WE ARE THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE

   


—by Susan Eisenberg

Celebrating holidays and the winter solstice, I find myself considering loss amidst the celebrations. Reflecting on our 30+ years history in the trades, some losses are easier to consider than others. My apprenticeship classmate and good friend, Margaret Gove, died June 23, 1983 bicycling home from her construction job at Harvard when a car ran a red light. Of that first group of five women to graduate from our Boston IBEW local, Margaret was the one who held us together. An excellent, well-respected mechanic, she was one of those people who had your back, and –– what most impressed me –– could always find the way to be outspoken and principled without sounding strident or insulting. Her death was tragic and unnecessary. When I was creating the On Equal Terms installation, I knew I wanted to find a place for Margaret’s face on Stella’s mask.

Some other losses are harder to acknowledge. I think of another apprenticeship classmate and friend, Subash Anand, who committed suicide when he thought he’d failed his state licensing exam in our fourth year, leaving behind a wife and two young children. A kind and caring man, Subash was Indian-American and like other trailblazers had to deal with the enormous pressure of isolation, and any failure being seen as collective rather than personal. Carol Porter, a white woman two years behind us in apprenticeship, committed suicide the following year. We had talked about the difficulty of explaining the world of construction to family and friends. I remember my classmate Xenia Williams, who was driven out after our first year, though she was the most skilled of the original six.

The death last year of NYC construction safety supervisor Bianca Wiśniewska-Kuroś in an apartment fire the day before the first preliminary conference on her sexual harassment lawsuit seemed to open a floodgate of difficult memories among tradeswomen. And raised questions of whether the large cost has been worth the small gains.

I think of women who loved their trade, but left after apprenticeship because they could not get consistent enough work at journeylevel to pay their bills. I think of hardworking, capable tradeswomen who could not get enough good years in to build up a pension. When I interviewed tradeswomen for We’ll Call You If We Need You, many spoke about the women in their union who’d vanished, and the lessons they took from that.

In military battles, collateral damage refers to unintended consequences, like civilian casualties (although often, there seems to be more intention than claimed). In some ways, many tradeswomen have been ‘collateral damage’ of this very fragile effort to open the construction trades. There’s been lots of rumblings of a renewed effort by government/unions/contractors/developers. I hope so, and I hope this time it’s done right. With the kind of follow-through and structural change that’s needed to create success. And that our history will be looked at unflinchingly, with tradeswomen who have cleared and kept open the path acknowledged and honored.

All best wishes for the New Year!

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3 comments

  1. Susan,
    I love this article! I am a journey-level carpenter and have been out of work since Jan. 6, 2006. I had to read your book when I was in the Chicago Women in Trades program in 2001 and the things that happened to those women pissed me off.
    The women in the Chicago area do not support each other, they are more about making names for themselves or giving more reason as to why the men don’t want us there in the first place. I am a good mechanic and was laid off because I filed a sexual harassment suit against my superintendent. Not one fellow female carpenter stood behind me, they were concerned about losing their jobs. Once they had lost their jobs, I started getting calls asking if I knew if anyone was hiring. Chicago Women in Trade offered no help at all; as a matter of fact, I can’t even volunteer their anymore because I spoke up about their age discrimination towards a fellow classmate.
    It’s not all doom and gloom. I’m still looking for work, just not as a carpenter. I’ve gone back to school and finished my BA and also earned my MBA in technology. I feel that in this area, women are collateral damage because they don’t stand together. I get more support from sisters all over the country and Europe than from my “sisters” here. Your blogs intrigue me, engage me and sometimes has me scratching my head. Why is it so hard for women to support each other? The men here don’t have to do anything to force the women out, they mostly do so on their own.
    Have a great holiday and thanks for the blogs.
    Carla Anderson
    L.U. 272 Chicago Heights IL

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  2. as usual insightful and compelling. I’ve enjoyed all the women past and present that have struggled with us and mourn for those who we have lost for many reasons. The thing that stands out is that those who participate do find an inner strength that is incredible.

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  3. Dear Everyone,
    Please do not give up! We have a Political climate that is ripe for the changes we have been seeking. Can not women get on the map now with all the jobs that are needed in America? Can we believe that if we just do not quit, do not step back, do not get silent that we can raise this Tradeswomen movement out of the Ashes?

    Every birth or rebirth requires great energy, great contractions, pushing, deep breaths. Are we ready, young and old, wise and weather beaten, the old fashioned and the technological savvy ones to put our heads and our souls together? I say if we can do this now, even if some of you see this as a last great effort or final push of your activist carreer….Let’s Do IT!

    Let’s rise up and give this Obama Administration an answer to solve our problems. We know what has not worked in the past, let’s invent the solution!

    Maybe he is getting ready to create a bunch of Federal Projects to put America back to work. We know Affirmative Action helped many of us in the past get onto projects that lasted long enough for some women to Journey out! Maybe he will let us add to efforts to monitor the work forces better? Already, community sources would need to be beefed up to supply new blood to the local workforces once these projects come out of the ground! We are in great need to get ready…..we already know what the oposition will say…..we need to get ready now! The opposition always says there are not any women who want to do this work, they can’t find any women who want to do this work…etc
    Also, I know studies have been done in California that studied the impact of Prop 209 on women working in the trades. But what about a Nationwide Federal study to show the same. Where are the PhD’s and statisticians who could write for Grant money to conduct this much needed work?

    I say, let’s call together all the help we need from far and wide and put this Mighty Movement together now! Now, with the internet, most of us would not have to leave home to get some of this done.

    I appreciate the comments made about those we have lost. We lose Tradeswomen through all sorts of ways, and we will still suffer losses. For those who are still here…what can we do now to carry this Torch a little further up the road to Liberty? I am open to any and all Ideas. Let’s Go!

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