WSTA01H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 27: Ethnic Stereotype, United Automobile Workers, Chapter 27

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Published on 20 Apr 2013
Women's and Gender Studies
of 2
Chapter 27: Privilege and Oppression: The Configuration of Race, Gender, and Class in Southern Ontario Auto Plants, 1939 to 1949
- since the beginnings of the industry, white men have dominated the auto-manufacturing workforce
- anyone who was not white and male was in the minority, different, an intruder, treated as unequal
- an understanding of the social meaning of racial and sexual difference is central to an analysis of the workplace, working people, and their struggles
- when we recognize these differences, we uncover many parallel, but separate working-class realities
- the distinctive experiences of black men in the industry can be attributed to the particular ways in which race, gender, and class, both as subjectivities and social
processes, have converged at different moments and touched the lives of workers, as well as shaped the larger historical scenario
Foundries Is Made for Black Men’
- auto makers took special measures to locate black male labourers largely because they wanted them to fill the most undesirable jobs in the plants – jobs that few
white men wanted
- compounding the labour force requirements of auto manufacturers and the dire economic straits of most black workers, employers upheld a particular vision of
black masculinity that rested in part of the belief that a ‘coloured man’ was most suited to hard, dirty, and physically demanding jobs
- before foundries became highly automated, many of the operations required enormous physical strength
- and the dominant cultural image of a black man was that of a strong, robust, and muscular worker
- moreover, foundry work was performed at extraordinarily high temperatures and thus demanded tremendous physical stamina
- exhibiting a racialized paternalism, some managers publicly showcased ‘their’ hard-working black employees
- in doing so, they presented black masculinity in a hyperbolic form – using a racial stereotype to magnify the image of the unskilled working man
- in the eyes of some observers in the plants, these men were little more than powerful, labouring bodies
- these men were highlighted for displaying manly brawn and to some extent they themselves expressed pride in their ability to perform work that involved
remarkably high levels of physical exertion
The Privileges of Manhood
assumed to be breadwinners, black men held departmental, and ultimately plant-wide seniority rights, received the same ways and piece rates, and in theory,
could occupy the same job classifications as all other male auto workers
married or single, male auto workers received higher than average wages for working-class men because of the successful efforts of the UAW to secure a family
the family wage demand was promised on the assumption that workers (men only) must be paid a relatively high rate because of their responsibility, as head of a
household, for the economic welfare of a wife and children
it was this ideology that male breadwinner that in turn provided the rationale for women's lower rates of pay
in this particular historic context, and specifically in this sphere of social life – the paid setting – the social meaning of gender (manhood) and race (blackness), and
their configuration, permitted the elevation of black men to the formal status of white working-class men
Race, Brotherhood, and Resistance
from the beginnings of the auto industry in Canada, employers have contributed to the construction of difference within the working class
these differences were based on race, gender, and family status, as well as skill
while auto manufacturers hired white male breadwinners to fill the vast majority of jobs in the industry, they also recruited extremely small numbers of black men
(and white women) to perform work that many white men either rejected or were temporarily unavailable to perform
while these two groups of workers met a need on the part of capitalists, management clearly regarded each as marginal to the industry, different, and unequal to
the core workforce
both black men and white women were defined as the 'other', a socially-created category that was itself broken down along lines of race and gender
the history of black men in auto work is one of many contradictions
such contradictions are the outcome of the changing configuration of race, gender, and social class
while black men were intruders in the homogeneous white world of auto plants, their status as wage-earning men/union brothers accorded them various rights and
entitlements that were denied (white) women workers
the social and political implications of race in these settings permitted black men to be elevated to the formal status of white men, a status that was based on
gender privilege, and class, and gender solidarities
formal equal rights in union contracts (equal wages and equal seniority rights), though, did not shield black men from face-to-face indignities on the plant floor, nor
did they protect the men from the hazards of working in bad jobs, or the economic impact of stunted opportunities within the firm
gender and class shaped the content of the racism that these men experienced; they did not protect them from it
race and gender shape work-class experience
whiteness and masculinity were undeniably central features of auto work
the primacy of one of these constructs over the others has sometimes been debated, but this is not at issue here for there is no neat formula that can be
consistently applied to understand their alliance
it is more useful to observe how the racialization of gender and gendering of race have changed over time, and have taken on meaning in different spheres of
social existence
when we examine the ever-changing nexus of race, gender and class, we understand the relationship not merely as one of multiple oppressions, but as something
more complex – one in which people can be simultaneously victims and agents; privileged and oppressed