Women and the labour movement in Scotland, 1850-1914
In recent years there has been a concerted effort by feminist historians to retrieve women from historical obscurity and reinsert them into the historical landscape. Early research concentrated on this task of reclamation and produced a number of self-contained monographs and studies of women's lives. However, the emphasis has shifted towards viewing the sexual divison of labour as a central object of study and as a tool of analysis and evaluating its impact on the historical process. It is argued that in this way feminist history can transform our knowledge of the past and contribute to a greater understanding of the process of historical change. The present study seeks to contribute to this project by examining the lives of working women in Scotland between 1850 and 1914. It takes issue with standard accounts which assume that women's paid labour and women's organisation at the point of production will take male forms and argues that gender ideologies had a significant impact on women's experience of work. The pattern of women's employment 1S examined and it is illustrated that because work has been defined according to the male norm of full-time permanent work, outside the home, the extent of women's paid labour has been seriously underestimated. It is also argued that in order to account for the characteristics of female employment it is necessary to take ideological factors into consideration and that notions of what constitutes women's 'proper' role in society had a pattern of women's employment. important role played by trade powerful influence on the The study identifies the unions in maintaining occupational segregation and confirming women's work as unskilled and low paid. It is also suggested that the model of labour organisations was influenced inter-alia by an ideology of gender which limited its ability to relate to the experience of women workers. It is argued that women's experience of work was mediated by their subordination as a gender and that this generated particular forms of resistance and organisation which did not necessarily conform to the standard male forms. The study concludes that we have to reappraise the received view of women workers as apathetic and difficult to organise and suggests that alternative forms of labour organisations which do not reflect but challenge gender divisions are required.