The sweatshop conditions faced by the Pactiv workers are not so far removed from the experiences of most women workers in this country. Women are disproportionately concentrated in clerical, service-sector and manufacturing jobs. Among all women workers in the U.S., one in five is a cashier, secretary or teacher. Nearly six out of 10 African American women work as nursing attendants, janitors, cleaners, cooks and maids. Immigrant women often take jobs as domestic workers, hotel and restaurant workers, orderlies, nursing assistants and laborers in manufacturing jobs such as garment and meat processing. Unfortunately, these very important areas of work, which we all depend on, tend to be devalued and lower-paid. And regardless of educational levels, in any occupation women are routinely paid less than men doing the same work.
And this is just the woman’s “official” job. Regardless of race or class, women are still the primary caretakes of children and elderly relatives, and still take on a disproportionate responsibility for housework. This “women’s work” is never recognized or valued as work, but is simply expected of women.
Adding insult to injury, women who have been caring for their children at home and receiving welfare benefits are now being forced into workfare, a government-supported cheap-labor program. These women are working starvation wages doing demeaning and dead-end work, while often having no choice but to pay a babysitter to watch their children.
Stuck in low-wage jobs and shouldering primary responsibility for their children, many women lack the economic autonomy to escape abusive relationships at home. Those who do are sometimes forced to work several jobs or turn to sex work as a quick way to put food on the table. Nearly a third of all families headed by women are living below the poverty-line. Even well-paid professional women cannot escape hard choices around career and motherhood. For many, advancement means giving all your time, which means having no time for children. Moreover, many bosses fail to offer maternity leave or to guarantee that mothers’ jobs will be available when they return.