This presentation discusses the politics of the “working mother” in the post-WWII  transformation. It focuses on the organizing, activism and networking of communist-aligned women trade unionists from state-socialist Europe, and their international engagement which took place within the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and in relation to other international organizations. These women trade unionists envisioned a politics of the working mother which constituted an alternative to both the male breadwinner model of the family and the unfettered double exploitation of women’s paid and unpaid work. The paper demonstrates that we need to consider three major issues in interaction to grasp key shifts in the international politics of women’s work in the period: the uneven development of women’s paid and unpaid work on a global scale; the complex and interwoven geopolitics of trade-unionist and interstate internationalism during the Cold War; and the problems women trade unionists encountered in their politics of practice within the Eastern European countries as they addressed problems of the working mother in the early period of “building socialism”. On the international stage, Eastern European women trade unionists struggled with the consequences of geopolitical constellations and dynamics not only when they promoted, in interaction with women activists and policy makers who adhered to political world views different from their own, their vision of the women-friendly welfare state. They encountered difficulties also within the WFTU when addressing those problems related to the politics of the working mother which emerged in connection with the speedy and advanced integration of women in full-time paid employment in state-socialist Europe.


Susan Zimmermann is a historian of social movements, and labour and gender politics, in the 19th and 20th centuries, with a focus on international settings, Austria-Hungary, and state-socialist Europe. She published Women’s Politics and Men’s Trade Unionism: International Gender Politics, IFTU Women Trade Unionists and the Labour and Women’s Movements of the Interwar Period (in German) (Löcker Verlag 2021). Together with Eloisa Betti, Leda Papastefanaki and Marica Tolomelli, she co-edited Women, Work, and Activism: Chapters of an Inclusive History of Labor in the Long Twentieth Century (CEU Press 2022). Zimmermann holds the ERC Advanced Grant “Women’s labour activism in Eastern Europe and transnationally, from the age of empires to the late 20th century” (ZARAH); here, she studies the history of communist-aligned trade unionism and it’s women protagonists in state-socialist Hungary and internationally.