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Abstract

[Excerpt] Female involvement at every level of union activity and decision-making will strengthen that trend within organized labor that historically has advocated greater rank-and-file participation, greater internal democracy, more collective and community-oriented practices, and more progressive stands on national and international issues ranging from budgetary priorities to peace and disarmament. The attitudes, style of work, scope of concerns and political preferences of today's female union activists — tomorrow's union leaders — will help rekindle a social unionism like that fostered by the CIO at the height of its organizing campaigns — a social unionism that is needed today to inspire workers and galvanize a movement. What's more, if past experience is any indication, women will conscientiously take on a lion's share of the day-to-day organizational work required to rebuild that movement.

What evidence supports such claims? How significant a change in membership and leadership composition has occurred to date? What obstacles have women unionists faced within unions and how have they been able to overcome resistance? What is distinctive in their approach to union work and in their style of leadership that will shape their particular contributions? Drawing on existing research, surveys and studies, along with personal observation and experience, this article will explore the potential that growing female labor participation holds for transforming union life and influence in the decades ahead.

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