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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
FRANCES PERKINS, Secretary

WOMEN’S BUREAU
MARY ANDERSON, Director

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WOMEN WORKERS IN
ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

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Bulletin of the Women’s Bureau, No. 195

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UNITED STATES
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE

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WASHINGTON : 1942

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D. C.




Price 5 cents

CONTENTS
Page.

2
w

2

a

Letter of transmittal m
The professions
2
Government service----------------------------------------------------------------------------Business 2
Personal service---------------------------------------------------------------------------------Industry—
Agriculture.
Industrial home work--------------------------------------------------------------------------Labor legislation-------------------------Trade unions and organizations------------------------------------------------------------Classes and schools 11
Women’s organizations------------------------------------------------------------------------References 15

6
9
10
13

TABLES
Extent of Women’s employment in chief woman-employing industries---------Employment of women in 26factories visited
3
ii




3

Letter of Transmittal
United States Department of Labor,
Women’s Bureau,

Washington, October 27, 191$.
I have the honor to transmit a report summarizing the
findings of the Women’s Bureau staff member appointed as its InterAmerican representative, who spent 6 months in 1941 visiting three
countries in South America on the Women’s Bureau project authorized
by the Department of State.
The survey was made, and the report has been written, by Mary M.
Cannon, Inter-American representative of the Women’s Bureau.
Respectfully submitted.
Mary Anderson, Director.
Hon. Frances Perkins,
Secretary of Labor.
Madam:




In the visit of the Inter-American representative of the United
States Women’s Bureau to Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay in 1941
an over-all picture of the employment of women in those countries,
especially the industrial employment, was obtained to learn about
working conditions, social and economic factors affecting wage­
earning women, labor legislation and its administration. It was pro­
posed also to learn about the programs of women’s organizations, as
they touch wage-earning women, and to establish contacts for the
exchange of information and publications, and for sharing assistance
in mutual problems. Visits to other Latin-American countries are
planned for the near future, with the same objective and to be fol­
lowed by reports of the survey’s findings.
IV




Women Workers in Argentina, Chile,
and Uruguay
Contrary to general opinion, women of Latin-American countries
have been wage earners for years, and their numbers are increasing
as industrialization develops and as social conventions change. The
idea that girls should be prepared to contribute to their own and their
families’ support, if necessary, is more and more accepted. Since
about 1920 the number of industries has been growing, but the greatest
increase has come in the last few years; Montevideo, Uruguay, for
example, where in 1931-32 only 582 new industrial establishments were
founded, had as many as 1,127 new ones in 1935-36. This is indica­
tive of what has happened also in Argentina and Chile.
This bulletin comprises information about women wage earners,
especially industrial workers, in three countries, Argentina, Chile, and
Uruguay. Distinctions are not always made between the countries.
The danger of generalizations is recognized, for each of these three
nations differs from the others in many respects. It is true that all
speak Spanish, all had their historical beginnings at more or less the
same time, all shared the struggles for independence and even shared
national heroes—but each one is a nation in its own right, with its
own traditions and history, its own national pride. However, there is
a similarity in employment of women, in legislation, and in certain
trends in the lives of women.
Indications of trends in what is happening were revealed in conver­
sations : A young woman who has been an employee in the post office
for a number of years said, “Employed girls have acquired a ‘per­
sonality,’ they are no longer shy and afraid. They have won the
respect of their employers and fellow workers; they have made a place
for themselves.” Factory managers said, “Girls come from the same
economic background as before, but they are coming with more edu­
cation, more ‘personality.’ ” A teacher said, “Women are accepted
in the universities now without suffering the comments, the jibes,
they used to hear, and there are more women than men in the Liberal
Arts College of the University.” A woman who is editor of a woman’s
magazine said, “Girls are trying to get factory instead of housework
jobs now, even girls who come to the city from the provinces; those
who do go into domestic service are asking for shorter hours and to
live out, something that was never heard of a few years ago.” At a
meeting in Santiago, Chile, a well-known leader of Chilean women
said, “Women are holding important public and private positions;
women wage earners are alert and are already taking an active part
in the political life of the nation; 25,000 girls are in our high schools
each year. We have already proved our ability.”
The majority of employed women in these countries, like the ma­
jority of employed women everywhere, work because of economic



1

2

WOMEN WORKERS

IN

ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

necessity—to support themselves and their dependents or to supple­
ment the wages of the head of the family. They are in the same occu­
pations in which women are employed in the United States.
WOMEN IN THE PROFESSIONS
In the profession's the majority, of course, are in the one that has
been open longest to women—teaching. They hold responsible posi­
tions as principals, directors of schools, and some few are professors in
the universities. A great many women teach after they are married.
All schools have fewer extracurricular activities than in North Amer­
ica and retirement is reached at a fairly early age.
Women are lawyers, are in the medical profession as doctors, den­
tists, nurses, in public-health clinics.1 Women are chemists and phar­
macists; architects, in some instances working on plans for coopera­
tive and Government low-cost housing projects. They are social
workers in various kinds of positions. The barriers to women enter­
ing and advancing in the professions are serious, but many women
achieve success by their ability and perseverance.
IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE
Responsible jobs are held by women in the national and local gov­
ernment offices, in the Foreign Consular Service, and as law enforce­
ment inspectors. Some women are in government service as ste­
nographers and clerks. Others do statistical and editorial work.
IN BUSINESS
Thousands of women and girls are in business and commerce: They
are clerical workers in offices, sales clerks and cashiers in stores and
shops, buyers and heads of departments. Telephone companies and
private concerns employ many women as switchboard operators. The
numbers of attractive, well-dressed young women seen on the streets
going to and from work are eloquent proof of their increasing import­
ance to the business life of their countries.
IN PERSONAL SERVICE
There are enormous numbers of girls and women in household work;
many are children’s nurses and governesses. Even homes of very
moderate circumstances have a maid. Women are chambermaids in
the hotels and operators in the beauty shops.
IN INDUSTRY
Employment.
The increase in the number of industrial plants—some of them, such
as textiles, employing large numbers of women—has meant that
many more women are entering the labor market.
The following table, taken from official statistical reports, shows
the principal woman-employing industries in the three countries.
These figures include only productive workers.
1 The whole picture of hospital care differs from that in the United States. Few nurses
have had a professional status, but educational requirements are being raised. Much nurs­
ing has been done by religious orders ; now more and more lay women are in training and
are practicing. Large numbers of women are licensed midwives.




WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

3

Extent of women's employment in chief woman-employing industries
Argentina only)
Aires 1 (Buenos

Chile13 4
2
a

Industry

Textiles ___
Clothing___
Food.........
Shoes
Tobacco
Chemicals__

2
o
36,814
16,113
28, 039
14, 728
5,975
11,196

a
i

a>

a
o
is

13,281 23, 533
7, 598 8,515
22,985 5, 054
10, 507 4, 221
2,110 3,865
8, 058 3,138

a

tt

Textiles... . 14, 450
Leather and
rubber___ 10, 433
17, 648
Clothing_ 3, 482
Chemicals...
Paper and 4, 528
printing... 7,647

a

s

g

"3
o
H

Industry

Uruguay *

is

Industry

o

s
a

o

6,301

8,149

Textiles

6, 737
14,921
971
2,834

3, 696
2, 727
2,511
1,694

Clothing_

6, 540

|
o

is

1,107

Tobacco__
Chemicals..

6,487
17, 816
3, 615
3, 989
991
1, 574

2, 479 4,008
14, 237 3. 579
1,365 2, 250
3,133
856
822
169
923
651

1 Censo Industrial 1940. Division de Estadisticas Departamento Nacional del Trabajo.
2 Minerfa e Industria. Direccion General do Estadistica. Chile, Octubre 1940.
3 Censo Industrial de 1936. Direccion de Estadistica Economica, Ministerio de Industrias y Trabajo.
Uruguay.

As shown by the table, the textile industry employs the largest num­
ber of women in each country—with clothing and food (in Chile
leather and rubber) ranking next. It is interesting to note that chem­
icals are within the first 6 woman-employing industries. Of the 3,138
women employed in the chemical industries in Buenos Aires, 1,845 are
in chemical and pharmaceutical laboratories.
The factories visited by the Women’s Bureau staff member were, for
the most part, representative of the industries in which are found the
largest numbers of women. In order to get as complete a picture as
possible of woman-employment in those countries an effort was made
not to visit the same industries, excepting textiles, in the various
countries. Both large and small plants were included.
Employment of women in 26 factories visited
Industry

Number of employ­
ees
Total

Textiles:
Canvas cloth, rope-sole
canvas-top slippers, ta­
ble tennis and leather
shoes.............. ................
Cotton and wool cloth,
bathing suits, silk and
wool jersey apparel
Canvas cloth, awnings...
Woolen mill—Cash­
mere, blankets, yarn...
Cotton materials
Canvas cloth, rope-sole
canvas-top
slippers,
sport slippers
Woolen
mill—Woolen
cloth and yarn........ ......
Artificial silk...................
Clothing:
Lingerie, sport clothes,
blouses, hosiery
Hosiery
1 Not reported.
2 50 home workers
3 40 home workers.
4 Varies.
4 June 1941.




7,000

Number of employIndustry

Women

5,500

3,500
1,500

2,800
1,200

1,900
1.017

855
567

700

500

500
200

375
125

o
500

2 500
400

Total
Men's clothing................ .
Gloves______ ____ ____
Men’s clothing........... ...
Food:
Meat packing
Chocolate
Coffee and tea.......... .......
Shoes:
Men's, women’s, chil­
dren’s............................ .
Miscellaneous:
Rubber goods............. ......
Cigarettes
Enamel and metal
Cleaning and dyeing___
Matches and printing_
_
Ceramics
Crystal and glassware__
Soap and perfume_____
Handicraft

0

Women

300

130
50

3120

* 3,500­
8,000
250

51,330
150
40

0

44

0
700

700
900

0
0
0
0

400
300
300
235
200

300
50

180
140
100

50

4

WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

Occupations.
Women in industry are employed in skilled and semiskilled occupa­
tions, and some are supervisors, working in the jobs traditionally held
by women. In the factories visited they were working at. food process­
ing and packing; they were tending machines in a match factory; in an
enamelware plant they were working at spot-welding, at metal-shap­
ing machines, at other machine operations, and at spraying and paint­
ing.
Hours of work.
The hours of work in industry in the three countries are limited by
law to 48 a week. If the plant works 6 full days a week the workday
is 8 hours; when the plant works only until 1 o’clock on Saturdays the
extra hours are added to the full workdays in order to reach 48. The
three countries have laws called “Sabado Ingles” (English Saturday)
which with some exceptions prohibit work on Saturday after 1 o’clock.
Wages.
Women’s wages are not high in relation either to those of men or to
the cost of living. It is useless to quote figures without giving data
on the goods wages can buy in each country.
A great deal of the work done by women is on a piece-work basis and
in many industries work is not steady throughout the year, which
lowers the annual wage. A congressional committee in Uruguay re­
cently made an investigation of wages and living and working condi­
tions of the workers in a number of industries. In its report appear
frequently such phrases as the following: “Women who are doing
specialized work (this in a particular factory) earn less than the rest
of the workers who are men.” “The general characteristic is that the
woman worker receives low wages, out of proportion to the grade of
work she does. When the worker is a man he is paid more.”
It is safe to say that the wages of women are considered as “addi­
tions” to the family income—necessary additions it is true; that is,
women are not generally considered as individual workers—with their
wages as the only income for themselves or their families.
Working conditions.
Many factory buildings are comparatively new and modern in con­
struction and equipment. Instead of one four- or five-story building
some plants have several separate buildings with grass, flowers, and
trees between. Floor space, therefore, is ample, with few instances of
crowding.
The walls are light and clean and the floors and hallways are kept
clean. Because of large windows and high ceilings the natural venti­
lation is good. The textile plants have humidifying systems; several
have ventilating systems for changing the air. There are some ma­
chines for drawing off lint and dust; the machinery generally is
cleaned frequently. Central heating is not so common as in the United
States, and at times the heat thrown off by operating machinery was
insufficient for comfort.
The large windows provide good natural light. Curtains and
painted window glass eliminate glare. In the majority of plants
visited artificial lighting also is good. Fluorescent lighting is used
to some extent. In other plants the lighting is poor, usually because



WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

5

of not being sufficiently shaded and lights too high for individual
work.
Chairs or stools, some chairs modern with good backs, generally are
available where the work requires or permits their use.
The toilet and dressing-room facilities are clean and adequate, most
of them with attendants. Some plants have very attractive rooms for
women workers, and a few provide bathing facilities.
Nurseries.
Laws require firms to provide a nursery with cribs and an attendant
according to the number of women employed. Here women may bring
their babies until they are a year or two years old. Most of the
nurseries are models of cleanliness, attractive furnishings, and charm­
ing color schemes. Provision is made by some companies for the
bathing and supplemental feeding of the babies.
A textile plant in Uruguay has a very attractive day nursery and
child clinic to which children from 6 months to 6 years can be brought.
Breakfast and lunch, rest time, and games are provided for 75 to 80
children a day. Medical examinations are given and charts of the
children’s progress are kept. Mothers are advised about feeding
and care of the children.
Safety and health.
The machinery (from Europe or the United States) is equipped
with modern safety devices. Some of the industries in which the
most accidents occur have safety committees and education programs.
All the large factories have more than adequate first-aid facilities,
many of them with full-time nurses on duty, and doctors on call if
not working a full schedule. Some companies give medical examina­
tions before employment and some require periodic check-ups. A
number of factories have medical and dental clinics, where consulta­
tion and treatment are given not only to employees but to their fam­
ilies. Most of the medical and dental service is free.
The following comments are from notes on a visit by the Women’s
Bureau representative to a factory making enamel and galvanized-tin
articles and bathroom fixtures.
Women were working on punch presses, at spot welding, and spraying enamel.
All machinery well protected. A safety education program is conducted for the
foremen. A system of studying and classifying accidents has been started
recently. Men and women doing welding and spot welding wear goggles fur­
nished by company. Gloves furnished to those handling metal. Enamel-spray
machines are in booths with hoods and exhausts.

Eating, recreation, and education facilities.
Some of the factories have cafeterias where meals are served at low
cost. Occasionally women are charged less than men. Also milk and
sandwich carts are used for morning and afternoon snacks. Meals
are not generally a problem, for with a 2-hour break at noon the great
majority of factory workers can go home for this meal.
Sports and social clubs and recreation equipment have been provided
by some of the companies. The administration of these clubs is given
over completely to the workers, or they are administered jointly by
workers and management. The activities include basketball, tennis,
soccer, volley-ball, and for the families social dances, moving pictures,
picnic facilities.
402845°—42—------- 2




6

WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

A considerable number of firms organize and offer classes to em­
ployees who want to continue their elementary school education or to
study commercial and other courses. In one plant 37 employees (about
5 percent) were enrolled in classes that met each workday from 6 to
7: 30 p.m. The classes included grammar, writing, shorthand, typing,
history. There were three teachers, and the pupils were divided into
groups as nearly as possible according to their ability. Clerical jobs
in the office are filled from these classes. In a larger plant 730 women
(over 13 percent of the women employees) were enrolled in factorysponsored classes that included commercial subjects, cooking, home
economics, dressmaking, machine embroidery, hand weaving, and
leather work. Each year a number of girls from these commercial
classes go from the factory to the office. They begin at the same rate
of pay as they received in production, with increases as soon as they
prove their ability. Smaller plants have a few elementary school
classes.
The gas company in Santiago has an educational and recreational
center where classes are given for wives and children as well as for
employees.
IN AGRICULTURE
Sugar plantations and mills in the northern part of Argentina were
visited during the harvest season by the Women’s Bureau InterAmerican representative. Hundreds of workers, men with their
families (the majority Indians), are brought in from remote places
to work in the sugar-cane fields. The working conditions are typical
of those of migrant workers in the United States and other countries—
unsatisfactory housing, inadequate wages, and long hours of work.
Women work the long hours with the men, stripping cane as it is cut;
they also work in the sugar mills in the sections where lump sugar is
cut and packed. In Chile the large dairy farms employ women for
hand-milking.
Women workers are found in the harvesting and packing of grapes,
oranges, and other fruits, in the canning and drying of fruits and
vegetables. Factories both large and small, situated in cities and
towns in the interior, employ large numbers of women.
Many women in the interior of these countries are engaged in tra­
ditional handicraft industries—making lovely rugs and bright-col­
ored hand-woven shawls, ponchos, saddlebags which are sold to
traveling merchants at extremely low price, for these women have not
learned to evaluate the hours and skill spent in making these articles.
Shops selling a wide variety of typical handicraft articles are found
in the cities and small towns of these countries.
IN INDUSTRIAL HOME WORK
Thousands of women in these South American countries are earn­
ing money by means of industrial home work, making not only trink­
ets, small utility boxes, accessories, but also household linens, men’s,
women’s, and children’s clothing and shoes—in fact, practically all
clothing that is sold in the stores. Industrial home work means that
there are hundreds of small shops in private houses where only the
members of the family work, or where workers from outside the
family are employed.



WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

7

The department stores have large numbers of home workers—two
of the most important stores in Buenos Aires give work to 5,000 to
7.000 home workers, of whom respectively 1,670 and 6,000 are women.
In addition some of the more important stores employ a staff of cloth­
ing workers on the store premises.
_
_ #
Low wages, long hours, insanitary conditions, difficulties in en­
forcing legislation accompany industrial home work wherever it
exists. Laws to control wages, hours, and conditions of work have
been passed in these countries and efforts are made to administer
them. Enforcement is extremely difficult, almost impossible, and one
of the first questions Labor Department officials ask is what is done
about home work in the United States—how it is controlled—how
legislation is enforced. The Latin-American policy is to try to con­
trol rather than to eliminate home work.
The legislation provides for the appointment of minimum-wage
committees, the factors to be considered in fixing wages, methods of
pay, handbooks for the workers, registries that the companies must
keep, health and sanitary conditions of work, inspection. The Argen­
tine law, which was revised in 1941, gives added protection to the
workers in the collection of wages.
Home-work visits were made with Labor Department inspectors
in Buenos Aires and Santiago, and the process of revising the law was
followed by the Women’s Bureau representative during the survey
in Argentina. Following are excerpts taken from the reports written
about home work in the two countries.
Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I.—General observations:

1. Numbers.—It has not been possible to get more than estimates of
the number of home workers in Buenos Aires. One estimate is between
200.000 and 400,000, with 60 percent of the number women. Shops,
stores, and factories carry a register of their home-work employees,
but there is no record of workers who are in turn given work by con­
tractors.
2. The system.—The shops of several department stores were visited.
(a) This building is new and well-equipped. The large
room where home work is given out and received is on the
street floor. It is divided into sections according to the kind
of work, i. e., men’s suits, women’s and children’s clothing,
lingerie, and so forth. The home worker or contractor gets
his assignment of work with the materials cut and with in­
structions for making. The company carries a record of the
work given out, the wages to be paid, and the contractor has
a handbook. When the finished articles are returned, they are
examined carefully; minor alterations and pressing may be
done in the shop.
The Labor Department has control only over the wages paid to the
workers or contractors who receive the work directly. (This condition
was improved by the revision of the law in 1941, which makes con­
tractors, middlemen, and shop owners who contract for home work
absolutely responsible for the payment of wages as fixed by the respec­
tive wage committees;)




8

WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

Infringements of wage payments do not occur in the large shops,
but are in the numerous smaller places that give out cheap material
for inexpensive clothing and accessories sold in the third and fourthrate shops.
(b) In a small shop visited work is done for one of the de­
partment stores. It is managed by a man and his wife; the
man is one of the 5,000 registered home workers. The work­
room is a fairly large room on the second floor of their house.
There were 15 employees, 6 of them women, making men’s
suits. Light is from small windows at the top of the room,
and from doors opening to an outside passage. There is no
provision for individual lights. Chairs were not modern,
but had backs. The room was somewhat crowded, work was
in piles. It was a slack season, and there was less work
because materials were not being imported.
The inspector has no control over the wages this contractor pays,
nor over the wages paid for work he gives out to be done in other
homes. (This has been remedied by the revised law.) He does check
on hours, and on night and Sunday work.
(o) In another large and exclusive department store, the
workshops that are in the same building as the retail sections
were visited. In one of the rooms girls were making shirts
at two rows of machines, each girl doing one piece of work.
At nearby tables models were designed and made. Another
large room was a workshop where furriers, the designers of
lingerie and dresses, the cutters and pressers, were working.
In a small adjoining room artists were mending and making
wax figures. The stockrooms of materials and of finished
articles were on the floor where home work was given out and
received. Though the building was not new, conditions were
good and there was an atmosphere of an artisan’s workshop.
II.—Campaign for minimum rates and enforcement in Argentina:

In 1937 a campaign for fixing fair wages and for their enforcement
was initiated and carried on by the Federation of Catholic Associations
of Employed Women, advised by Monsenor de Andrea, a well-known
bishop of Buenos Aires, together with trade unions of seamstresses and
garment workers. The conscience of the legislature and of the public
was aroused by speeches and by newspaper articles and editorials, and
as a result the law was later revised and strengthened.
Wages at that time were extremely low. Seamstresses worked 8
hours, making three blouses, and were paid at the rate of 30 centavos
a blouse, making a daily wage of 90 centavos. These blouses sold for
8 pesos (800 centavos) each. As little as 1.20 pesos was paid for dresses,
carefully made and with trimming and pleats, which sold for 34 pesos
each. Shirts that sold at 6 pesos each were paid for at the rate of 1.80
pesos a dozen. Workers made a dozen a day and furnished the thread.
There were innumerable cases where only 5 pesos was received for a
week’s work.2
* Figures from a publication of the Federation of Catholic Associations of Employees,
Buenos Aires. “Relacidn Documentada de la Campafia de la F. A. C. E. y de los Sindicatos
de Costureras para la Proteccidn y Defensa de los Trabajos a Domicilio, 1936-39.”




WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

9

Home-work visits in Chile.
Three places of industrial home work were visited in Chile.
(1) This home, one of a long row of two-room flats, had 6 people in
the family. The worker, a young woman, was making boxes for face
powder. She worked 6 to 7 hours a day. Her materials cost her more
than a fourth of her monthly earnings.
■
(2) A widow, mother of three children, lived in a “conventillo”
(tenement) of one room, and was stitching the uppers of shoes. She
owned her sewing machine. Her materials cost her slightly more
than a fourth of her wages. Her work averaged 8 hours a day.
(3) Two young women were sewing for one of the department
stores, making organdie aprons for maids. Their materials cost over
one-eighth of their wages. They were worrying about the increase in
the cost of thread, and its poor quality.
•
.
A student in the National School of Social Work made a study of
home work in Santiago in 1941, visiting 200 homes where work was
done in four trades—tailoring, shoes, boxes, and sewing.
Home workers’ organizations.
Trade unions of home workers, which belong to the national labor
organizations, have existed for years. They have large memberships
and women as well as men are active. One federation of unions has
15,000 members, 8,000 of them women.
In addition, women earning wages in industrial home work have been
organized by committees of the Catholic Church. Two examples are
the association called “La Aguja” (The Needle) and the “Sindicato
de Costureras” (Union of Seamstresses). “La Aguja,” part of the
“Federation of Catholic Associations of Employed Girls” of Buenos
Aires, was started in 1918 with 18 members and now has over 1,000.
The “Sindicato” is sponsored by the Social Economics Committee of
Catholic Action and was started in 1936. This organization also has a
large membership, and neighborhood leaders are given special training
in organization work.
In Argentina the trade unions and the other two organizations have
representatives on the wage-fixing committees and have worked for
better legislation controlling home work.
LABOR LEGISLATION FOR WORKING WOMEN
Labor legislation affecting women in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay
presents an interesting picture. Laws in all countries prohibit women
from working in occupations that are unhealthy or that contribute to
immorality. The workweek is limited to 48 hours, and 2 hours a day
(with some variation) is required for lunch. Night work is prohibited.
Equal wages for men and women are guaranteed by law for some'
occupations; this is especially true in teaching and Government jobs.
The Chilean law says “For the same kind of work, the wages of men
and women shall be equal.”
Minimum wages for industrial home work (mentioned above) are
fixed by committees provided for by law. These committees decide on
the wages for each type of work—in the case of sewing, for each style
of garment, basing the decision on the work involved in making every
inch of embroidery, faggoting, and so forth. The cost of living, the




10

WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

prevailing wage, and other factors, as well as the time involved, are
considered in fixing the wage.
Domestic employees also are included in the labor legislation—in
Chile they are guaranteed a daily rest of 9 hours and after 1 year’s
continuous employment a 15-day paid vacation; the Uruguayan law
requires 1 full day’s rest in 7. Stipulations are included in the laws
concerning individual work contracts and satisfactory living facilities.
Maternity legislation and that requiring day nurseries (see mention
on p. 5) are of special interest. With some variations the maternity
laws provide for time away from work before and after childbirth,
with all or part of the wages paid and with medical and other as­
sistance. The employer is required to keep the job for the worker until
her return. Laws prohibiting married and pregnant women from being
discharged strengthen the maternity laws.
In Chile the law provides that during the weeks of rest, i. e., 6
weeks before and 6 weeks after childbirth, the women receive half
their wages; these are paid jointly under the Workers’ Compulsory
Insurance Act and by the employer, or by the employer alone if
the worker is not eligible to receive payment under the act.
In Argentina a maternity fund is maintained by a tax paid by
each employed woman on her wages, by a tax paid by the employer
on the pay rolls of women employees, and, further, by a contribution
from the State. A woman is given 30 days before and 45 days after
childbirth, with a total allowance equal to 2% months’ pay at the
rate of 25 working days a month, up to a fixed maximum benefit.
Members of a textile union in Buenos Aires have asked various
women’s organizations to consider with them changes in the mater­
nity-fund law, such as the inclusion of women on the board of
directors, and methods of giving benefits so that they will be used
for the purpose for which they are intended.
Improvement in wages and in general labor and social conditions
depends to a high degree on national legislation.
IN TRADE UNIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS OF
EMPLOYED WOMEN
Trade unions.
There are large numbers of women in some trade unions that are
part of national labor federations. They participate in meetings
and are officers and members of executive committees. Unions of
textile and garment workers, of hospital maintenance workers, of
commercial and municipal employees, of telephone company em­
ployees were visited. The textile and garment workers’ unions have
the largest woman membership. All the unions, commercial and
industrial, have worked for better legislation and have helped to
secure laws establishing paid vacations, Saturday afternoon closing,
a uniform hour for closing business houses during the week, retire­
ment funds, and home-work regulations. (Laws are not uniform in
the three countries, nor for all occupations.) Information in more
detail is included here about the “Union de Obreros Municipales”
(Union of Municipal Workers) in Buenos Aires. This union, organ­
ized in 1916, has a membership of 10,000. with approximately 1,200
women, which is in proportion to the numbers of men and women
employed. All municipal employees are included—dancers and sing­



WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

11

ers at the Colon (the opera), nurses in municipal clinics and hospitals,
office employees, laborers.
Delegates to the executive board from the different departments
or places of employment collect membership fees, report grievances,
take important notices to the members. Fifteen of the delegates are
women.
The varied program of the union includes improving working
conditions of municipal employees (paid vacations have been secured
for 70 percent of them); an educational program of speeches, classes,,
and a library easily accessible to members; and a biweekly news
sheet. The union owns a vacation camp in the Cordoba Hills that
can accommodate 180 guests, a sports club within a short distance of
the city, with a new modern central building and outdoor facilities
for picnics, swimming, tennis, basketball, football, “bochas,” and a
playground and pool for children. The headquarters building pro­
vides space for meetings, classes, the library, a medical clinic, and
an office where free legal advisory service is given.
Organizations of employed women.
Some associations are definitely of and for employed women,
generally organized for the protection of women wage earners and
to promote their welfare. The majority of these have been organized
by a member or a committee of the Catholic Church—some by the
Women’s Division of “Catholic Action.” The organization that is
best known is the “FACE”—the Federation of Catholic Associations
of Employed Women. The home of the Federation, called “Casa
de la Empleada” (Employed Girls’ House), is a centrally located
building with a chapel, cafeteria, library, meeting rooms, and various
clinics—medical, dental, optical. The Federation has a thriving
school of evening classes, and a social program of moving pictures,
parties, picnics. It owns vacation places—-one of the seashore and
another in the Cordoba Hills. The 1,900 members, most of them
commercial employees, are organized into 25 associations, each with
its own officers and with representatives on the executive council.
The Federation has a mutual insurance plan and has been active
in securing legislation.
The national Y. W. C. A.’s in these countries have clubs of business
and professional young women with programs that offer opportunities
for their personal development and for service to others.
Large numbers of women are in teachers’ associations that provide a
kind of economic security as well as a stimulus for professional im­
provement through lectures, courses of study, and conventions. Each
country has an Association of University Women with a membership
composed largely of professional women.
CLASSES AND SCHOOLS
The numbers of wage-earning women in schools and classes given at
night and on Saturday afternoons and Sundays are indisputable evi­
dence of the increasingly important place women will occupy in the
life of their countries.
There are night schools with as many as 800, Saturday afternoon
classes with even more women enrolled. Some are finishing the years
of primary school that were interrupted or never begun; others, having



12

WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

completed this foundation, are in more specialized classes—such as
stenography and bookkeeping, dressmaking and tailoring, cooking and
catering, art, literature, history, languages, psychology.
The night classes are held usually between 6 and 9 o’clock, after
office, and shop hours but before dinner, which is around 9 o’clock.
Some of the adult schools are part of the public education systems;
some are managed by semipublic boards, that is, self-established or­
ganizations with a government subsidy; others are offered by volunteer
associations. Only the schools and classes planned especially for
adult wage earners are discussed here; there are many others.
The adult schools are known by a variety of names—escuelas nocturnas (night schools), Universidades Populares (people’s universi­
ties), cursos vespertinos y nocturnos (evening and night courses),
escuelas nocturnas para obreros (night schools for workers), escuelas
industrials (industrial or vocational schools). In many cases the
instructors are from the teaching staff of the daytime schools and
colleges; specialists in various fields give classes. The students of art
classes of a vocational school in Montevideo had the privilege of
studying under a famous Uruguayan sculptor.
The curriculum of the evening and night courses of Uruguay is
typical of schools that are part of the educational system:
(1) Primary instruction—3 years—includes language, reading,
writing, arithmetic and geometry, geography, history, hygiene, civics,
technical drawing, general science.
(2) Students who have finished these years of primary instruction
may enroll in special courses such as commercial, which has a 1-year
preparatory course and 2 years of specialization including languages.
(3) The handiwork courses require 3 years after the primary in­
struction—1-year preparatory, which includes courses in home eco­
nomics, child care, and first aid, and 2 years of specialized work in
applied design, a study of color and color combinations, of materials,
of tailoring and dressmaking; of millinery; and all kinds of
embroidery and sewing.
In Argentina the night schools and people’s universities have simi­
lar curricula. The latter are under the supervision of the National
Council of Education, have a government subsidy but a separate board
of directors. There are 16 “universidades populares” in the Federal
capital, and 36 in the Provinces (States) of the Republic.
In addition to the night schools for workers under the National
Office of Education in Chile, the university has a cultural extension
department which offers classes of interest to workers. Labor law and
legislation, history and geography of Chile, and political economy
were included in one newspaper announcement of Sunday morning
classes.
.
Also in Chile a government office for the unemployed has a program
of classes to give needy women and men skills for earning a living.
Women are taught weaving, garment making, laundry work.
Other educational opportunities.
Women employed in business and industry are offered classes by
various nonofficial organizations. A number of Catholic women’s
organizations have workers’ centers where classes are given; in one
center visited 1,000 women, many of them employed, were enrolled
in Saturday afternoon classes. The Women’s Division of Catholic



WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

13

Action in Santiago has 80 centers, with 50 as an average attendance.
The Federation of Catholic Associations in Buenos Aires has a school
with approximately 1,000 enrolled. A center in Montevideo called
Home for Employed Girls has an attendance of 250 at Saturday after­
noon classes, the enrollment reaching about 800 during the year.
Women’s clubs and associations also have extended their educational
programs to wage-earning women. The Council of Women in Buenos
Aires has had for a number of years a school of higher education for
young women. Graduates of this school are giving classes on Satur­
day afternoons for girls employed in factories and business. In 1941
there were 501 in classes, with a waiting list of 76. The subjects
offered were penmanship, bookkeeping, dressmaking, hatmaking, typ­
ing, stenography, French, English, literature, first aid, cooking. The
largest number of students, 105, were in English classes.
In Chile the committee of women working for national suffrage
for women had started classes in trade unions for instruction in civics
and were planning to extend their classes to other groups.
All the instruction is not academic and technical, for various insti­
tutions have classes in national folk dances, in music, declamation.
There are several “little theater” movements.
The Young Women’s Christian Associations in these countries have
been pioneers in offering health education classes to women which are
attended by large numbers of young business and professional women.
Educational courses in commercial subjects, languages, art, home
making, public speaking, music, have filled an important place in the
program of activities of the associations.
Only women in classes and schools have been mentioned. There are
similar and even more educational opportunities for men.
WOMEN’S ORGANIZATIONS
All women’s organizations with interesting educational and cultural
programs cannot be mentioned here. With few exceptions only those
concerned with women workers will be described.
Women of the countries under discussion have not the same fondness
for clubs that many North American women have; they do not go to
meetings as a matter of course—they are not “joiners.” They have
worked in charitable and welfare organizations for years, but these
have had a definite, practical purpose. Women have managed a great
charity and welfare society in Argentina (La Sociedad de Beneficencia) for over a hundred years. This is no small job, for it involves
thousands of pesos for a great many institutions such as hospitals,
clinics, homes for the aged and for children, and direct assistance to
individuals and families. Women of Uruguay and Chile are doing
similar tasks.
Some of the women’s clubs have committees for the study of prob­
lems and legislation affecting women, and educational programs on
social problems in general. The Council of Women in Buenos Aires is
a good example of such a club; it has a committee on legislation whose
work resembles that of a local League of Women Voters in the United
States; committees on the protection of children, public health, motion
pictures, and another that does an extensive piece of work in sending
books and magazines to school children in isolated districts of the
country. The council offers a full educational and cultural program



14

WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

of lectures and concerts, and maintains a school of higher education
for young women; it also has Saturday afternoon classes for employed
girls, described above.
The Club Femenino America of Chile includes in its objectives “to
work for the economic freedom of women on the basis of cooperation,
not competition, with men” and “to study the causes of social ills.”
Another Chilean women’s organization of interest is the one
popularly called the MEMCH, Movement for the Emancipation of
the Chilean Woman. It is a cross-section organization, that is, com­
posed of women of leisure, and of business, professional, and industrial
women. The Committee for Women’s Suffrage became active again
last year and worked hard to get public opinion and Congress to favor
the bill granting national suffrage to women, a reform strongly favored
by the late President Aguirre Cerda. At the same time this group
was carrying out an immediate program to educate women for citizen­
ship.
The Argentine Federation of Women (Union Argentina de Mujeres)
was organized for the purpose of improving the status of women and
the living and working conditions of wage-earning women. It has
sought a practical means of carrying out its purpose by establishing
a play center for young boys and girls, the children of employed
mothers, in one of the crowded industrial centers. This club has
worked actively on questions affecting the political and civil status
of women. Several years ago it carried on a vigorous campaign against
proposed changes in the Civil Code of Argentina that would have
lessened rights women already possess. It has also worked for
national suffrage for women.
_ _
_
The women’s sections of Catholic Action are active in Argentina,
Chile, and Uruguay and have intensive programs of study and work
cn social problems. They seek to educate their members through pub­
lications, addresses, and conferences. They too sponsor classes and
clubs for employed women and girls.
The Voluntarias Democratas (Volunteers for Democracy) in
Montevideo are not concerned particularly with problems of wage­
earning women but with civil defense and defense of the democra­
cies. The Voluntarias Democratas were organized in June 1940
when the Minister of Defense asked all the citizens to prepare
themselves to help in case of an emergency. So many women vol­
unteered for target practice that the officials called together repre­
sentative women—home makers, employed and professional women,
and students—to start some kind of an organization that would use
this concern and interest. A 1-year first-aid study and practice
course was taught and supervised by physicians; sewing and
knitting groups were begun; and an educational program about
democracy was carried on through speeches, articles, and the radio.
More than 400 women in Montevideo are members.
The other countries have similar organizations. The Junta de
la Victoria (Victory Committee) and the Women’s Division of
“Accion Argentina” in Argentina, are very active. In Chile the
MEMCH and the Suffrage Committee have this last year put their
efforts into civil defense programs.
Some political parties have women members; thus, though Uru­
guay is the only one of the three countries where women have




WOMEN WORKERS IN ARGENTINA, CHILE, AND URUGUAY

15

national suffrage, those in other countries who belong to the parties
that admit them—for instance, the Radical and Socialist Parties—
do have an indirect part in politics, since they vote for the candi­
date who will represent their party. The women’s section of the
Socialist Party in Buenos Aires years ago established day nurseries
and kindergartens for children of working mothers. A great deal
of the work and financing has been on a volunteer basis. This
organization also carries on an intensive educational program on
pending labor legislation as the need arises.
With their names and programs adapted to these countries, inter­
national organizations are found, such as the Young Women’s
Christian Association, the Red Cross, the Association of Univer­
sity Women.
The emphasis in this report on wage-earning women in Argen­
tina, Chile, and Uruguay is not intended to give the impression
that the great majority of women are employed, that there is a gen­
eral interest among women in organizations or in social problems.
However, women are becoming increasingly important in the devel­
opment of their countries economically, politically, and socially.
REFERENCES
Legislacion Nacional del Trabajo. Buenos Aires. 1939.
Codigo del Trabajo de la Republica de Chile. 1940.
Labor Legislation bulletins from the Instituto Nacional de Industrias y Trabajo. Montevideo. 1935.
Censo Industrial 1940. Division de Estadfstieas, Departamento Na­
cional del Trabajo. Buenos Aires.
Mineria e Industria. Octubre 1940. Direccion General de Estadistica, Chile.
Censo Industrial de 1936. Direccion de Estadistica Economica.
Ministerio de Industrias y Trabajo. Uruguay.
Industrial and Labor Information, Yol. 58 (April-June 1936). The
International Labor Office.
Legal Limitations on Hours of Work in Latin-American Countries,
October 1, 1938. Reprint from October 1938 issue of Monthly
Labor Review, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department
of Labor.
Laws for Latin-American Wage-Earning Women. Reprint from
November 1940 issue of Woman Worker, Women’s Bureau, U. S.
Department of Labor.




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