Women Lose Services, Jobs, and Union Rights

By Mimi Abramovitz

The current effort to dismantle the public sector is the latest round in the rancorous debate about the role of so-called “big government” that has shaped public policy since the mid-1970s. Initially targeted at program users, the attack subsequently took aim at public sector employees and union members. Since most scholars and activists focus on one group or another they miss the whole story and the strategy’s wider impact. Lacking the gender lens needed to bring women into view, they also missed that women comprise the majority in each group. Until the 2012 presidential campaign turned women’s reproductive health services into a hot political item, few seemed aware of this decades- long “war on women.”

Origins: Thirty Years of Neo- Liberalism

Since the onset of the economic crisis in the mid 1970s U.S. leaders have pursued a neoliberal agenda designed to redistribute income upwards and downsize the state. Its contours are familiar: tax cuts, retrenchment, privatization, deregulation, devolution, and weaker social movements. Meanwhile, the Right sought a restoration of family values and a color-blind social order. To win public support for these unpopular ideas their advocates resorted to what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”: the creation and/ or manipulation of crises to impose policies that people would not otherwise support. Discounting data and evoking the shock doctrine, government foes targeted not just programs for the poor but also popular entitlement pro- grams once regarded as the “third rail” of politics. Unlikely to pass Congress intact, their proposals – which fall heavily on women – will set the agenda for months to come. Continue reading