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The growth of the United Auto Workers in Canada dramatically improved the lives of thousands of workers. Not only did it achieve impressive bargaining gains, but the UAW was regarded as one of the most democratic and socially progressive of the major industrial unions in North America. However, workers in the automotive sector, who constituted the largest segment of the UAW membership, witnessed blatant gender inequalities. From 1937 to 1979, UAW leaders did little to challenge these inequalities. Both the union and the workplace remained highly masculine settings in which male workers and bosses played out the gender politics of the times.
Pamela Sugiman draws on archival materials and in-depth interviews with workers and union representatives to explore the ways in which the small groups of women in southern Ontario auto plants fought for dignity, respect, and rights within this restrictive context. During the Second World War, women auto workers formed close bonds with one another - bonds that rested largely around their identification as a sex. By the late 1960s, they were drawing on a growing union consciousness, the modern women's movement, and their gender identity, to launch an organized collective struggle for sexual equality.
In describing the women's experiences, Sugiman employs the concept of a `gendered strategy.' A gendered strategy incorporates both reasoned decisions and emotional responses, calculated interests and compromises. Within a context of gender and class divisions, workers developed strategies of coping, resistance, and control. Labour's Dilemma reveals how people may be simultaneously agents and victims, compliant and resistant.