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Place matters

In this chapter the connections between paid and domestic labour among EVW women have been explored. After spending the early years of their lives in Britain as directed labourers, EVWs moved into the open labour market as independent workers. At the same time most of the 25 women in this book also relinquished their single status and became wives and mothers. One of the aims here was to assess the significance of specific local gender cultures in the bargains made within households about the division of total reproductive labour, as well as to evaluate the strength of the national ideology of domesticity in the 1950s. It is clear that economic necessity was the overriding factor in the decisions made by the women to whom I talked and their households. As is common among most migrant communities, survival strategies crucially depend on maximum participation in local labour markets for women as well as men, with the exception of communities with strong, often religiously-based, beliefs that exclude women’s labour market participation. For Latvians too, as Vieda Skultans (1998, p 119) has argued in her study of post-independence Latvia, ‘historical stereotypes of Latvians as determined workers’ are a significant part of their sense of identity and self-worth and in part lie behind most of these women’s commitment to paid work. Jelena spoke for most of her contemporaries when she commented: ‘We didn’t mind working hard – we had a house and jobs, after losing everything.’ Figure 7.2 shows two typical employment trajectories, illustrating the long labour market attachment of these women.