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Betty Friedan seeks to improve work and the workplace

Betty Friedan, author and ardent feminist, is now seeking to be a catalyst for improvement in the workforce.

She recently keynoted an all-day ''think tank'' conference at the Center for the Social Sciences at Columbia University entitled ''Restructuring Work: Alternatives for the '80s.'' A diverse group of leaders and experts from business, government, labor, the academic community, and the media came together to discuss the changing workforce in a changing society and to review the needs of workers in the light of new political and economic realities. It was a day when hardly a word was spoken in defense of Reaganomics.

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Speakers addressed themselves to such topics as labor-management relations, child-care programs in the community and in the workplace, flexible work schedules, discrimination, the impact of automation, and changing work patterns.

Ms. Friedan and other participants were reminded in many discussions that this might not be the best time to tackle such problems, since almost 10 million people are out of work and many employers are themselves struggling for survival. One speaker said flexible work schedules, child-care facilities, and other employee benefits might be considered frills at a time like this.

Undaunted and unintimidated, Ms. Friedan reminded her conference audience that social change often emerges from periods of depression or hardship:

''We know that women are not going to go home again. We know there are many single- parent families. We know we need a better system of maternity and paternity leaves. We know we must be more concerned with the quality of life, both on the job and off the job. We know we must help make work less boring, more interesting, more compatible with the education and value systems of people. We know the workplace should be more democratic and that workers should be able to participate more in the decisions that affect them.''

Ms. Friedan is sure it is not too soon to get people thinking about goals and solutions. She foresees the time when trade unions will get together with business leaders and government officials to help solve problems. She sees new coalitions forming that will keep track of worker concerns, whether they relate to child care, care of the elderly, better working conditions, a more humane workplace, or more recognition and reward for productive workers.

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