Working 9 to 5

A women’s movement, a labor union, and the iconic movie
by Ellen Cassedy
Chicago Review Press, September 6, 2022

Prologue to Working 9 to 5:

On January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, hundreds of thousands of women gathered in Washington, DC. Packed so tight they could barely move, they filled the streets of the nation’s capital. Across the country, an estimated four million people participated in the Women’s March that day. Many of them had never taken part in any kind of protest before. It was among the largest demonstrations in US history.

That was the day I decided I had to write the story of 9 to 5. Those women reminded me of the working women—me among them—who joined together in the 1970s to win a better life on the job.

We 9 to 5’ers felt a responsibility to change the world, and a growing confidence that it could be done. We built a nationwide multiracial movement that brought pressure to bear on companies that undervalued women and people of color. We invented new strategies for pressuring the banks, insurance companies, law firms, universities, and publishing companies. We filed lawsuits, threw up picket lines, sent out press releases, and leafleted without pause. We strengthened the laws protecting women on the job and got government working to enforce them. We inspired Jane Fonda to make her film and Dolly Parton to write her toe-tapping song.

The union we launched—of women, by women, and for women—propelled thousands of workers into action and won higher pay, better benefits, and a host of improvements. We ran into ferocious opposition from corporations, yet we brought women into the labor movement in lasting ways and charted new directions for worker power.

Some of us called ourselves feminists; others didn’t. All of us found ourselves speaking up in ways we’d never imagined. As we put newly learned organizing skills and newly invented tactics into practice, we were transformed. And so were the workplaces of America. We won raises, rights, and respect for millions of women. The offices of America have not been the same since.

For a new generation facing new challenges and fueled by new passions—for anyone striving for fair treatment—the story of 9 to 5 proves that change can be won, and it shows how we won it.

Recently I came across a quotation on a little scrap of paper that I used to keep on my desk at the 9 to 5 office. “Through our great good fortune,” it said, “in our youth our hearts were touched with fire.”

That’s what it was like for me and all of us in the 9 to 5 movement. This is our story.