The Multinational Monitor


B O O K   N O T E S

Writings on Women

Common Interests: Women Organising
in Global Electronics

Edited by Women Working Worldwide
London: Black Rose Press, 1991
237 pp.

Electronics may be the world's most globalized industry. Production takes place in the United States and Japan; in Malaysia, Pakistan and the Philippines; and in many other countries. Electronics is also one of the world's most mobile industries, with corporations routinely closing plants in one country and opening new ones in other, lower-wage nations.

Throughout the world, though, the industry maintains a consistent sexual division of labor: owners and managers are largely men, and assembly workers are mostly women. Electronics firms prefer to hire women assembly workers because they believe women are less likely to organize unions than men, and because they believe it is easier to fire women (in response to fluctuating market demand or decisions to move factories).

Common Interests profiles the electronics industries in 13 countries, and provides personal accounts of individual women workers and organizing efforts in each of the countries. It is a compelling book which illustrates the common problems facing women electronics workers. As Karen Hossfeld notes in her introduction to the book, "women on opposite sides of the world work under strikingly similar conditions, assembling the same products, sometimes even for the same transnational firms."

In all countries, women electronics workers receive low wages, occupy insecure jobs, experience severe eye strain (sometimes leading to blindness) and are exposed to hazardous chemicals.

They are organized into unions in only a few countries. Often, union organizing is outlawed, and in all cases workers know that organizing efforts may lead to a plant shutdown.

Yet women everywhere manage to resist in some fashion. In Thailand, where women workers are prohibited from speaking with each other on the job, the women sing together. In the Philippines, where union organizers face the threat of death squads, women have worked with the militant KMU labor federation to displace company unions.

Post Abolished: One Woman's Struggle
for Employment Rights in Tanzania

By Laeticia Mukurasi
Ithaca, New York: ILR Press, 1991
127 pp.

Post abolished is the powerful story of a Tanzanian woman's effort to be reinstated after being fired unjustly from her job.

In February 1985, after 10 years as the manpower and development administrative manager at the government-operated Fibreboards Africa Limited (FAL), Laeticia Mukurasi lost her job. Her dismissal came as part of a round of layoffs resulting from a World Bank and International Monetary Fund-advised government directive to reduce costs.

For Mukurasi, the termination notice was not unexpected. The only woman among seven top-level managers, she had been intimidated and harassed by her male superiors for many years. She was more educated than any of her colleagues and superiors; and she supported more worker-oriented policies than they did.

Of the seven top managers, only Mukurasi was dismissed in conjunction with the government-required layoffs. Her termination violated the "first in, last out" policy that was standard practice at FAL. She decided to fight the decision on the grounds of sex discrimination.

In August 1986, 13 months after her dismissal, the Tanzanian permanent labor tribunal heard her case, and five months later it ordered that she be fully reinstated.

FAL did not honor the tribunal's ruling, however. It refused to issue Mukurasi back pay, allocate her duties or provide her with an office. It also appealed her case, though rulings of the permanent tribunal are supposed to be final.

Mukurasi refused to give up. She was given a new--inferior-- position in January 1987. By 1990, she had regained her old position, as a result of her persistence and pressure from the government agencies which oversee FAL.

All of this took place in a country with relatively progressive laws prohibiting sex discrimination. Yet Tanzania's social structure prevents the laws from working. As Mukurasi argues, "Unless there is a total transformation of society, such laws can only have a fragmentary and piecemeal effect, reflecting the fragmented socio-cultural and neo-colonial economic environment in which such policies have to be practiced."

RU486: The Pill That Could End the Abortion Wars
and Why American Women Don't Have It

By Lawrence Lader
New York, Addison-Wesley, 1991
172 pp.

Ru 486is a pill that ends an unwanted pregnancy quickly and without an invasive procedure. It has induced abortion successfully in 96 percent of all cases. Developed and tested in France, the pill has been administered to over 50,000 French women with few negative side effects. RU 486: The Pill That Could End the Abortion Wars and Why American Women Don't Have it, by Lawrence Lader, founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League, explores both the development of the pill and how the Reagan and Bush administrations have kept it out the hands of U.S. women.

Lader focuses the first part of his book on the reactions of women to the drug. Seventy-seven percent of French women who have undergone both vacuum aspiration and RU 486 abortion prefer the pill. Most women interviewed for the book felt that the pill freed them from institutional constraints and, by "demedicalizing" the process, gave them, rather than the doctor, control over their abortions. The most serious side effect reported by women who have taken RU 486 is heavier than usual bleeding.

The second half of RU examines how U.S. abortion politics have prevented the drug from being tested and made available to women in the United States. According to Lader, leading FDA scientists who have studied thousands of French cases consider the drug qualified for approval. But the Bush administration, buckling under pressure from the anti-abortion minority, has directed the agency to allow virtually no testing of the drug, even for its other potential benefits as a contraceptive or in treating breast cancer, endometriosis and certain brain tumors.

Lader's final chapter calls for an intensive effort of medical, civil rights, family planning and women's groups to push for the introduction into the United States of the drug that the French Minister of Health calls "the moral property of women."

Women and the World Economic Crisis
By Jeanne Vickers
London: Zed Books, Ltd., 1991
46 pp.

The burden of the third world debt crisis and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank-induced structural adjustment programs has fallen disproportionately on women. Women and the World Economic Crisis looks at the policy questions surrounding the debt and women's lives, complementing policy analysis with short case studies of the effect of the debt on women in Zambia, Mexico, the Philippines, Ghana and Jamaica.

The structural adjustment policies called for by the IMF and World Bank have had a similar effect on women throughout the developing world. When governments cut back on health and child care programs, it is women who are forced to pick up the slack. When devalued exchange rates lead to sudden decreases in wages and increases in prices, it is women, who manage most families' day-to-day affairs, who must try to cope with the consequences.

Many women have responded actively to the debt crisis. Jeanne Vickers documents how women's organizations across the globe are leading protest movements, organizing producers' cooperatives for agricultural and handicraft goods, operating communal kitchens and establishing community banks to support micro- businesses.

Vickers argues, however, that improving poor women's lives will ultimately require the resumption of growth in the Third World. She also notes the importance of countries' achieving food self- sufficiency, so that they can feed themselves without relying on costly imports.

Women and the World Economic Crisis is a useful introductory book, complete with a glossary, illustrations, cartoons, easy-to- understand charts and discussion questions.

-Stephanie Donne, Holley Knaus and Robert Weissman

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