For more than a quarter century, steel mills in the United States and Canada have produced more than metal: they have produced a new kind of worker and union activist-"Women of Steel." In an era labeled postfeminist and postindustrial, women have created spaces in this quintessentially male-dominated workforce from which to mobilize for their rights as women and workers. In Union Women, Mary Margaret Fonow captures the stories of the women of the United Steelworkers. She focuses on a tenacious group who used their developing power in the union to challenge sex discrimination and to advocate for women's rights, and applied their transnational resources to construct a feminist response to globalization and economic restructuring. In the process, they have transformed the organizations, resources, and networks of both the labor and women's movements, and have in turn transformed themselves into feminists.
In Union Women Fonow uses statistical, archival, and ethnographic research methods to provide a broad historical account of women in the steel industry. Fonow's sweeping approach allows her to examine several key issues in social movement, feminist, and political theory, and to show that insights from these fields shape each other. She explores how social movements are gendered, how working-class women develop a feminist consciousness, and how this process is informed by intersecting demands of race, class, and gender. As a comparative, cross-national study, Union Women also demonstrates how different political and social cultures affect women's organizing and strategic decisions. Finally, Fonow emphasizes that economic restructuring and globalization pose immediate challenges for women as laborers and activists, and that, in order to survive, all unions must develop organizing and mobilization strategies informed by feminism and other social movements.
Mary Margaret Fonow is assistant professor of women's studies at Ohio State University.