Where’s the Care?

Source: Eileen Boris, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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In 1966, Ida Phillips, a white mother of seven children, applied for a position as an assembly line trainee at a Martin-Marietta missile plant in Orlando, Florida. At a wage of $2.25 an hour with benefits, the job was a real improvement over waitressing at Donut Dinette. But the personnel office rejected her application, claiming that the firm did not hire women with preschoolers. Her subsequent suit led to the first US Supreme Court decision on Title VII in 1971. Litigated at a time when the scope of civil rights at work was up for grabs, when feminists envisioned a robust equality for women of all classes, Phillips v. Martin-Marietta illuminates the significance of anti-discrimination law in opening up hiring — and its profound limits for restructuring the workplace to revalue labors of care that disadvantage women over men and women of color over other women. It points to the obstacles that the fixed categories of the law — singular identities such as sex and race — impose when plaintiffs, despite their intersectional and complex, indeed fluid, selves – must compare themselves to other similarly situated individuals to claim differential treatment and thus establish harm. It reminds us that not all labor counts as work under the law.

Fifty years after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we have learned that formal equality is not enough. Title VII may have helped professionals crack glass ceilings and other women leave pink-collar work for better paying blue-collar jobs, but it does little to tear down maternal walls. Today feminist lawyers seek to deploy it as one tool against what Joan Williams in 2000 dubbed “family responsibility discrimination,” which severely impacts low-waged workers in jobs with little flexibility. However, paid care workers, disproportionately African American and immigrant women of color, turn elsewhere in their quest for recognition, dignity, better working conditions, and higher wages. Union organizing and bills of rights are the preferred tools of nannies, cleaners, and elder-, child-, and home-care workers of all sorts. These workers are leading the way toward a new social justice movement that values “caring across the generations,” fights for living wages, and recognizes the interdependence of us all….