The SWW was a grassroots, feminist organization of female wage earners which operated from 1978 to 1990. SWW was formed by an alliance of trade union women and community-based feminists. Members of SWW came from many different political backgrounds, including the Waffle, the New Democratic Party, various Communist, Trotskyist and Marxist-Leninist parties, the women’s movement on university campuses and women’s centres, and the trade union movement. Some SWW women were also involved in the organizing drives of the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada (SORWUC), a feminist trade union active in Saskatchewan and BC. SWW originated because an increasing number of women were joining the workplace and becoming both unionized and mobilized.
Increased labour movement mobilization in the mid to late 1970s around wage and price controls, as well as a series of public sector strikes, activated large numbers of women workers for the first time. More specifically, a group of women in the labour movement recognized that women needed to find their collective voice because unions were in large part not willing to tackle women’s issues, nor would they provide a supportive environment to do so. For only $5 per year, any working woman, whether paid or unpaid, whether unionized or non-unionized, could become a member of SWW. Chapters were formed in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Swift Current and Lanigan. SWW was headed by an elected provincial body and had a constitution; but individual chapters of the organization enjoyed a fair degree of independence to mobilize on issues in their own communities.
SWW took on a multitude of issues important to working women, including: right to strike, part-time work, daycare, technological change, workplace rights, organizing women workers, strike support, affirmative action, equal pay, sexual harassment, violence against women, reproductive rights, effects of racism on Aboriginal communities, domestic workers’ rights, and international solidarity. SWW produced a newsletter, Working Women, and popular pamphlets, as well as many policy papers and briefs to government. It also held annual conventions and conferences on such issues as rural women, privatization, and organizing in the service sector. While educating the public and lobbying the government on working women’s issues was one focus, SWW also held study sessions on such issues as capitalism, socialism, feminism, racism and other issues, in order to hone a working-class analysis
SWW was known for working in dozens of left-wing coalitions, and was a founding member of the People’s Budget Coalition, the organization that ultimately wrote the first alternative budget. SWW put women’s issues on the bargaining table and into the public sphere. It can be credited for union policies on daycare and sexual harassment, as well as contract language in such areas as maternity leave and equal pay.