October 1999, Vol. 122, No. 10
Future of labor unions
Welfare: Why not change it?
Book reviews from past issues
Woman and jobs
Gender and Jobs: Sex Segregation of Occupations in the World. By Richard Anker, Washington, International Labor Organization, 1998, 444 pp.
Women have nimble fingers, a caring and honest nature, skill at household activities, and a willingness to be subservient and to take orders. The primary occupations for women in the world are highly consistent with these gender-based stereotypes. For example, women tend to be heavily employed as typists, nurses, teachers, maids, and hairdressers. What effect does this have on gender equality in the world? What does this mean for labor market efficiency? And why should we care? Richard Anker of the International Labor Organization explores the nature of occupational segregation by sex in Gender and Jobs: Sex Segregation of Occupations in the World.
Anker should be commended for his comprehensive and detailed analysis of occupational segregation by sex. He analyzes data for 41 countries and for 175 occupations. This is a huge undertaking. Crossnational comparisons are a challenge when dealing with vastly different labor markets and classification systems. It should also be noted that this undertaking differs from previous studies, which rely on data for roughly six occupations. This is important because such studies underestimate inequalities due to the high degree of occupational aggregation. Thus, Anker’s results provide a more accurate picture of occupational segregation by sex in the world.
Anker’s studies present some informative results on occupational segregation by sex in the world at present. Some of these only confirm common perceptions, while others are rather surprising. As expected, Anker discovers that occupational segregation by sex is extensive in each and every country. He also discovers that there are more male-dominated occupations than female-dominated occupations. This is particularly important in light of the fact that the female occupations tend to be lower paying, lower status, and with fewer advancement opportunities. In short, the labor market situation is not ideal for women even in today’s modern society.
Anker also reveals some surprising regional results. Usually serving as a model in gender equality, Scandinavia has the highest level of occupational segregation by sex of the OECD subregions. This subregion simply has a large set of "male" and "female" occupations. However, it should be noted that this labor market division has not been particularly bad for women. Men and women still enjoy relatively equal rates of pay in these "separate but equal" labor markets.
In contrast, the Asia/Pacific region has a relatively low level of occupational segregation by sex. This goes against common perceptions. However, it becomes clearer when the nature of this segregation is examined. First, women are often restrained by vertical segregation within an occupation. Vertical segregation is when men and women in the same occupation hold different jobs in terms of rank and pay. In other words, women have fewer opportunities for advancement or management within an occupation. Second, occupational segregation by sex in the Asia/Pacific region is also decreased by the high number of women working in export-oriented production occupations. In the rest of the world, these occupations tend to be male-dominated.
Anker also measures changes in occupational segregation by sex in the world over the past two decades. Although an impressive time-series study for methodological techniques, the results are less than earth-shattering. He reveals that occupational segregation by sex has decreased for the world as a whole over the past two decades. However, this decrease was not observed in East Asian countries, most Middle Eastern and North African countries, and some OECD and transition economy countries.
Anker spends a substantial amount of time analyzing the degree to which labor markets are divided. Rather than simply describing what is already known, Gender and Jobs could focus more on the causal effects. Most policymakers would like to know why occupational segregation by sex occurs and how it can be improved. To give Anker some credit, he does run a few regressions. He finds that socioeconomic development is unrelated to occupational segregation by sex. Instead, he finds that the region to which a country belongs is directly related to occupational segregation by sex. This result seems rather nonparamount. What exactly is it about the region that affects occupational segregation? Anker explains that social, cultural, and historical factors are important determinants. Perhaps further study should be conducted on these determinants.Jennifer Tikka
Future of labor unions
Which Direction for Organized Labor? Essays on Organizing, Outreach, and Internal Transformation. Edited by Bruce Nissen. Detroit, MI, Wayne State University Press, 1999, 260 pp. $28.95, paper.
There is surprising consistency in these essays by union officials, labor activists, and labor educators. All of them want to see a revitalized, expanding American labor movement. Some union observers may find their recommendations unsettling and controversial. I think some are hopeful rather than proved, but they deserve a hearing by those interested in the future of American labor unions.
Many of the authors call for broad community-based "members-only organizing" (aimed simply at adding members to the union)—in contrast to National Labor Relations Board election-oriented organizing based on a worksite, industry, or occupation. They emphasize long-term grassroots community coalition-building to expand union membership, with appeals for social justice and class solidarity, rather than gearing membership drives to union recognition or contract negotiations. This agenda suggests a much stronger role for central labor councils and community action.
A related aim is to transform unions from service organizations relying on grievance, arbitration, and contract negotiations to "organizing models" which aim not only at "internal organizing" in the work situation but also, and more important, at "external organizing" in the local community.
"Unions will have to spend more time and money on organizing and less on servicing members and contracts," says labor journalist David Moberg. For organizing and bargaining success, unions "must recruit public support and organizational allies to turn a labor dispute into a community battle over social justice," Moberg thinks.
"A reinvention of jurisdiction is long overdue," says Wade Rathke, a Service Employees organizer. Because of high turnover of transient workers, he thinks that "Organizing the firm often means the union is simply manning the turnstile at the job," instead of dealing with wages, benefits, and job security.
Organizers must impart confidence, leadership skills, and vision to workers "too intimidated to stand up for themselves," says UNITE organizer Eve Weinbaum. "Leaders must consider it their main responsibility to identify, bring forward, and train new leaders at every level.
Stewart Acuff, president of the Atlanta AFL-CIO Labor Council, describes a successful, militant, local community and statewide labor mobilization. "The best tools of power for CLCs are electoral action, solidarity, mobilization and militancy, and coalitions," says Acuff. He gives a detailed account of the 1990–96 campaign to make Olympic Games construction and service jobs open to union workers. The campaign involved coalition-building, politics, plant gate rallies, mass picket lines, exploitation of media, confrontation, and in 1992 a 10,000-person march in downtown Atlanta, "one of the largest displays of union force in the history of the South."
Building trades unions are fighting back against a 20-year anti-union campaign by the Business Roundtable and the Associated Builders and Contractors, according to Jeff Grabelsky and Mark Erlich. They describe the unions’ Construction Organizing Membership Education Training (COMET) "designed to explain to members why local unions must organize unrepresented construction workers in order to regain control of the skilled labor supply, recapture market share, and rebuild bargaining strength." The authors find race and sex discrimination still a problem, but they see promise in the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department campaign to organize construction workers not trade-by-trade but through "multitrade, marketwide, workforce organizing." The results of this effort are not yet in, but it is a new direction for the building trades.
This is a stimulating collection of essays for those interested in union organizing and in the future of America’s labor unions.
formerly with the AFL-CIO
Welfare: Why not change it?
Work and Welfare. By Robert M. Solow. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1998, 100 pp. $19.95.
Americans hate their welfare system. Yet for decades they’ve been unable to either end it or reform it into something more palatable. How such an unpopular institution can be so immune to a public united against it is one of the great puzzles of American politics.
As part of the 1996–97 Tanner Lectures in Human Values at Princeton University, Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Solow attempted to answer this question. His two public lectures there, along with the comments of four other experts and his responses to them, have been published in this book.
To a degree, the format is regrettable. Had the book not originated as a series of lectures given to an audience of laypersons, Solow would likely have been able to go into greater depth and precision that one expects from a Nobel laureate. As it is, his analysis at times seems to be overly general, refusing to comment (beyond a few disparaging remarks) on any specific welfare reform proposal. On several occasions, he appeared to be close to saying something specific or taking a stand on one contentious issue or another, only to suddenly retreat into neutral generalities. Nevertheless, in those areas he does address, Solow offers some keen insights.
His remarks are laid out in two chapters, each corresponding to one of his lectures. The first explains how it is that welfare can be so disliked, and yet remain so unchanged. Two fundamental human virtues, he says, are in conflict: altruism, which tells us that we should help the unfortunate, and self-reliance, which tells us that people should stand on their own feet. The former makes it impossible for us to end welfare, while the latter makes us hate it.
The cure? Replace unearned welfare with earned wages. Recipients will feel better about themselves because they’re being more self-reliant. Furthermore, taxpayers will feel less taken advantage of, allowing them to reserve their altruism (which like everything else, is a commodity in limited supply) for those truly unable to work, such as the disabled.
Solow knows that convincing a Nation of welfare haters that the poor actually want to work may be difficult, and accordingly spends the remainder of the first chapter doing so. His evidence comes in two forms. First, he cites numerous interviews with recipients from around the Nation and in Canada. The recurring theme is one of how being on welfare was degrading, while they were able to feel much better about themselves when working at even the most menial of jobs. Lest one dismiss this as a lot of cheap talk, he cites statistics showing that the majority of people who have spent 2 or more years on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) either have worked (57 percent) or have participated in job training (30 percent) at some point after starting to receive assistance.
The second chapter answers the obvious question: If everyone wants to replace welfare with work, why has reform been so hard to achieve? Because, says Solow, no one is willing to spend the money that achieving such a transformation would require.
Consider the issue of job availability. It is difficult to believe that the labor market will supply enough new jobs for low-skilled workers without depressing the wage for those jobs below what is necessary to satisfy our altruistic values. Solow cites several studies showing that even programs in which an experimental group is provided modest job training and is required to work, rarely have the group’s employment rates risen more than 4 to 6 percentage points higher than those of a control group that continued to receive benefits under the normal welfare program.
From all this, Solow concludes that the government will have to create a large number of jobs, along the lines of the New Deal’s WPA, but geared towards urban areas and single mothers. Needless to say, this would be very expensive, and current attitudes towards welfare will make it difficult for society to accept new additional outlays for it. And so there we are. We can’t end it. We won’t pay to reform it. And we hate it.Daniel Elmore
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