Abstract: "What was good enough in the 1960s is not good enough today": Sex, Race, and Business Opposition to Equal Opportunity Policy in 1970s America

Jennifer Armiger


The restructuring of the American political economy in the 1970s, and its impact on business firms, played an important and underexamined role in impoverishing women's claims to the equal opportunity legacy. Focusing on Western Electric, a major American manufacturer and subsidiary supplier to the Bell System, and the sex discrimination litigation brought against the company's Kearny, N.J., plant in 1973, Kyriazi v. Western Electric, this essay examines how slowing productivity, recession, and a decrease in federal contracts attenuated the company's commitment to equal opportunity measures. Jockeying from nonchalance to outright hostility to the sweeping sex discrimination claims in the Kyriazi case, Western Electric executives and managers responded in a manner far removed from the company's leadership on fair employment practices in the 1960s, which had been focused primarily on the plight of unemployed and underemployed black males in declining urban centers. Ultimately, while the lack of interest and gender-blind remaking of equal opportunity policy for women did not become fully fledged until the 1980s, the events at the Western Electric Kearny Works and in the Kyriazi litigation reveal that it had its roots in the economic downturn, and resulting corporate opposition to the liberal state, that first took shape in the 1970s.

BEH On-Line Paper