Portuguese American Journal

Book | Cleaning Up | By Susana P. Miranda & Franca Iacovetta – Editor’s Note

This fascinating book uncovers the little-known, surprisingly radical history of the Portuguese immigrant women who worked as night-time office cleaners and daytime cleaning ladies in postwar Toronto.

Drawing on union records, newspapers, and interviews, feminist labor historians Susana P. Miranda and Franca Iacovetta piece together the lives of immigrant women who bucked convention by reshaping domestic labor and by leading union drives, striking for workers (TM) rights, and taking on corporate capital in the heart of Toronto (TM)s financial district. Despite being sidelined within the labor movement and subjected to harsh working conditions in the commercial cleaning industry, the women forged critical alliances with local activists to shape picket-line culture and make an indelible mark on their communities.

Richly detailed and engagingly written, Cleaning Up is an archival treasure about an undersung piece of working-class history in urban North America.

“Invisible no more! Through the caring labours of feminist historians Susana P. Miranda and Franca Iacovetta, the earthy humour and sassy militancy of Portuguese immigrant women office and house cleaners emerges. Their workplace activism shook Toronto’s neoliberal establishment in the 1970s and 1980s, belying stereotypes of passivity and patriarchal oppression, while fighting against discrimination and exploitation. More than a recovery of heroines, this labour history underscores the perils of contracting out and the promise of grassroots coalitional struggle against bosses—and union bosses.”– Eileen Boris, author of Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919–2019

Cleaning Up disproves the widespread historical image of migrant women from southern Europe as docile housewives and shows instead a group of decisive women workers who changed collective agreements and labour rights. It is a powerful story and a hopeful reminder of what workers can achieve when they organize and fight exploitation. Cleaning Up is a must-read for activists and labour historians.”– Silke Neunsinger, Swedish Labour Movement Archives and Library and Uppsala University

“This volume is an outstanding and rich history of the labour struggles and successes of Portuguese immigrant women workers in the cleaning industry in Toronto. Women workers come alive on these pages through deep and poignant analyses of their courage and claims for dignity and self-worth. Cleaning Up has vital comparative implications today for those researching migration, gender, and work. If you want to better understand how forms of employment shape the gendered possibilities of resistance, you must read this book.” – Wenona Giles, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, professor emerita, Anthropology, York University

About the Authors

Susana P. Miranda is an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in history from York University. The author of scholarly articles on Portuguese cleaners in Toronto, she currently works for the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. A public historian, she is co-founder of the Portuguese Canadian History Project, which collects, preserves, and disseminates material related to the Portuguese in Canada. She lives in Toronto.

Franca Iacovetta is professor emerita of history at the University of Toronto, and a past president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. A historian of women/gender, migration, and transnational radicals, she has published eleven books, including Before Official Multiculturalism: Women (TM)s Pluralism in Toronto, 1950s-1970s. Award-winning books include Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Cold War Canada and the co-edited Beyond Women (TM)s Words. She lives in Toronto.

Book Details

Title: Cleaning Up: Portuguese Women’s Fight for Labour Rights in Toronto

Authors: Susana P. Miranda & Franca Iacovetta

Publisher‏:Between the Lines

Publication Date: April 18, 2023

Language‏: ‎English

Paperback‏: ‎256pp

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