ALL DAY EVERY DAY: FACTORY AND
Reviewed by Victoria J. Marsick
Sallie Westwood introduces the reader to the lives of working class women of British, African and Caribbean origin as they individually and collectively struggle to create meaningful lives for themselves in a patriarchal society in and outside the workplace. Her intimate account, written from the perspective of a participant observer, brings laughter, tears, and the common ache of empathy at recognizing what it means to be a woman, working sometimes with and sometimes against one another, simultaneously rejecting and embracing the roles created for women by society.
The setting is a large, paternalistic hosiery factory in a city with the fictitious name of Neddletown, England. The hosiery industry has always been patriarchal, with men in skilled knitting jobs, and women and children in unskilled support positions. Roles today have not changed much. Men are top managers, knitters, mechanics and dyers, while women work in the finishing process (stitching, pressing, packing) as well as in personnel and white collar jobs.
On the whole, women earn less than men. The factory is unionized, but the union reflects a similar division of labor, with men dominating the issues, controlling the power bases, and responding slowly if at all to many women's concerns, such as wage and labour inequities, occupational barriers, and maternity benefits.
The author introduces us to the work women do, the way in which sexism creeps into the workplace, and how it is handled by women. For example, men call women "girls," but women reclaim this term and turn it around to reflect solidarity. Women joke with male supervisors, but recognize they are part of the world of white male management, and sometimes refer to each one as "father." First-line supervisors, themselves women promoted up from the ranks, balance uncomfortable demands from superiors with empathy for women in the ranks they left.
Unlike men, women's work is subject to a new, complex grading and timing system that is recognized as part of a control strategy. Women are kept "up against the minutes," whereas under the former piece work system, they had more control over when and how much they worked. (The piece work system, however, also had drawbacks, such as competition among the experienced and the inexperienced for scarce work.) Under the new system, women are divided against one another, since women in different grades can earn different wages for the same job, based on different production targets.
Women protest against the lack of control in many ways: wearing house slippers at work, using company time and scraps of material to make themselves aprons, and slowing down work to make it last longer. The chapter on shop floor culture shows how women create a relatively happy life for themselves despite constraints: through friendships, sharing of food, celebrations, and marketing of cosmetics or other outside products while on company time.
In the remainder of the book, the author poignantly explores the way in which shop floor culture shapes young girls as they become women, tying them to the difficult roles the women simultaneously protest. Symbolic of this are the rituals surrounding marriage, beginning with a lunchtime party in which the bride-to-be wears a costume (such as schoolgirl or chorus girl outfits) sewn by co-workers on company time, after which the young woman is tied to the railings outside the factory and left to struggle free to symbolize her impending status.
The company shuts its eyes to the time needed for these occasions, which includes a hen party out on the town, in which female relatives and co-workers drink, dance and party until the early hours of the next morning. These rituals are modified for Asian women, who experience additional conflicts by being caught between the culture of England and that of the "home" culture.