Kelly: How Women are Transforming Organized Labor

Labor News

Kim Kelly is a writer, organizer, and labor activist based in New York City. She is a contributing editor at Noisey, Vice's music and culture site, has contributed to the Guardian, the New Republic, Rolling Stone, NPR, the New York Times, and others, and writes a bi-weekly labor column for Teen Vogue.

Reprinted from The Washington Post by Kim Kelly on April 22, 2019.

“’Whatever the fight, don’t be ladylike,’” writes Kim Kelly in The Washington Post.

“So said labor organizer and self-professed ‘hell-raiser’ Mary ‘Mother Jones’ Harris more than a century ago as she called to action the wives of striking coal miners across Appalachia. Their combined efforts helped drum up public support and turn the tide in the miners’ favor. At the time, women were shut out of union activity and shunted to the sidelines during labor battles; they were relegated to domestic duties or caught in the crossfire as collateral damage.

“As Harris and other trailblazers demonstrated, the working class can succeed only by harnessing the power of all workers, regardless of gender. Today, public support for unions is at a record high, the feared fallout of the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME failed to materialize, and fast-growing sectors like digital media and fast-food service have added thousands of members to union rolls.

“This renewed energy is coming disproportionately from women. In fact, women — and particularly women of color — remain on the front lines of worker-organizing in a variety of industries, including those our patriarchal society has long coded as ‘women’s work.’ Workers in a slew of traditionally feminized labor sectors — from education and domestic work to food service and sex work — have driven some of the movement’s most important victories. That is critically important both because they now make up the majority of the working class and because their involvement is helping to reshape the priorities of organized labor. …

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Washington Post 4/22

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Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at

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