Interviewee: Irene Carr
Interviewer: Lyn Goldfarb
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Irene Carr, a secretary in the Chemistry Department of SUNY Oneonta, was a representative of the Civil Service Employees Association and attended the National Women’s conference to speak on women in the labor movement issues. She did not consider herself to be a “total feminist”, and had her hesitations about the movement. Important issues to Carr include: working women’s rights, equal pay, unionization, and the economic impact of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Irene Carr: My name is Irene Carr.
Lyn Goldfarb: Okay, and where do you work?
IC: I work at State University at Oneonta.
LG: And what is your job?
IC: I am secretary to the Chemistry Department.
LG: Okay. And you’re a member of CSEA, can you tell me a little bit about CSEA?
IC: Sure. It’s the Civil Service Employees Association and it’s the largest public employee union in the country. And we represent a large share of the public employee in New York State, probably around 300,000 people.
LG: Great. Okay. Why did you come to this conference today?
IC: I came because I believe in all the issues involved, but I am mostly concerned with women in the labor movement. And we do not belong to the Coalition since we are a one state organization, but we are very interested in their goals.
LG: Um-hum. Okay, you coming representing CSEA or coming as an independent?
IC: We’re representing CSEA.
LG: Okay. What do you expect to be the impact of this conference?
IC: I expect it will be a great historical event and I do hope we come away with some definite objectives.
LG: And what would be your main objectives that you would like to see achieved?
IC: I would like to see equal pay for equal work. This is my main objective because I do represent the working woman.
LG: And pay? Can you tell me so far is this conference meeting your expectations of what you felt it would be like, of the atmosphere of what is happening?
IC: Yes, I have not been to the coliseum yet so I can’t speak about the meetings, but so far I think it’s been pretty well organized. I think they’ve had a great many problems with housing, but I was fortunate with housing. But I could see that there are many things that were not accomplished when they arranged housing.
LG: Um-hum. What do you feel about the show of labor women, of union women? Are you able to tell, you know, if we’re here in numbers or not?
IC: I was very impressed at the first meeting I attended. Very impressed.
LG: Um-hum, so you feel that union women are really coming behind this and they’re –
IC: Yes, I do.
LG: – and are standing up? Okay, can you tell me why or how you first became interested in the union in your own life?
IC: Well, it goes back many years. I’ve been active in my union for a long time and I am an elected state officer now. I worked my way up through the ranks and I see the need on the local level for good representation of the members.
LG: Um-hum. What might’ve been the first thing, do you remember what was the first thing that made you think union or think of joining?
IC: Well I think the first thing was to be informed as to exactly what our union was doing for us.
LG: Uh-huh, and because you wanted to be better informed you decided to get more active yourself?
IC: Yes, and I became a delegate in my chapter.
LG: Uh-huh. Okay, did you work in a non-union just before this?
IC: Many years ago. But for 30 years almost I’ve been in a union situation.
LG: Oh, so that’s really your own experience.
LG: What do you feel about unions and women? Do you feel –
IC: I feel that women have come a long way in the union, and that they’re very active. We have in our New York State union many, many active women on our board of directors and many active women who are president of the locals and women who are working in all capacities.
LG: Okay. But you think there’s still a ways to go as far as –
IC: Oh yes, oh yes.
LG: Okay. Can you tell me at what point you really – oh first of all, do you consider yourself a feminist?
IC: Not completely. No.
LG: Can you tell me why or what do you feel?
IC: I still, I’m married, I have one son and there are certain things that I still kind of like my husband to open the door for me and carry things for me. I don’t believe I’m a total feminist.
LG: Um-hum. So the ERA, passing ERA at this Women’s Conference, does that mean more to you in an economic level?
IC: Yes. Yes.
LG: Okay. Both in your union activities or any women, any involvement in the women’s movement, at what point did you first become involved in the idea that collaborative action, you know, could accomplish something?
IC: You mean in connection with this type of conference?
LG: Or either, I mean, both the union and the women’s movement in a lot of ways are based on the same principles that we can get together and together through collective action we can do something.
IC: Well, it’s been many years because I was a woman local president and we do have to fight opposition from some of the men. And I think, well as long as I’ve been active in the union there’s always been a concern that the women get together. But I think I became most impressed last year when we had our Albany Conference.
LG: Okay. (unintelligible at 5:56) were you always concerned with women’s, concerned as a woman?
LG: Do you remember?
IC: No, not completely. Cause I had to represent all the members.
LG: Do you know at what point you really became involved as a woman trade union as opposed just to –
IC: No, I couldn’t say. I really couldn’t tell you that.
LG: Okay. Can you tell me also, what do you expect, after you leave this Conference what will you do, what do you think should be done?
IC: We, my cohort who’s here with me, hope to establish a committee within our union which will do more for the women in our union.
LG: Okay. And you can take some of your experience just from here and bring that back?
IC: Oh, very definitely. We’ve examined literature from the other unions, the nationwide unions. We’re at a bit of a handicap because we are limited to one state; most of the unions here are nationwide. But we certainly have some marvelous ideas and are very enthusiastic about this when we go back to our home state.
LG: Uh-huh, okay great. Thank you very much. Let me just get, can you tell me your address?
IC: It’s 92 Center Street, Oneonta, New York, and the civil service employees’ address is Albany, New York.
LG: Okay, good. Interview with a woman who’s primarily union member, doesn’t really consider herself a feminist and is working both on women’s and labor issues, been active in the union for over 30 years.
End of interview