation of gendered international law in the real world of work in Hungary. Labour diplomats, managers of the state-run Hungarian textile industries, and trade union bodies played key roles in this regard.

Thinking together these three components of the dance around the “sacred cow”, this paper contributes to a new gender history of work and activism – one that avoids the prioritization of gender over class and vice versa, overcomes thinking in terms of ahistorical contrasts between activism versus the state, and showcases the interconnection between state-socialist and international gender regimes. (Show less)



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