Why we need more unions for womxn, by Esther Attias
The gender wage gap has been stagnating for around 30 years – that’s about as long as I been on this planet. Womxn have been paid 25% less than their male counterparts in France since the 1990s. For womxn of color, the gender gap is even more worrying. In
the US, African-American womxn are paid 62 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Latinas are typically paid 54 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men make. Gender stereotypes, cliché representations that limit us, eduction, the lack of parental leave… so many factors explain these numbers.
What is as true and as worrying is that our unions, which are meant to protect workers’ rights, do not care about womxn’ issues. A few days ago, France’s Labor minister Muriel Pénicaud claimed that 16% of French medium-sized businesses (between 250 and 999 employees) were below minimum standards regarding the gender wage gap (and only 10% of them have published their Gender gap index, which is compulsory according to the 2018 “Loi pour la liberté de choisir son avenir
professionnel”. Yikes). When it comes to big-sized businesses (more than 1000 employees), “one business out of four displays strong gender wage gaps, and one out of two has trouble placing womxn at top management jobs and has a glass ceiling”, she said.
Obviously, unions are not fully to blame for this. But one thing is for sure : unions have disappointed us – which partly explains why France is the third European country with the weakest rate of unionized workers (10.8%). This betrayal goes way back to the beginnings of unionizing in France. Unions we founded on misogynistic bases. The following story illustrates my point (which I heard in an
amazing podcast on France Culture which I highly recommend) : Simone de Beauvoir switched to feminist activist after a conversation with her friend philosopher Albert Camus.
As she was sharing her thoughts on feminism, Albert Camus, an adamant fighter for workers’ rights, got super mad at her for what he claimed was weakening the great Labor cause – he deemed womxn’s rights a subaltern issue. This was when Simone realized that a “universal” meant a fight about men’ rights. That womxn did not belong to the universal. And that everything needed to be deconstructed, and specifically the idea that class warfare was about “mankind”.
History as written by the patriarchy does not give a fair account of the massive impact women have had – and still have –
in labor activism. Womxn have been forgotten in the major narratives even though they have played key parts. But hey, this statement “did not match the male preconceptions that womxn were passive, shy, quiet, and too fearful of violence to take part in union fights and in strikes”, historian Laura Frader argues (Femmes, genre et mouvement ouvrier en France aux XIXe et XXe siècles : bilan et perspectives de recherche). The typical representation of “the worker” is a punchy white male, who’s preferably wearing a mustache. Exit womxn.
This statement is even clearer when it comes to womxn of color, who are less visible in
historic narratives both because they come from minorities and because they are womxn. Union activist from Belgium Eva María Jiménez Lamas shares her experience of unionizing and rightly explains how intersectional politics in unions are difficult to lead : “in everyday life, we systematically encounter the major problem of having our three causes unite : anticapitalism, antisexism and antiracism. Usually, at least one of these three is left out or considered less important”, she writes in Causes Toujours, her union’s review (2018).
In France, we need more womxn created unions to take the lead on gender fights : wage gaps between
white women and women of color, paternity leave, career perspectives when womxn come back from maternity leave, the number of womxn at key positions in firms… This is all the more important that the recent “Loi Travail”, voted in 2017, gives a larger part to collective negotiation within a business.
So, just in case you need it… Here is how you can create your own union in France. Rest assured : it is part of a worker’s rights to create their own union. The employer cannot discriminate according to your union. To get started, you only need three members.
Step 1 : organize a General Assembly with your future members. This is when you draft the paperwork of your union and elect the union board. While drafting the status of your union, you will also define the
union’s ID : its name, its location, its goal, etc. This gives your union its legal existence and grants it rights.
Step 2 : Drop 4 copies of your union’s “statuts” and the composition of the union board at the city hall of the town where your firm is based. The status of your union will be sent to a legal authority who will validate your organisation. You must leave the city hall with a receipt.
Step 3 : give a copy of the receipt to the Union Office of your firm, and get a receipt for that.
And… you are done !
Bonus step : if you want to go national, you need to check those 7 criteria.
More information here, and here, and there, and even there.
I’m leaving this here, you girl think about it…
An alternative option is to spend the rest of our lives playing the new Ms Monopoly, which tries to close gender gap in the most bizarre way : each time a female player passes “go”, they will collect 240 Monopoly bucks while male players will collect the usual 200. I’m not convinced. Since when do gender gaps exist in board games ? This rule suggests that womxn want illegitimate gifts, when what we are really fighting for is justice ! And I would rather change things in real life rather than in fiction.