|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|7. Restructuring and retraining|
In 1986, on International Women's Day in Toronto, a contingent of garment workers from the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) marched under a new banner designed especially for the day. They were celebrating what appeared to be a new beginning. They had successfully won an industry-wide strike. They had thrown off the yoke of a male- dominated union leadership, with more rank and file women active on the stewards' council. Their participation marked an important shift in contemporary feminist politics toward a more inclusive movement that recognized the importance of combining issues of class, gender and ethnicity.
By 1993, following the passage of the United States-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and in anticipation of its extension to include Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), garment workers were again on the streets. They were protesting the exploitative conditions of industrial homework, seen to be on the increase in some of the larger cities of Canada.
How had the Canadian garment industry changed? Were immigrant women entering a new period of militant unionism or being thrown backward to an earlier time when sweatshop conditions prevailed? What new strategies are favoured by garment workers in the face of debates about the need for retraining in a competitive global economy?
The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the Canadian garment industry in transition. It begins with a brief analysis of the theoretical literature, drawn from both Marxist and feminist debates about the restructuring of work, especially as these debates have helped to shape political responses to the restructuring process. The paper presents evidence to suggest that the Canadian garment industry is in transition, with new corporate strategies existing alongside more traditional forms of manufacturing. It considers the role of governments in the restructuring process, especially the way in which the Canadian state has encouraged continental economic integration with the United States and Mexico. This chapter seeks to understand how feminist anti-racist initiatives in educational policy place the needs of immigrant workers at the centre of the retraining debate.2