Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Ellen Cassedy and the 9 to 5 Feminist Labor Movement


Ellen Cassedy, the author of  "Working 9 to 5: A Women's Movement, A Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie," and one of the founders of the 9 to 5 feminist labor movement told me she lived in Davis Square, Somerville, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1979. When, according to her to her," You could get a good part for your washing machine, but that's about it." Now when she visits Somerville she is surprised about how it changed.  The gentrified Somerville impresses her--the new gleaming environs and all the trendy eateries. She reflected, "Imagine you can have a kale bowl in Somerville, now!"

Cassedy was a office worker at Harvard University in 1972, living in an old Victorian with other young women. She recalls, " One day we sat in a circle, and talked about what women needed in the workplace. We pooled our pennies and they sent me to the Midwest Academy of Organizers, and I learned all kinds of things about organizing people." It was until 1998 that the clerical workers at Harvard University won a contract, and then they tried to set standards for female employees.

Cassedy has an abundance of anecdotes about the conditions women faced during this era. She told me one acquaintance of hers went into her boss' office and requested a raise in salary. He told her, " You should see a psychiatrist." Women commonly trained men to be in management positions--that they would be just as competent in. Another comment that male superiors passed around was, "We gave the position to Joe--he bought a new house and has a family to support."  This- in spite of the fact  many of these female clerical workers needed to support a family, through the better income that a better job could provide. Many of these clerical workers had college degrees, and did not think they would spend years in the typing pool.

The Boston Clerical workforce in the 1970s was predominately white. Boston was a white city. This band of organizers insisted that people of color should be treated fairly. When they expanded their outreach to more diverse cities like Baltimore and Atlanta , they were able to reach out to minority workers.

Later in 1980 or so Jane Fonda and her staff approached Cassedy and other organizers, and told these women they wanted to produce a film about their experience. The movie "9 to 5" was a hit, and had a great title song by Dolly Parton. Before they produced the movie Fonda's people asked if any of the women fantasized about killing their bosses. According to Cassedy, seventy per cent did.

The movement was ambitious and created a " Bill of Rights for Women." They came up with 13 rights. They included the right for a job description, the right to say 'no' to anything outside the description, as well as others..Cassedy said they printed a large number of these documents, on old -looking parchment- like paper, and sent it around far and wide.

Cassedy told me she was part of the 'second' wave of feminism This wave , unlike the first wave,  which was strongly connected to Suffrage movement --sprung from the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. During the early days, according to Cassedy, women did not want to be identified as feminist, but they certainly were for equal pay for equal work. Cassedy and her band of organizers had to couch their language, as not to alienate these women.

Cassedy told me how pleased she is with the reaction of younger women to her book and the movement.

After I had left Cassedy told me a young high school student approached her. She overheard our conversations, and told Cassedy that were putting a " 9 to 5" play at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. I could imagine a wide smile on Cassedy's face, as the torch passes on to younger generations.

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