Gender, keyboards, and the future of U.S. labor

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Did you know that:

Women comprise between forty-five and fifty percent of U.S. workers today?

Sixty-seven percent of women between the ages of 18-64 now work outside the home?

By the year 2000, ninety percent of new workforce entrants will be women and people of color?

It’s all true — and that means a revolution-in-process for U.S. labor.

This is the conclusion reached by Heidi Durham and Megan Cornish, pioneer Seattle tradeswomen and unionists, reporting on their document, “Women Workers — Sparkplugs of Labor.”

Durham and Cornish had the facts to back their assertions, primarily statistics gleaned from government reports after months of exhaustive research.

Another fact: women together with men of color (nine percent of the workforce) and lesbians and gay men (statistics unavailable, but assume at least ten percent) are a definite and decisive majority of U.S. workers.

This majority has changed the complexion of labor and is revolutionizing the U.S. political scene.

It’s not just a matter of demographics, it’s the placement of women workers: Durham and Cornish pointed out that communications, finance, government and other service industries — where most women and people of color work — have replaced heavy industry as the fulcrum of the U.S. economy.

Jobs in heavy industry, where white male workers predominate, have dwindled. Manufacturing is expected to produce only 17 percent of the gross national product in the year 2000, down from 30 percent in 1955.

The lowly computer keyboard has become the button of power: Decisions that determine the rate and direction of capital flow worldwide are made via computer. Women bank tellers, payroll clerks, data entry operators, bookkeepers, and money-market secretaries finger the keyboards that enable those decisions to be made.

These women make the capitalism system go. They can shut it down tomorrow.

Women have at least as much power as industrial workers at the “point of production” ever did to halt production and bring the system to its knees.

They also have the power to dump the system’s labor lieutenants. “The dramatic shift in U.S. workingclass power means that the labor bureaucracy’s days are numbered,” said Cornish. For decades the bureaucrats have kept a lid on women and workers of color to keep “labor peace” with the capitalists and protect their cushy positions. They’ve made sure that white males get the best jobs and pay, to divide them from the super-exploited.

But women are joining unions in record numbers (140,000 in 1988 alone), and they’re not going to stand for the old discriminatory ways. They’re leading strikes (they’ve always done that), ousting the labor skates, and demanding that unions act on such crucial issues as abortion rights, comparable worth, affirmative action, childcare, and job safety.

Women are bringing labor’s traditional economic concerns together with the widest-ranging social issues, and this is no accident. Female workers are exploited on the job, at home, and in society at large. Economic and social discrimination are intertwined for them, and fighting one cannot proceed without fighting the other.

Women of color, suffering all the capitalist oppressions, see most clearly how racism and sexism intertwine to divide workers. They always move first and most resolutely to overcome the divisions and unite the labor movement.

A united, rank-and-file, female-led labor movement will shove the labor bureaucrats out of the way once and for all, and finally face off against the capitalists. This, sure as night follows day, will detonate a socialist revolution.

The face of labor has changed; it’s entered the computer age. Those women’s hands that control the keyboards hold the key to the future.

Also see: Radical Women’s candidly revolutionary conference

Also see: The color of revolution

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