Month: June 2011


—by Susan Eisenberg
Kudos to California’s amazing Debra Chaplan for organizing the First Women Build the Nation Conference! She gets the details down, listens while juggling, honestly cares about feedback, and makes it fun! Great finale! — tradeswomen with tools and voices joining the Community Women’s Orchestra! Always a delight to see Vicky Hamlin’s wonderful artwork that combines painting and photography and thanks, Vicky, for making frames to hang On Equal Terms banners. This is a coordinated community! Loved seeing Move the Decimal Point buttons worn everywhere, and 20 batons passed from pioneers to those who will continue to move tradeswomen forward on equal terms.

The one note that seemed off to me was the caucus session. While tradeswomen met by trade there was also a gathering for “advocates”. What our national policy priorities should be was under discussion. This seemed odd. Maybe the term “advocate” is part of the problem.

First, tradeswomen ARE advocates. Speaking up in their unions, on their worksites, to their political officials. Often at significant risk. There is no movement without that. The more politically knowledgeable tradeswomen are, the more strategically they can act.

Second, the term “advocates” clouds issues of power and interest. It’s clearer when people identify that they’re talking as executive director of a training program, as a union official, or as an unemployed journeylevel electrician. This is a labor issue. Our work shapes our point-of-view.

Third, our different perspectives give us different wisdom. We need all of our good brains! For example, setting affirmative hiring goals on mega-projects as one of 3 national priorities makes sense in many ways. But working tradeswomen know the hazards. Apprentices who only work on mega-projects can spend years doing rote work, and not get the chance to graduate as well-rounded and employable journeywomen.

I know there was a lot to squeeze into a short time, but next conference, let’s have tradeswomen at their own policy table. Maybe there could be a panel, arguing different points-of-view, then break-out sessions, and back to a plenary. I’m sure Debra will figure this out! Women who work in construction enjoy being raucous, but also know how to be disciplined and get a job done. Let’s forge a national consensus from the full community at the next conference. Let’s recognize that WE’RE ALL ADVOCATES.

SIDE TRIP. I also went to Portland and Seattle, where folks at Seattle City Light explained, it’s not all that rain — it’s having a regulated system and supports that helps more women succeed there. And things like a bathroom on the utility truck!!! Had to snap a photo! And of SCL lineworker Peggy Owens teaching hoisting skills at the 32nd (yes!!) annual Washington Women in Trades Career Fair at Seattle Center.