-- BY Valerie Casselton, labor reporter
Vancouver Sun, May 11

They're not working for pin money, and they're not the doctors' "girls".

Last October, nine Comox women, the first to unionize in a BC
doctors' office, walked out of the medical centre where some had worked for
20 years and went on strike for a first contract.

The women, mostly middle-aged and with no history of union activism,
are still on strike. And their militancy is increasingly being recognized
as typical of strikes that involve mostly women.

"I'd rather have a hundred women behind me than men-- a hundred
women are stronger than 100 men," says Wayne Vicic, a representative of the
United Food and Commercial Workers.

... When women go on strike they tend to dig in and grow closer
as they become more politicized and determined to achieve their goals, trade
unionists say.

...so what makes a womens' strike different?

(Director of women`s programs for the BCF ederation of Labour Mary
Rowles) says women generally are concentrated in service jobs where they are
paid less than men, earning on average only 66.7 cents for every dollar a
man earns.

Wages reflect the priority employers and society place on those
jobs, so frustration at their powerlessness and porverty increases and
morale slides... until the women get on the picket line, Rowles says.

"They get a sense of the true value of their work to sicety, which
is not reflected in theri paycheques," she says. As the strikes continue,
the women start to feel their power, develop a greater sense of self-esteem
and become further convinced their cause is just.

Rowles cites as examples last year's three-week nurses' strike
in BC and the illegal nurses' strike in Alberta.

..But one major elmployer of a predominantly female employee group,
BC nurses, sees no difference between strikes by men and those by women.

"my experience with strikes, which goes back to the '50's
on both sides of the fence, wouldn't lead me to think there's any
difference between a picket line that's predominantly women or (one) that's
predominantly men," says Gordon Austin, president of the Health Labor
Relations Association.

"each strike is different, each has its own highlights and passion,
but to qualify a strike based on gender, I wouldn't do that."

However, Rowles argues that once BC nurses went on the picket
line they discovered that society placed tremendous value on their work--
something their employer was forced to acknowledge through significantly
improved pay and benefits.

... the Comox office workers are not striking for higher wages:
they are demonading a pension or retirement savings plan, recognition of
their union, seniority and job security.

(A union spokeswoman) says "How women and men respond in strikes
is different becasue women dig their heels in and become very committed to the
stgrike because they come to a recognition of who they are as women in

.... Dave Winter, a Canadian Labor Congress organizer who advised
striking women at the Powell River Credit Union through a 3 1/2 month
strike, said union leaders can take a lesson from the newly militant

"Quite frankly, throughout this dispute, I was hurrying to catch
up with these women. Once they decided to go, there was nobody in the world
could stop them."

comment: one of the women in the Comox doctors' office had worked there for
23 years. She joined the union after one of the women retired after 20
years' service, with no pension... allegedly, one of the doctors threw out
the women's petition for a pension plan.

I can hardly believe these guys, one of whom was my partner in first year
anatomy and a very laid back guy. To treat a faithful worker like that is

Any union organizers out there? Agree? Disagree-- about who is
easier to organize?

--- Opus-CBCS 1.12
* Origin: PSG Vancouver (1:153/4.0)