Gender Representation in Italian Trade Unions
Sociology and Social Research University of Trento Trento, Italy
This paper draws on a case study of an Italian trade union, CGIL, to illustrate the importance of rethinking the industrial relations tradition from a gender perspective which considers gender as socially constructed and whose primary focus is on gender relations.
In Italy, as well as in all Europe, after the Second World War, trade unions gradually adopted the "breadwinner" wage objective, legitimating a form of hegemonic masculinity, the worker masculinity, and thereby driving divisions between male and female workers. So, Italian trade unions are traditionally male dominated organizations where women are underrepresented and their experiences marginalized.
Up to today scholars investigating Italian trade unions have been considering only the question of women underrepresentation in these organizations. The choice of a gender perspective to analyze trade unions is relatively new in this field of studies.
The focus of my paper is therefore on the topic of gender construction in trade unions, referring to gender as a social and discursive practice that is constructed in everyday interaction and that places people in asymmetrical power conditions. My aim is to deepen the understanding of whether men and women unionist conform with thie hegemonic worker masculinity or, otherwise, if there are alternative forms of masculinities and femininities.
My focus will be on CGIL (Confederazione italiana del lavoro), the oldest and biggest Italian trade unions confederation that in recent years has fostered some good practices promoting equal opportunities between men and women and the presence of women in leadership positions.
For my purposes I used tools coming from the visual sociology tradition, that is, the use of visual media to study society as well as the analysis of visual representations of social relations. I started from the assumption that gender is inherently a visual topic, and therefore I analyzed how visual artifacts as pictures, posters and newspapers have been vehicles of trade unions' gender culture in Italy.
In this paper I'll present and discuss these artifacts in a narrative perspective in order to understand how the union itself represents gender, that is, how femininities and masculinities have been visually constructed in these organizations.