Women Workers Fighting Exploitation

3-11-05, 2:39 pm


This month the global union movement is hosting a series of events to honor women’s struggle to attain justice and equality—and to highlight how the record number of women in the workforce still are paid less than men for equal work and face other forms of discrimination in the workplace.   And in the United States, women face a new threat to their financial well-being: President George W. Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security and force drastic cuts in the guaranteed retirement program, moves that especially will hurt women, who make up 60 percent of all Social Security recipients and are less likely than men to have pensions or substantial savings.   “It’s the same story year after year. Women work longer hours, juggle jobs with taking care of children and get paid less than other workers,” says Gloria Johnson, chairwoman of the AFL-CIO Executive Council Committee on Women Workers. “This year the stakes are even higher because the Bush administration wants to take away the Social Security benefits that millions of women depend on to live.”   Social Security is the main form of support for retired women. On average, widowed, divorced or never married women 65 and older rely on Social Security for 71 percent of their incomes, compared with 64 percent of men.   Women face wage discrimination in the workplace and tend to be paid less than men. Women also are more likely than men to be in temporary or part-time jobs and interrupt their careers to care for children and elderly parents. As a result, women earn less than men during their working lives: Over a 15-year span, women’s earnings are 38 percent of men’s, according to a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).   Social Security’s progressive benefit formula—in which workers with low lifetime earnings get benefits that replace a higher percentage of their earnings—helps women.   The United Nations declared March 8 to be International Women’s Day in 1975, but the holiday has been celebrated for nearly a century in honor of women in the American labor movement. March also is National Women’s History Month in the United States.   This month, the global union movement is highlighting the gap in wages between men and women and pushing for stronger measures to protect the rights of women in the workplace.   Women’s Wage Gap Is Worldwide

Women’s participation in the U.S. workforce has nearly quadrupled over the past 50 years. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the number of working women grew from 18.4 million in 1950 to 69 million—nearly half (47 percent) of the workforce—in 2004. By 2010, more than 62 percent of U.S. women will be in the workforce.   Yet, women continue to face discrimination on the job. A quarter of working women who responded to the AFL-CIO 2004 Ask a Working Woman survey said they do not have equal pay for equal work. In 2003, women earned only 80 cents for every dollar men earned. African American women earned less than 71 cents; Latinas earned 59 cents; and Asian American women earned 86 cents for every dollar a man earned.   Worldwide, women make up 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty worldwide. Some 2.8 billion people were at work in 2003 and 39 percent (or 1.1 billion) of these were women—a higher proportion than ever before. Yet women in developing and industrialized countries increasingly face obstacles at work, according to an International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) report Great Expectations—Mixed Results released last month.   The report coincides with an international meeting in New York City this month to review the gains made since the U.N. women’s conference held in Beijing in 1995, which developed an action program with a strong focus on women’s rights at work.   “We are disappointed that some governments are attempting to renege on commitments made 10 years ago” says Sharan Burrow, president of the ICFTU. The women and trade union members at the conference will draw attention to violations of trade union rights in Colombia where intimidation and physical violence against trade unionists continue unabated. Since 2003, there also has been a sharp rise in the proportion of women victims of anti-trade union violence—156 women trade unionists received death threats in 2004 and 12 were murdered.  

» Go to more articles from PA's online edition.» Go to sample articles from this month's print edition» Support PA with your subscription