Title: Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950
Author: Vicki Ruiz
Categories: Chicano History, Labor History, The American West, Industry, Social History
Time Period: 1930-1950
Vicki Ruiz writes a history of Mexican women's involvement in the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) during the 1930s and 1940s. With a heavily female workforce, Ruiz details a "cannery culture" in which female workers formed both interethnic and intra-ethnic bonds on the shop floor based on extended family networks, shared experiences as women (particularly in childrearing), and struggles against tyrannical supervisors or unsanitary conditions. During the 1930s, the UCAPAWA emerged in the context of broader militant industrial unionism and led a very successful strike and boycott in 1939. Ruiz argues that the success of the UCAPAWA was due in part to the women workers in leadership positions, rank-and-file female participation ("women organizing women"), its ability to merge into existing kinship and friendship networks of a cannery culture. During the 1940s, the union enjoyed even more success as World War II prompted a period of rampant demand for canned goods - giving workers more leverage over employers desperate for workers to meet this demand. Ruiz argues that just as women proved beneficial for the union, unionization proved beneficial for women not only in a material sense of improving workplace conditions, but giving them a "social space" of psychological benefits and a collective workplace identity. The union finally faced decline in the late 1940s in the face of a growing tide of competing conservative unionism (in this case, the Teamsters) and in the red-baiting environment of the McCarthy years.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Interethnic and Intra-ethnic connections and kinship/friendship networks contribute to coherence of a "cannery culture"
- "Cannery culture" laid foundation on which unionization was built
- Agency and contributions of Mexican women to the union movement
- Unionization gives women participants a positive "social space" and identity
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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