University of Cambridge > > Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History > Gender Conflicts on the Shopfloor. Barcelona Women at Chocolates Amatller (1890-1914)

Gender Conflicts on the Shopfloor. Barcelona Women at Chocolates Amatller (1890-1914)

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The cry of “Get married women out of the factories!” echoed within the Spanish industrial landscape at the turn of the 20th century, driven by two intertwined factors. From a societal perspective, the conviction that a married woman’s realm belonged at home rather than within factory walls prevailed. On an economic note, concerns arose that women, due to their lower wages, were displacing men from job opportunities.

This research examines this phenomenon through a compelling case study of a workers’ social claim specifically targeted towards women during the process of feminization in during the latter half of the 19th century. The fundamental aim of this article is to illuminate the intricate interplay of social demands and gender dynamics in the realm of labour and business operations. Through the vehicle of a case study methodology, this research endeavours to gain insights into the intricate complexities of gender dynamics during the industrialization phase, as well as the challenges women encountered when joining the workforce in the modern factories.

On 25 May 1890, the workforce (predominantly comprising men due to the nature of their claim) at the Amatller chocolate factory went a strike. They were protesting because certain job positions, previously occupied by men, had been assigned to women. This strike represents the sparkle to comprehend the casual nature of the stereotype that positioned women as procreators rather than contributors to production, expelling them from the productive sphere and relegating them to domestic roles as wives and mothers. While women were accepted as paid workers, their roles were confined to those undesirable or unwillingly shouldered by men, steering clear of direct competition.

Scrutinizing the role of female factory workers two decades post-strike, it becomes evident that women actively participated in the chocolate factory’s operations, defying the male contention. Nevertheless, the outcome of the 1890 strike cannot be framed as a victory or defeat for either men or women. The male factory workers vocalized their quest for enhanced working conditions, but regrettably, they directed their frustrations at women, swayed by the prevalent social discourse of that era. While women did step into the factory, portraying them as unequivocal victors would be an oversimplification. Their presence was restricted, with scarce avenues for professional advancement and task segregation primarily confining them to manual labour tasks. This gendered task partition perpetuated wage disparities and further marginalized women within the workspace.

The historical significance of the Chocolates Amatller’s case lies in its portrayal of one of Spain’s earliest documented labour gender conflicts, where workers aimed to obstruct the entry of female factory labour. Additionally, the unique archival revelation, detailing vast information about the factory employees, can be a valuable source for the study of labour and business history. The male-initiated strike and its aftermath offer a window into the intricate interplay between gender dynamics, social claims and labour practices during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This talk is part of the Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History series.

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