Feminism and unionism in New Zealand : organising the markets for women's work.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In 1991 a new labour relations regime was introduced which overturned a 100 year old pattern of 'historic compromise' between capital and labour. In a labour market structured by gender and race, this major change in bargaining arrangements has already widened the pay gap between men's and women's average earnings and reduced union coverage, particularly among women workers in low paid clerical, sales and service work. This study, documenting recent feminist struggle in the area of labour relations, provides a first look at the collective organisation of women under two different labour relations regimes. In the 1980s a particular conjunction of occupational unionism and feminism in New Zealand facilitated some significant improvements in the situation of women in paid employment. The thesis examines feminist strategies which led to a Working Women's Charter adopted by unions, an increase in women holding office in unions, complaints procedures for sexual harassment, standing committees to represent women and Maori in the union movement, and legislation to implement equal employment opportunity programmes and equal pay for work of equal value. It looks at how the institutionalisation of bargaining by occupation supported industrially weak workers and underpinned the unionisation of women, while occupational unions and women's own strategies of organisation provided the autonomous 'political space' to organise around issues specifically relevant to women. At the core of the thesis are three case studies of unions representing three of the occupations in which women are concentrated: clerical work, nursing and cleaning. It examines commonalities and contrasts in the industrial situations covered by these unions, and differences and similarities in the strategies they adopted. The focus of research, conducted between late 1990 and early 1993, was the views of officials of these unions in the context of radical change in the regulation of wage bargaining. Particular attention was given to the way issues relating to women workers were prioritised in unions led by women or by men. These case studies are contextualised in chapters examining the position of women in the labour market, feminist organisation within the union movement, and corporatist change in labour relations legislation. In tracing the development of feminist unionism in the 1980s, the thesis considers the strategies of the NZ Council of Trade Unions and looks at what the radical change in bargaining structure will mean for collective organisation by women in paid employment.