Losing the Union Man
Losing the Union Man
Class and Gender in the Postwar Labor Movement
During the early decades of the postwar era, public and private institutions constructed social roles for blue-collar men that forced the reemergence of gender practices that legitimized the subordination of women to men and the dominance of some men over others. The resultant hegemonic masculine ideal for the blue-collar “working man” was nevertheless ideologically flexible. By the mid-1960s, work had become a measure of citizenship, employment synonymous with manhood, and Japanese men had become the breadwinners of postwar society. By the 1970s, as wages increased, the blue-collar workers increasingly dreamed of living a middle-class lifestyle. This chapter examines the two aspects of this historical trajectory. First, it argues that higher wages had the unintended consequence of enabling working-class men of all ages to identify with middle-class notions of masculinity. Second, it shows how a generational schism also developed within the rank and file as younger men increasingly rejected the union’s hegemonic masculine “family man” norm while expressing bitterness that their wages did not allow them to access the familial and consumer trappings of middle-class life available to their older male co-workers. In addition, this chapter illustrates the generational contest to define the working-class masculine identity that emerged during the period of global youth culture and radical political movements of the 1960s and 1970s. By analyzing the ways in which middle-aged male leaders of Japan’s Old Left unions perceived politically active and young blue-collar men, the chapter shows how generational conflict influenced the ways in which blue-collar men of all ages identified with the middle-class cultural and economic forms.
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