Labor's love lost: The influence of gender, race, and *class on the workplace in post-war America
This project reexamines questions of labor history in the United States. It traces the story of people who worked for three large defense manufacturers in Long Island from the 1930s to the 1970s. Race, class, and gender had a profound impact on identity formation and decision making for the workers of Grumman Corporation, Republic Aviation, and Sperry Gyroscope. This project contributes to the history of labor relations by reexamining the question of declining unionization rates in the U.S. following World War II. In addition to generally recognized factors such as deindustrialization and anti-union campaigns, this study assesses the role that gender, class, and race played in the decision of some workers to reject unions. In particular, femininity and masculinity were mutually constitutive categories that influenced the way men and women thought about themselves, the workplace, and organized labor. One significant contribution relates to the impact of masculinities on male workers’ identities, which in turn shaped preconceptions regarding unions. Many men at Grumman resisted union campaigns because they perceived that membership would impinge upon their ability to define the workplace as a rough, masculine space. In practice, this meant that workers at Grumman feared that joining a union would reduce their autonomy within the workplace, while simultaneously weakening their job security. In other words, joining a union was actually perceived as emasculating. Union organizers had to combat these gender anxieties as they fought to recruit workers at other locations such as Republic. Defending the workplace as a manly domain reinforced existing ideas about the male worker’s identity and place in a changing social order. Some men and women embraced the emerging social order of the 1960s and 1970s, while others responded equivocally.
0733: Gender studies