Elevate Difference

Sisters in the Brotherhoods: Working Women Organizing for Equality in New York City

The concept for Jane Latour’s book, Sisters in the Brotherhoods: Working Women Organizing for Equality in New York, was initially a brochure. While serving as the director of the Women’s Project of the Brooklyn-based Association for Union Democracy (AUD), Latour had the opportunity to interview women who were working in non-traditional blue-collar trades. Watching women who were contesting the inequalities in the workplace, organizing, and supporting each other, the author seized the chance to record their voices and experiences. The idea to comprise the oral histories into a book evolved following the favorable response her paper received at a labor history conference held in Detroit. Latour, a labor activist, not only chronicled this facet of the feminist movement in the last quarter of the twentieth century, she worked on the assembly lines in Philadelphia and Newark and later as a sorter on the night shift at United Parcel Service.

The format of this literary work includes quotes from the interviewees and documentation of the labor situation in the United States during the last thirty years. These women were pioneers on the frontier of the skilled, blue-collar employment. Early in the book, Latour refers to Rosie the Riveter and the encouragement women received to enter the workforce during World War II and fill the vacated positions in blue-collar industries. That climate changed after the war ended. Sisters in the Brotherhoods draws attention to the link between the feminist fight for equality in employment and the similar battle which was being fought by minority males and the double burden which minority women faced. As Latour writes, “The further out one was from that norm, the more resistance it generated.”

The women are diverse in their levels of education, racial background, and choices of occupation but they shared the common threats of sexual harassment, unfair hiring practices, and the corruption of the trade unions. Latour’s documentation of the experiences of these forerunners in notational, blue-collar jobs is a testament to their legacy to the young women of the next and future generations.

The feminist movement of the 1970s was the backdrop of my adolescence. Personally, I knew women who occupied traditional female roles and I chose a traditionally female occupation, nursing. So I found this book enlightening and empowering. Battles have been fought but the war has not yet been won.

Written by: Maryann Gromisch, November 30th 2009