Tag Archives | Jennifer Keck

Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 5 of 5)

Submitted to the Inord Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario

Getting Active in the Local ‘we were part of a generation that stood up for our rights’

Like most of the men they worked with, the majority of the women were not radical. They were prepared to challenge conventional gender prescriptions to earn a man’s wage but few of them considered themselves feminists or were interested in broader political struggles. Still, few of the women remained untouched by the militancy of mining work culture and the impact of women’s movement in the 1970s. It was not long before a small number of women emerged who were willing to hold the company and the union- to the original promise that they would be treated the ‘same as men’ and receive ‘equal treatment and opportunities.’

Women became active with the union under much the same conditions as new male workers. They were recruited early, often after complaining about conditions on the shop floor, and put on health and safety committees at the various plants. The first two women union stewards took office in 1975; women were also elected as delegates to the Ontario Federation of Labour convention the following year. While the union gave early support for the women to become active, there was generally more support for the women working on traditional union issues than there was for their attempt to challenge differences based on gender. This was probably not surprising given the large number of male workers and the union’s traditional support for the family wage.

A women’s committee was established in 1977 to address this problem. One of the organizers challenged the company and the union in an article that appeared in the union’s newsletter, The Searcher: “Over the last three years women have had to prove themselves to the company and the union. As women workers we share and support the concerns and struggles of our brothers… Now we want to be active so we can have a voice in our local… that is not our privilege, it is our right.’(22)

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Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 4 of 5)

Submitted to the Inord Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario

While there was little publicity about the issue, sexual harassment was another reminder that the women were ‘different’ workers. Sexual harassment demonstrates the complex relationship between sexuality and the paid workplace and is one of the ways men used sexuality to maintain masculine dominance in the workplace. Harassment took many forms. Sometimes it involved foremen or shift bosses. One woman was assigned extra work shovelling asphalt after she refused the invitation to go to her foreman’s camp after work.

Another woman described a more threatening situation that involved a shift supervisor: “he would say to me, okay come with me and he would take another guy and bring us to this god forsaken place where no-one’s ever going to work there because it’s full of dust and muck and he’d say, oh, I forgot to get the tools and he’d send the guy down, then he’s left alone with me and he’d try rubbing his private area against my knee and I told him, if he appreciates talking in a deep tone he wouldn’t do it ever again. But then he tried calling me at home and asking me if I would meet him and I told him I’m not desperate for company and that I don’t sleep with a pig.”

While sexual harassment by supervisors was serious because management had more control over the women’s working conditions, women often found it difficult to deal with harassment by co-workers. This was a contentious issue with both men and women. Part of the problem was that masculine work culture was already highly sexualized before the women entered the workplace.

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Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 3 of 5)

Submitted to the  The Institute of Northern Ontario Research and Development (INORD) Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario
Getting Started: ‘You got dirty and tired but you showered… and the pay was good’

Like their male co-workers the women began as process labourers. The work involved shoveling, sweeping, hosing down dirty areas and in some cases painting and unloading supplies. The women responded to the first day with more than the usual apprehension.

“You have no idea what to expect… when we first walked in we saw these flotation cells and they’re all bubbling and its seems like it’s really hot, it was very scary… walking over the grating and looking down three floors…I had never seen this kind of machinery in my life.”

It took awhile to get used to the heavy machinery and the noise, dirt and smell of an industrial work environment.

“In the mill it was really dirty, from the time you walked in you were dirty. Like I got dirty just looking at it. There was a smell of lime, varsol and sometimes when the gas was coming in you’d have to sit in the lunch room. Lots of noise. It’s like nothing in your experience… it’s not like walking into an office cause everybody knows what an office looks like.”

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