Gender in Store: Salespeople's Working Hours and Union Organisation in New Zealand and the United States, 1930-60

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Abstract

Explanations for the weakness of retail employees' unions have often emphasised that a high proportion of salespeople were women with low attachment to the labour force and unions. Comparing the experience of salespeople's unions in Wellington (New Zealand) and Saint Paul (Minnesota), this paper shows instead that perceptions of women as consumers shaped the political environment in which retail unions tried to control working hours. After 1930s legislation in both countries denied salespeople the 40 hour week other occupations had been granted, retail unions in Saint Paul and Wellington focussed their efforts on achieving a 40 hour, five-day week. While both unions were successful in gaining their 40 hour week, when that goal had been accomplished they lost the commitment of their members, revealing the structural limitations of craft-based unionism trying to organise workers in an industry which was organised on merchandise, not functional, principles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-130
Number of pages24
JournalLabour History
Issue number83
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

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