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Contracting masculinity: gender, class, and race in a white-collar inion, 1944-1994.

CONTRACTING MASCULINITY: Gender, Class, and Race in a White-Collar Union, 1944-1994

Gillian Creese

Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 1999; 278 pp.

This is an interesting book filled with insights going beyond the case study aspects of the Office and Professional Employees' Union of British Columbia Hydro. There is one somewhat heavy and more classic labour history chapter, as the author herself indicates, though Gillian Creese extends her analysis to more recent developments, with frequent links to broader issues (for example, gender streaming in education), with interesting summaries of the significance of union actions (the "appearance" of wage discrimination) and with appropriate integration of classic concepts. She contends correctly that "(e)xploring how the operation of the office union was inscribed through racialized and gendered assumptions helps us understand how workers both challenge and reproduce inequality in the office, sometimes in spite of their best intentions, as part of the collective bargaining process with their employer" (p. 33). She connects this analysis to constructions of masculinity, femininity, technical skill, and equity and solidarity.

Interesting historical issues take us from why the local chose to affiliate with a less radical movement, to the last gains of the early 1980 negotiations (paralleled in many other unions), to the impact of restructuring and neo-liberalism in our own time. The description and analysis of the issue of separate organization and targeted issues of the women's caucus is at the same time comfortingly familiar and deeply disquieting.

Creese's lessons for the future borrow from several sources in an interesting synthesis of changing union culture, social unionism, revising seniority, and wage solidarity. Her overall theme of interconnections among race, class, gender and sexuality producing a system of power, privilege and oppression is convincing. The devil is occasionally in too much detail. Creese is correct that processes of racialized-gendering through negotiations over conditions at work have been an important and overlooked dimension of labour history, and she has added both a chapter and a leitmotif to the field.

In an appendix on methodology, Creese demonstrates a nuanced feminist approach of grounded research while still maintaining her ultimate responsibility for its interpretation. She also mentions the problem of writing race into an historical process which made the issue invisible. Her introduction personalizes the interest of the research problem, both for her and for those of us growing old with the changes in offices and unions. Her political interest is also made evident, and while her conclusions are not a miracle solution, they reinforce the disparate voices of those still resisting "the new reality." The audience, one hopes, is no longer only those in Women's Studies, but academics, male and female, of sociology, political science, history and social work, activists in labour and other movements, and perhaps even, considering Creese's key analyses of job evaluation and pay equity, politicians and managers.
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Publication:Resources for Feminist Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:472
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