Women & Work:  The Case of Y.P.F. v. Astra   

 P art II: Inequalities in Women's Work

Teacher Leading School Children, Y.P.F.
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   Even after their incorporation into the paid workforce in 1919, women usually remained within jobs that can be classified as an extension of their domestic duties. This is because they were working under historical and structural limitations,  in a time when society and industry were completely defended by and organized around the production of oil.  

  
 In Astra, women worked as spousal helpers, complementing the paid work of their husbands with their domestic work: they took care of children, cooked, cleaned, grew vegetables and tended livestock (where the male would be the only wage-earning member of the family, even though the women did all of the housework); and as compensated servants, maids, or cooks of the company or its administrators.  
Husband and Wife, Astra
 
  W hile most women worked in the personal houses of the company high-ups, in the employee social hall (Casino), or the company farm/ranch (Estancia La Corona), the male employees among their ranks were usually had more occupational mobility, circulating through the various buildings of company town or working in the Main Kitchen or in the Gamela de Obreros (mess hall). In all of these positions, they received substantially lower compensation for their work than men, even if their duties were the same.  For example, men and women working in Astra as maids, cooks, or servers earned the following differential rates in the the years below.

                    1923                                                               
            1930
Men                                110 pesos                    Men (Cooks)                       130-200 pesos

Women                            50-90 pesos               Women(Cooks)                    80-150 pesos


                                     
    F
rom 1920 onward, significant changes began to take place, with new employment opportunities opening for women in both Y.P.F. and Astra.  Thanks to changing work regulations, women started entering the formal economy in various capacities, including clerical work, nursing and teaching. 

    These changes occurred at different times in each of the two companies. In 1920, for example, women were admitted into the teaching profession in Y.P.F., while this did not happen until 1930 for Astra. Teaching and nursing were especially important occupations for women, since they allowed them to exercise relative financial, social and professional independence from their husbands' work.



Maria del Carmen Sanchez
María del Carmen Sánchez was one of the women who took advantage of the new opportunities to teach.  After serving as a postal clerk for some time, she was employed by Y.P.F. as a teacher, but had to travel to "no man's land" every day to head her classes.  Hers is representative of the struggles and stories of many working women in the company town, and also of the growing opportunities available to the Argentine born generation.
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Escuela 24, Y.P.F.                   







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Astra Teachers Click on image for larger version


           
Astra Nurse
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  Later in 1930 oil workers' daughters were employed as typists and office employees in Y.P.F., but not until 1946 was this true for Astra. In fact, the '40s opened many doors that were previously shut to women, and they took advantage of positions as nurses, saleswomen, telephone operators, and clerical/office employees.


     María Cortés de Simón worked for Y.P.F. as a vendedora before having children, and narrates her experiences and difficulties climbing the economic ladder as a woman.


Female Empleada and Husband, Y.P.F.
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    Work I.D., Y.P.F.

 



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Maria Cortes de Simon
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     Interestingly, over time these occupations, which were once exclusively male, were converted into "women's work" within a few decades of women's inlcusion into the salaried workforce. One woman recalls her secretarial days at Astra, and shows how powerful these changing gender ideologies became:


"Tres mujeres trabajaban acá [en Astra] en la oficina central...tenía que tener cuidado cuando llegó un mensaje... No olvidarse nada..Si me fue muy bien...Y se conoce mucha gente...me parece un trabajo especial para la mujer. Recepcionista."
Augusta Miehler, Astra, 1-9-03

"Three women worked here [in Astra] in the central office..you had to be very careful when taking down a message...you couldn't forget anything...I really enjoyed it...and I met a lot of people...To me, it seems to be a job especially for women.  Receptionist."

In addition to working for their own empowerment and subsistence later on, many women in Y.P.F., like Ivanka Petkova de Stancheff, got jobs to supplement the income of their male relatives.


"I learned how to sew, then I got married.  I worked as a groundskeeper because my husband didn't earn a lot...Then they [Y.P.F.] gave us housing and I finished, received my certificate for being a seamstress.  I helped a little to my husband." 1-17-01
     By the 1940s, then, women living in Y.P.F. and Astra had many more work opportunities open to them.  They also had the education necessary to pursue them.  Elsa B. grew up in Astra during the 1940s and 50s, and was able to attend high school, where her mother was not able to receive this level of education just a few decades earlier.  She also had the ability to work outside the home as a maid for the company:
"Yo trabajo, empecé a los treinta años a trabajar acá, limpiando las oficinas de Astra...el casino de empleados, de la gente que venía jerárquicos que tenían su casa...Trabajo limpiando las oficinas de acá, y bueno, hasta ahora este es mi vida."  
Elsa Babir, Astra, 1-9-03
"I started working here when I was thirty years old, cleaning the offices in Astra, the employee social hall,  and the houses of Astra's administrators.  I clean the offices here, and until now that's been my life."

For widows, the opportunities to work were vital.  A primary concern for the company due to the high rate of worker accidents, widows were allowed to work cleaning public bathrooms after 1922 in Y.P.F.  These jobs solved problems on two fronts:  it provided an excuse for the women to remain in company housing, which was only available to company employees; and also granted an important domestic service to the company.

    H owever, their inclusion in such autonomous jobs was followed by much gender discrimination, and women workers were given far less authority than their male counterparts.  In the case of nursing, for instance, when the profession was all-male, nurses were allowed to replace the doctor in his absence, while after 1946, the (mostly all-female) nurses could only accompany him.  In this and many other respects, for the women living and laboring within these companies, the struggle to have their work valued equally continued long after they were incorporated into the paid workforce.

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