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Cynthia Long Describes How the Women’s Movement of the 1970s Changed Her Life

The womenís movement of the 1970ís sent shockwaves into every recess of American life. Women organized to seek enforcement of the ban on sex discrimination included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, demanded equal pay at work, and sought access to jobs from which they had previously been barred. Despite its educated, middle class origins, the movement had a deep impact on the experience of working class women. Cynthia Long, one of the first women to gain access to the New York electricianís union, found a sense of empowerment and solidarity through her participation in International Womenís Year and the group Asian Women United. Joining womenís groups alleviated the sense of alienation felt by many women who worked in mostly male environments.

LONG: I would never have thought of it, but the women’s movement really has had a very strong influence on my life, in the sense that if the women’s movement had not happened, and if there had not been those radical women, that these opportunities, this particular opportunity, would never have been available to me at this time. It was because organizations such as NOW had class-action suits against unions, and charged them with discrimination on the basis of sex, and won those cases, that it was possible for me to apply to the apprenticeship program and be accepted. Also because the women’s movement has made a lot of changes in people’s attitudes about working women.

One of the things that I had been involved with prior to my entrance into the apprenticeship program was the International Women’s Year. There was an Executive Order mandating these meetings happen all over the country, in each state there should be a statewide gathering. I was fortunate enough to attend such a meeting in Albany. That made an impact, a big impact, on me. I was meeting with other women from all over the state, and finding out that there were other women experiencing the same problems that I was experiencing, in terms of getting a good-paying job, in terms of the racism we faced, in terms of sexist behavior on the part of both men and women toward women. I think that that affected me profoundly. I worked in a group called Asian Women United, because I started to not see myself as that individual who is going to, by my own individual action and energy, pull myself up by my bootstraps. I started to see that as a mythology, and to turn my thinking around. That by working collectively with groups who had similar concerns that maybe we would make some headway. That was the beginning, I think, of the changes that I’ve gone through.

Source: Interviewed by Debra Bernhardt 10/19/80
Courtesy of the Wagner Labor Archives