Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kay Tillow, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Labor rights as part of broader human rights struggle

Here, Tillow discusses the relationship of gender to the efforts of the NPO to organize Louisville nurses. In addition, she suggests that union activism was a civil rights battle so far as it was a "human rights battle." Ultimately, she suggests that social justice movements were all linked by their emphasis on maintaining democratic control.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kay Tillow, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
On a slightly different issue, you've touched on this theme, but I wanted to ask you about it more directly. What role do you think gender has played in this whole fight? In other words, do you think that things would have played out any differently if nursing were a male-dominated profession?
KAY TILLOW:
Oh, I don't know. I have to operate from my gender, so it's probably not something that I'm conscious of. I don't know. I have seen studies that say women are more likely to vote union than men, as well as African-Americans are more likely to vote union than white workers. We've had mostly women involved, but that may be just because there were mostly women in the profession. There are a few men, male nurses, but they're so few. I guess that's growing. I think it is growing now, but I don't know to what extent. Certainly, every profession that is majority women suffers discrimination. We see that from all the pay equity studies show that whole areas of work where it's female-dominated are paid less than what the skills and less than what comparable worth in other areas—. There have been some fighting women. They have been really good at standing up at various times. People have done courageous things here that's kind of amazing, but I don't know to what extent it's because they're women. Maybe there's a little bit of collectivity among women, kind of a camaraderie that helps.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you view this struggle as a civil rights battle?
KAY TILLOW:
Well, I don't know. How would you define civil rights?
SARAH THUESEN:
I guess there are lots of ways of defining it. I was just wondering if you had ever thought of it in that way as sort of an extension of some of your earlier civil rights activism.
KAY TILLOW:
It's a human rights battle. I mean, it certainly is that. I think one of the most profound truths in our society is that employer control trumps rights that we have under the law so that the constitution may say we have a right to freedom of speech, but if your employer says if you talk about the union, you'll be fired, that control trumps and makes unworkable the rights that we should have as free citizens, as people who have a right to determine their destiny in a democracy. I think that's true in every area of our society, is that corporate control is overcoming and stamping out democratic control by people.