It is class that created and maintains the schism between the professional feminists and the women who look to unions rather than to feminism to help them at work. You can’t find a self-proclaimed feminist who doesn’t pay at least lip service to the idea of equal pay for equal work, but we don’t see a whole lot of connection between that problem and the actions that might be taken to rectify it. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow workers to discuss salaries with one another in order to discover discrepancies, has been touted as a partial solution to the gender wage gap, but the idea, for instance, that workers should organize into a union whereby they’d bargain collectively for better pay and conditions seems lost.
By focusing solely on equal pay for equal work, we focus on the pay rates of individual women compared to individual men; we presume that work is taking place in the kind of white-collar workplace where one’s salary can be negotiated individually rather than collectively. Marilyn Sneiderman, a lifelong labor organizer and head of Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, notes that it’s an individual struggle for a lawyer trying to make partner, but for a waitress, a janitor, a hotel housekeeper, the hope for a better job isn’t promotion through the ranks. Rather, it’s in pushing for paid sick days, for job security, for a raise—and those are things you get through organizing with your fellow workers.