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In 1973 the organization 9 to 5 was founded as a national association of women office workers advocating for their rights. Organizing women against workplace discrimination and harassment, 9 to 5 brought a new generation of white collar women workers into the labor movement, and remains one of the largest organizations of women workers in the United States. Their experiences inspired the 1980 film 9 to 5, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. Now, almost half a century since 9 to 5’s beginnings, founder Ellen Cassedy joins The Marc Steiner Show to discuss her new memoir, Working 9 to 5: A Women’s Movement, a Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie.

Ellen Cassedy was a founder and longtime leader of 9 to 5, the national association of women office workers. Working 9 to 5 is her first-person account of this exciting movement, which began in the early 1970s, mobilizing women across the country to organize for rights and respect on the job. Ellen is also the award-winning author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust.

Post-Production: Brent Tomchik


Marc Steiner:  Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, and it’s great to have you all with this once again.

“Working 9 to 5”, that was the famous song by the great Dolly Parton, created for a film we all love called 9 to 5, with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. Now, that comedy took a serious look at the lives of clerical workers, women workers. And it was all inspired by the real 9 to 5 movement that organized women across America in a multiracial union of office workers and clerical workers, who are among the lowest paid and oppressed and most numerous. Who underwent sexual harassment, they were unpaid, as I just said, working in servitude at the whim of the mostly male bosses. That movement created a massive change.

One of those women who built that movement is Ellen Cassedy, who wrote the book Working 9 to 5: A Woman’s Movement, A Labor Union, and An Iconic Movie. As I said, Ellen was one of the founders of the 9to5 movement, and for a time she was even a speech writer for the Clinton administration, wrote a play about her Aunt Jesse, a long time secretary who wore her hair like Jane Fonda, shagged, in a nursing home, and became a film called Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn. Wrote a book called, We Are Here: Memories of Lithuanian Holocaust, and more.

She joins us now here on The Marc Steiner Show on The Real News. Ellen, welcome, great to have you with us.

Ellen Cassedy:  Thanks so much, Marc, glad to be here.

Marc Steiner:  Let me just start just talking about you for just a moment before we get into the heart of the book. Because your life as a union organizer, your life as an activist all through the ’60s and ’70s and beyond in the decades that come, really are in the heart and soul, or in your genetic roots, are inside of you. Something you grew up with, something you learned from childhood. Talk a bit about that and how you grew up.

Ellen Cassedy:  I guess I can trace it back to my grandfather who was an immigrant from Eastern Europe. He arrived in the United States in 1911 at the age of 19. He used to talk to me about standing in a public square in New York City, listening to this fiery garment worker named Rose Schneiderman who was talking about bread and roses for women garment workers. I never forgot that. Later, when we began organizing in the early 1970s, we came to feel that we were the heirs of those garment workers way back then who fought for their rights and who really not only transformed their own lives, but also transformed the labor movement.

As I was growing up, I was involved, thanks to my parents, in the Civil Rights Movement in the Baltimore region, and also in the anti-war movement into the ’60s. So by the time I got to the early 1970s, I was like a lot of women at that time who were hitting the workforce out of economic necessity, but also were bringing with them a desire not just for a job, but for a good job, a job that paid fairly, that treated them fairly. One historian has talked about it as the coming together of two rivers; an economic and a cultural. And women looked around, and looked at each other, and looked from side to side, and felt that we were united as women, and a discontent began to brew.

Marc Steiner:  And brew it did. Let’s get right into the heart of what it brewed for you and these other women, because I think that many people even listening or watching this now are not aware that the film that we saw that clip of, 9 to 5, was a national movement. Was a movement of women in this country that organized women who were unorganized in ways that were never done before. I’d like to talk about that. Let’s just talk about the beginning of that, the inspiration of that, and the women you worked with, and how that began.

Ellen Cassedy:  Well, 10 of us started sitting around in a circle in Boston. We were women office workers, and we just started talking about our jobs. We talked about low pay, unequal pay, training men to be our own supervisors, and being asked to do all kinds of favors for our bosses. From there we ended up starting a newsletter and distributing it all over town in Boston. We got government agencies working on our side, and we won millions of dollars in back pay and raises from banks, insurance companies, and more. We went on to expand nationwide, and we started a women-led union, and we inspired that movie that you talked about, 9 to 5, 1980 Hollywood hit and Dolly Parton’s toe tapping enduring anthem, which has just been re-released in a duet with Kelly Clarkson just last week.

Marc Steiner:  Really? I have to check that out, I haven’t heard that one.

Ellen Cassedy:  Yeah, they re-released it. And one of the messages is that we are still working 9to5 and we’re still needing to organize. I’ve been so thrilled to see the upsurge of labor organizing that’s going on today. It really reminds me of people back when I got started, who, we hadn’t really been involved in demonstrations or the Women’s Movement that much. In fact, a lot of women who we met, women office workers would start out when they sat down across a lunch table with us, start out by saying, I just want to make clear I’m not a feminist. But then as they got involved in the organization they thought, I’m for equal pay, I’m for equal treatment, maybe I am a feminist. But we didn’t create that as a litmus test, you didn’t have to call yourself a feminist to get involved in 9to5.

Marc Steiner:  That’s interesting. I’d like to get into how different this was. I mean, as I was reading your book, when I was younger, both when I was a school teacher and helped organize the union of my high school, and then before that I was a warehouse worker and I got a Teamsters union at our warehouse and organized that. But what you described in your book was very different in terms of its approach to organizing. A, because the group of people you were organizing didn’t necessarily see themselves as workers, and B how you moved away from the narrowness of a left ideology that would turn people off while you were trying to organize a broader coalition, how you used humor, and more. Talk a bit about how this developed, because it was really a unique and powerful approach that I think also can change the entire nature of how you organize workers.

Ellen Cassedy:  Yeah, well that’s very insightful. I think what impressed me as I was doing the research for this book was that 9to5, it really was different. We really followed our own noses. We looked around for advice and we asked people for advice and some people said, oh, you’ll never succeed. We’ve tried that before. It’s never going to work. Other people just welcomed us with open arms. But we really had to change where we were going frequently, depending on what happened with the people we were talking to. We listened really carefully to how people talked about their jobs. We went out to lunch with so many people, just countless women. Sometimes I went to lunch three times a day and just listened to how people were talking and what they seemed to be ready to do.

It was a situation where unions were not in the picture at that point. Even any kind of collective action was really foreign to the people we were talking to. When they had a problem, people tended to think it was their own individual private problem. I should have dressed for success. I should take another class. It’s my fault that I haven’t gotten that promotion. We really had to work on showing people that, while an individual can make a difference, individuals working together can make a bigger difference. Now, the workplace was very authoritarian, in these giant soaring skyscrapers. If you stood up from your seat at the typing pool, your supervisor could see and might come over and say, sit back down, you might get a black mark.

In leafleting, we had to stay close to the curb because these skyscrapers were situated in the middle of private plazas, often with security guards. So we would be leafleting and skirting from person to person as they streamed in the doors. Then once they got inside the door, leaflet in hand, a lot of times supervisors were waiting there for them and just ripped the leaflets right out of their hand. So we had to come up with all kinds of tactics that would be suited to what people were willing to do. People weren’t even willing to put a pile of leaflets in the bathroom, for example. We thought that’d be pretty easy, but what if they got caught?

So one thing we used to very great effect was press coverage. One thing was getting government agencies on our side to help us. We didn’t just file a charge and then leave. No, we kept the pressure on them, kept their feet to the fire. And then we used women as whistleblowers. We invented all kinds of crazy ways for women to feed us information about what was going on in the executive suites anonymously. We’d leaflet a company and then people would send in their answers. We’d digest those answers and then feed it back to them with another leaflet the next day, and it drove the employers crazy. We really had them on the run.

For example, at one bank we leafleted one day about pay at the bank. The next day there was a 5% raise. We targeted the biggest bank in Boston, the First National Bank of Boston, and we called 1979 “the year of the first”. By the end of the year of the first, 51 women had been promoted to management, and there was a 12% raise, and there was job posting and career ladders and a grievance system, and things really started to change. We really had them on the run. I remember that when we targeted a great big insurance company, one of the executives decided that he’d better sleep all night in his office in case we invaded. I don’t know what good he thought that was going to do, but a lot of people changed, and we made countless bosses get their own coffee.

Marc Steiner:  [laughs] How shocking. There’s a bunch of things here I think that’s really important to understand the harassment that people suffered, women suffered in these jobs. It was just amazing, I’ve heard stories before from these women, but reading it in your book was different, just the way it punctuated and set up how you organized and got women to talk. And when you read passages, many entries talking about what women said to you involved bodily fluids, private parts, personal hygiene. The boss who asked his secretary to clean a spot off his tie was trumped by the one who handed his secretary a warm container of his own urine to carry to a lab. That one was eclipsed by the one who asked his secretary to carry his stool sample to a doctor’s office. A boss asked his secretary to clean his dentures, another to vacuum up the fingernail clippings he scattered on the floor. One boss asked his secretary to wax his back hair, another to snip his nose hairs. The thing is, if this was a rarity, it would be a comedy, but it wasn’t.

Ellen Cassedy:  That’s right. What you’re talking about is these bad boss contests that we held as –

Marc Steiner:  Which is great, I love that.

Ellen Cassedy:  We would invite people to send in the most outrageous thing they’d ever been asked to do on the job. Then, we would take a posse of women to that winning boss, and while the TV cameras were rolling, we would present – For example, there was one boss who had asked a secretary to sew up a hole in his pants while he was wearing them, so we presented him with an executive sewing kit. We also showed up at the office of a lawyer who had fired his secretary for bringing him a corned beef sandwich on white bread instead of rye. I’m sorry to say that that boss did not back down, that woman didn’t get her job back. She might have been glad, in the end.

But from those things appearing on TV and in the press, a lot of bosses thought, hmm, and a lot of women thought, maybe I can say no. I remember after the 9 to 5 movie came out in theaters in 1980, I was sitting on the bus and I heard this woman saying to the woman next to her, so I said to him, no, I will not make your coffee. I just saw 9 to 5, and I’m not going to make a cup of coffee again, so we really had an impact.

Marc Steiner:  Talk in greater detail about why it was so difficult, in some ways, to organize women in these offices. Both in terms of who you were facing in terms of the boss and the industry, but also the women themselves who didn’t see themselves as workers. And how difficult it was to make that organization happen, and the tactics you used to change that, to turn it around. Which really, in some ways, reminded me of what it took to be a community organizer and that kind of approach. Talk a bit about that arc.

Ellen Cassedy:  Yeah, employers were definitely not pleased when we showed up on the scene. It was as if somebody said the wallpaper came alive. In other words, employers were used to just thinking of office workers as just part of the wallpaper. And office workers did not necessarily think of themselves as, we’re just as much workers as a man in a hard hat wielding a wrench, but we were. Employers, especially when we started our union, they pulled out every trick in the book, and they hired union busting consultants and lawyers, and they delayed, and they threatened, and they did all kinds of things, some of them legal, some of them illegal. They got away with a lot of it. And they made it very difficult to organize.

In the 1980s there was a real downturn in union organizing. And now, as you know, we’re seeing a resurgence of retail workers, restaurant workers, warehouse workers, even grad students are organizing, and support for unions is higher than it’s been in two generations. When you ask what was it about women that made it hard, we didn’t want to talk about that. We didn’t want to talk about what was wrong with women and why women wouldn’t organize. We talked about what they’re up against, that their bosses really were ready to fire them for getting together. And they were oppressed, and we were doing everything we could to have people look at each other, feel united as women across race, across class, across age, and we did that.

Marc Steiner:  And you did do that. I mean, this was a sojourn. I think if we can, in the time we have together, talk a bit about how that sojourn happened and grew from your organizing in this one place and expanding it into a national union, that really changed in many ways. I mean there are many who didn’t want to have anything to do with you. We can talk a bit about that. But when you did get in, it was almost change… You helped change the nature – People don’t realize this – The nature of unions, the nature of what it means to organize, to build this group, the 925 local and what you did to build that and how that changed the nature of union organizing as well. So talk a bit about that. I mean, because I think that’s a really important journey, when people start isolated and alone in one locality, but it ends up being this national movement of women fighting back.

Ellen Cassedy:  Yeah, we did expand nationally. We came up with a formula of how you start an organization of women office workers in any city. And wherever we went, there were women who had the exact same problems and were ready to do the exact kind of thing. We also started approaching unions, because we recognized that it’s really only through a union contract that you have it in writing it. The boss can’t go back on it, they’re legally bound to carry out the contract. And eventually we began running into women who were ready to unionize. And our union, which was called District 925, like 9to5 –

Marc Steiner:  Love it.

Ellen Cassedy:  …On purpose. The confusion was definitely on purpose. We organized a little differently from some unions. We held meetings at lunchtime, we provided childcare for evening meetings, and we also paid very, very special attention to each woman. And we understood from the inside what it felt like to be afraid to give a speech. We encouraged women to take a wastebasket up to the podium if you’re afraid you’re going to throw up while you’re speaking in public. And we wrote scripts out for women to make phone calls. And, again, we understood ourselves what it was to be scared, and we had a feel for that. So that really had an impact. And our District 925 organized tens of thousands of people across the country. And I also would like to say that, even if you didn’t join the union or join the organization, a lot of people were affected by it.

And I think issues that had been considered private individual issues became matters of policy for employers, for employees, for the public, and for unions. So today, pregnancy discrimination is illegal, sexual harassment is illegal. We don’t have help wanted male and help wanted female ads in the newspapers anymore. And managerial jobs have opened up to college-educated women. But in many ways, being a worker today is more difficult than it was 50 years ago. In the gig economy it can take two or three jobs to put food on the table. There are fewer workers who have pensions, paid vacation, paid sick days. Computerized monitoring, second by second surveillance of how fast you’re working. That’s something that we didn’t have back then because there weren’t computers.

But again, as I said before, what’s so exciting is that people are coming together again in unions. And some of them are directly working through the National Labor Relations Act and going workplace by workplace, and other workers are organizing citywide the way we did. The Fight for $15 is a good example of a minimum wage fight. The kind of thing we did, where we’d just go into a city and we’d start just raising a ruckus all over town, and change got made.

Marc Steiner:  I do want to leap forward for a moment because of what you said. And when you think about the way you organized, you said raising a ruckus, because you did raise a ruckus. You did it with both strategy and humor and mocking the other side while you organized women to stand up and fight for themselves. And what do those lessons say about what we face today? I mean, part of your book you write about, towards the end, about the period where unions kind of began to fall apart, that they stopped organizing, that businesses got the upper hand and started being able to push back. And women became more and more part of the unionized workforce than men, and Black and Latino folks became more and more part of the workforce than white people. So talk about where you think all that means for now.

We see this surge at Starbucks and other places where people are organizing and standing up, which is really important. But talk about that in the context of what you did and how that translates to the 21st century in terms of what we face and how you organized.

Ellen Cassedy:  Well even back then, starting in around 1973 was just when we started organizing. The social contract between employers and unions or workers was beginning to fray. Employers were facing globalization, and they pretty much came to a decision. They were done with unions, they were done with the social contract. And so you began to see this really fierce resistance by employers.

And that continued on through the present day. It’s still happening. The Starbucks workers, the Amazon workers are up against these lawyers who have every trick in the book and every trick outside the book. So I think that the lesson that I draw is that every generation has to come up with its own tactics. And so when you read the history of 9to5, I think it’s really important to learn from history, but to understand that you’re going to need to forge your own path.

So it’s not a question of reading my book Working 9 To 5 and thinking of it as a manual. Oh, we’ll do that too. You won’t do that. This is a different time. You’re going to have to invent your own tactics. But that’s the point, is that you just keep going and trust yourself, trust your instincts, and come up with the kind of tactics that make sense for today. Because there’s an old union song that says every generation has got to win it again. And we might wish that that weren’t true, but it is true. So every generation’s got to go for it on your own.

Marc Steiner:  Right. The struggle never ends. I mean, I feel that a lot in terms of when I was reading your book and I was thinking about where we stand now with voting rights and the push against women’s right to choose and all the rest, and pushing back on unions, and how the struggle almost seems like it’s… Not starting over again, but it’s like that we’re facing some of the same obstacles we faced when we were organizing, when we were in our younger years doing that. Talk about how you would talk to people about how you would not let that be a frustration point, but to be a point of optimism that you can fight and win.

Ellen Cassedy:  Yeah, well I guess if I wanted to convey anything in my book, it was what a ball we had. [Marc laughs] We were in our tiny little office from dawn to after dusk, and we were a feisty team. We were 23 years old, but we were in the newspaper all the time. We were just gleefully dreaming up all these great things to do, and we just kept moving forward. And I think that’s what people have to do. And I see people doing that today, and that’s what’s so exciting to me.

Marc Steiner:  So I want to kind of digress a moment into part of the book where you talk about the role of the film 9 to 5, in meeting Jane Fonda, getting this story out that way, which was really amazing to me. I mean, I remember the movie when it came out and how we all loved it and it inspired so many people. Because it came out just when I was in the midst of organizing at my high school where I was working. So it was inspirational in that sense for many people to watch it. So talk a bit about that in that process, the movie, and what do you think the movie did, and how important that was?

Ellen Cassedy:  Jane Fonda knew a member of our group from the anti-Vietnam war movement and she came to us and said that she wanted to make a movie about the concerns of women office workers. We were thrilled. She brought a team to meet with the leaders. And they popped a question that we had never thought to ask on our recruitment lunches, which was, have you ever thought about doing in your boss? And there was a moment of stunned silence and then the room just exploded, because it turned out everybody had. So one woman talked about fantasizing about grinding up her boss in a coffee grinder. And another woman talked about wanting to swivel her boss around in his swivel chair and swivel him right out the window. And those fantasies all went into the script. And the film was a huge hit. The atmosphere in the theaters was electric.

Even men like the movie, because it turned out some of them had fantasized about doing in their bosses, too. And there’s famous scene in the movie – You should really watch the movie again today because it really stands up – So there’s this one scene where Jane Fonda is new on the job, and they usher her into this room with a huge photocopier that’s about the size of a room, and she very timidly presses the start button, and all these papers start flying out in her face, and she’s scrambling to pick them up and she’s starting to cry. And women would stand up in the theater and say, push the stop button. So people took it really seriously and felt that they were being reflected on the big screen in a way they never had before. And that really changed things.

Jane Fonda was an amazing partner to have. She really understood how a movie could be inspired by a movement and then propel a movement forward. And we worked really closely with her. And I think the debate, the public debate about whether there is discrimination, whether women are satisfied with the lower jobs and the lower pay, that debate really changed. It made a huge difference.

Marc Steiner:  For some reason, as you were describing this, I was thinking about parts of your book that I think are really important to pull out here, which is the issue of race. The issue of race and organizing and the issue of race, especially in how effective organizing in the workplace can begin to address racism, change minds and attitudes, especially among white women in this case, but white workers, white women, and how that played out in your world. Because when you started out, you were mostly white women who started this thing out, but it morphed and changed as it grew. And talk a bit about how that really challenges the notion of racism, how important that is in terms of that struggle.

Ellen Cassedy:  Absolutely. So we started organizing in 1973 in Boston. And Boston at that time was an almost entirely white city, and had a particularly almost entirely white clerical workforce. And so we could have just stopped there and thought, okay, well I guess we’re going to have a white organization, but we didn’t. And one of the reasons we expanded nationally was we wanted to make sure to build a multiracial organization. And so we targeted cities like Milwaukee, Baltimore, Cleveland, Atlanta, that had large numbers of women of color in the clerical workforce, as Boston did not. And as we went along, we were very conscious about making sure that our staff, our leadership, and our membership all reflected the demographics of the workforce. And that meant we had a multiracial organization. It didn’t just happen, and it required hard work, and I’m really proud of what we all did together.

And we really linked arms and went forward together with our eye on the prize, targeting the boss. And I think a lot of people’s minds were changed in the organization. They had experiences with people of different backgrounds that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. When we organized unions, had union drives, of course you can’t win a union drive if you only are organizing in one department or one race. So we had to have multiracial organizing committees, and we paired a woman of color and a white woman in going into workplaces. So we didn’t just have the white organizers organizing the white people and the women of color organizing workers of color. We used our organizing to break down barriers and to build our multiracial organization.

Marc Steiner:  I mean that, to me, given what we face in today’s world, is really a critical lesson to understand. I mean, because if you think of racism as… If you look at racism as an underpinning of the society that’s woven into the DNA that destroys our society, and how the role of organizing and unions can actually change that, to me anyway, in my history, more than any other sit down sessions talking about race can. Something about the work together and the struggle together, how that changes things. And the conversations that are ensued because of that struggle actually change ideas and feelings and attitudes.

Ellen Cassedy:  Yeah, I mean we really, as you said, we started with action rather than with discussion. And I think that really worked to our advantage. So I really agree with that and that approach. A lot of our work had to do with the federal affirmative action regulations. And when I was doing my research for this book, I was just amazed to read this history. Affirmative action, which was passed in 1965, it was an executive order put out by President Johnson. It said that any company getting a certain amount of federal funding had to set goals and timetables for hiring underrepresented groups into every part of the workforce. So companies were required to say, okay, we’ve got X number of women in this kind of job. We’ve got X number of people of color in this kind of job, and our goal over the next three years is to increase those numbers. It seems almost impossible now to imagine that that was true, but it was. And of course it wasn’t happening, don’t get me wrong.

But when we showed up and waved these regulations in the faces of government enforcers and companies, things began to change. And I can’t tell you what an incredible thrill it was to work side by side with people of different ages, different classes, different races to make those changes and to actually win those victories.

Marc Steiner:  So talk a bit about, before we close up, how you expanded nationally. Because that’s a really fascinating part of the story. I mean, I know that when you began organizing in Boston, this was not… You weren’t thinking about how to organize an actual union. Maybe some of you were, but it wasn’t there. But how that happened, how that morphed over these 10 years of organizing and working in all these different industries from finance to publishing to all the industries where women were working in these offices, how that morphed into this national organization.

Ellen Cassedy:  Well, part of it was just combining with other efforts that were out there. We were in Boston, but then immediately people started getting in touch with us from all over the country. And there was a group in San Francisco, and there was a group in New York. And then we formed a group in Cleveland, and we formed a group in Dayton, Ohio. And then, as I said, we targeted Baltimore and Atlanta and Milwaukee. And so it was putting together efforts that were bubbling up all over the country and uniting in one organization. To some extent, we made it happen in and in other respects we just put together what was already there.

Marc Steiner:  Well, I thought that was an amazing part of the story for me to watch how that grew and how the women you began with, you actually spread out across the country and started doing work in different places.

Ellen Cassedy:  That’s right, some of the original organizers left Boston and went to Seattle and Hartford and other places to start new 9to5 organizations all over.

Marc Steiner:  So last couple things here, one has to do with the other story in this story. Because this is a story of organizing and building a national women’s movement, a labor movement. It’s also a love story. It’s the story of you and Jeff Bloom. The way you portrayed it and weaved it into the context of the story, but also how honest you were about your relationship and how it grew, tell a bit about this. As a writer, I’m interested in how you, as a writer, how you did that and why you made that weave between the political organizing and this love you’ve had your entire life.

Ellen Cassedy:  Well, my goal in writing Working 9 to 5 was to create an intimate perch from which to explore a wider world. And that’s my favorite kind of book, my favorite kind of memoir. And when I was 23, it wasn’t the case that I thought, oh, how do I form a national movement? No, it was, how do I grow up? How do I become… How is it possible to be a girlfriend and an organizer at the same time? And the answer to those, that question was not obvious to me. And so some of the same struggles I was going through at work in 9to5 and before I even was a staff member of 9to5 when I was an office worker, were reflected in my personal life, also, with my boyfriend, Jeff.

So how do you assert yourself? How do you ask for what you want? How do you make demands? What is coming on too strong and what’s being too timid? And I think that’s the case for so many people, that we ask people to join a movement, but for every person it’s so personal, it feels very personal. And so the issue of how do you ask for what you want at work without getting fired is not all that different from how do you assert yourself and make your needs known as a girlfriend without blowing up the whole relationship. And I wanted to make that connection in the book.

Marc Steiner:  And you did it very well. I was so real. I just loved that part of the book as well. And also, I must admit to everybody who’s watching or listening that I also went to high school with your husband, so that….

Ellen Cassedy:  You know how hard it can be. Right?

Marc Steiner:  So I want to conclude here with your thoughts about how the book you wrote and how your life of organizing with women who are at the forefront of the struggle of change – And there’s no accident, whether it was in the Civil Rights movement or whether it was in the abolition movement, with many of the union movements, women were at the forefront of these struggles. Women across racial lines were at the forefront of the struggles. And when you look at what’s happening now, how do you maintain your optimism about what you see and what’s growing, if you do, and where you think this takes us? I mean, because you wrote in the book at the end about what we face, where we stand, where unions are. So talk a bit about that in the context of your perception of what’s going to happen to us now and where our future takes place, what our future could hold.

Ellen Cassedy:  Well, that is the question, isn’t it? And I think writing this book really gave me… I went through a whole journey and a whole education. Our hopes at the beginning of this process in 1973 were just huge. We thought we were going to organize women by the tens of millions. We thought we were going to transform the labor movement. We thought we were going to solve all our problems. And that didn’t happen. Our hopes and dreams were way beyond what we achieved, and we didn’t win it all. But I came to understand that in this line of work, you never do. You’re always reaching for the horizon and beyond, and you’re never satisfied. And when you do win something, it just whets your appetite for more.

So the fact that there’s so much more to do is not news. And we were not unique in what we were able to do. We were just one example of a really exciting, transformative effort. And there have been more and there will be more. So it always goes that way. And as I said before, every generation’s got to win it again. And so I really urge people to study our history, learn from our history, but expect to forge your own path.

Marc Steiner:  And that’s what we have to do. This is an incredible book, and really well written. I mean, you’re a writer, and you’re an amazing writer, and I really appreciate how you wrote this book. It just brings you in. And I would recommend this book: Working 9 to 5: A Women’s Movement, a Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie, just an amazing piece of work. And I want to thank Ellen Cassedy for taking her time today with this here. On The Marc Steiner Show for The Real News. Been a pleasure to talk with you and look forward to many more conversations.

Ellen Cassedy:  Thank you so much, Marc.

Marc Steiner:  It was great. It was really great.

And I hope you all enjoyed it as well. And please write to me at Let me know what you thought and I’ll get right back to you, as I always do. Also, while you’re there, stay there and go to and make a donation to The Real News to keep this place floating and going. We need you out there to help with that. And I want to thank the folks here at Real News for making this show possible and making it work. And again, Ellen, thank you so much for being with us.

Ellen Cassedy:  Thank you.

Marc Steiner:  It’s been a pleasure to have you with us.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.