Thoughts on some stuff I’ve been reading lately.
In their ordinary working lives, workers took part in an ongoing employment contract in which they sold their time for wages paid on a regular basis. Work was an expression of a right to contract.
The damages sought in injury suits were lump sum payments to be paid in compensation for violation of the workers’ right to bodily integrity, and for violation of the employment contract, which involved certain standards of workplace safety. Serious violations of the right to bodily integrity, that is to say, injuries causing permanent disability, seriously hampered the ability of workers to exercise their right to contract. Disabled workers would likely have a harder time finding work that paid as well as their previous work. The right to contract specifically as a worker rested in part on a right to bodily integrity.
In the aftermath of industrialization, accidents increased in number and severity. This gave people increasing need to assert their right to bodily integrity. Courts and lawmakers gradually became more amenable to enshrining this right in law.
In workplace injury suits, nineteenth century courts typically used the right to contract as an argument against workers seeking restitution for violation of their right to bodily integrity. The balance between contract and safety gradually shifted in courts and in legislation in the early twentieth century. The right to contract had long been gendered male and involved an expectation of the ability to maintain and provide for a wife and children. The right to bodily integrity, on the other hand, implied an expectation of protection from or due to vulnerability. As the right to bodily integrity took greater prominence, the notion of freedom changed from one of individual masculine autonomy toward protection from harm, a condition more akin to the ways women had been treated in law.
In protective labor legislation and in personal injury suits, women initially won greater protections, which were subsequently extended to men. It is not clear if the same dynamic occurred with regard to compensation for workplace injury. Work continued to be gendered male and debates around compensation for injury retained a notion of family wage with the men as the sole wage earners and women as dependents. Speculating: the notion of freedom changed from the free labor idea of contract to protection and vulnerability; meanwhile the old free labor notions of gender did not change at the same pace. Male laborers’ standing as workers became more like the standing women had had as nonworkers and that women workers had had as a special (lesser?) class of workers. Men’s standing in relation to the home did not change at the same pace nor did expectations on women in relation to home and work. Hence work_men_’s compensation. And mother’s aid. (Men got compensation as workers, women got welfare?)

From here –
Women waged workers; free labor ideology; family and family wage in law; protective labor legislation; women’s protective legislation and welfare; maternalist feminism vs competitor feminisms.

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