—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.



  1. Dear Susan,

    I am enjoying your web site so much. I just wanted to address the question regarding “advocates” vs “tradeswomen”. I believe this is a problematic distinction and has caused plenty of problems in the past. Having been both for almost 40 years (I went to trade school in 1972 and completed my carpentry apprenticeship in 1977) I think we need to look at every possible way to unify ourselves, not look for things that separate us. The implication that advocates are second class, and/or can’t possibly understand if they didn’t actually pound nails or turn a wrench is unfair to all. The question is: what are we doing for this significant movement? Are we moving it forward or holding it back? There are dozens of things that separate us..what are the things that bring us together.

    One thing I will say is that you, Susan, bring us together. Talking with you is always such a pleasure and privilege. Come back to Seattle soon. We love you.



    1. Thanks, Melinda, for adding your thoughts, and for all you’ve done thru your various roles. I didn’t mean to say that folks who haven’t pounded nails aren’t crucial parts of this movement — certainly, now, as new OFCCP regs are getting shaped and soon, responded to — that couldn’t be done effectively without the lawyers and their expertise. Or those with political expertise. And so on. I do think the “advocate” term, though, is not useful, that it’s more helpful to identify the position or expertise people bring as we build coalitions or communities. And that tradeswomen should never be second class citizens in their own movement. But I’m sure I bring a certain bias about this issue, being from Boston, where we’ve had to deal with so-called-advocates, both early on and recently, who have taken actions that undermine or compete with, grassroots organizations. I think your test — how one’s actions affect progress — is a good one, and I’d add that empowering tradeswomen is a necessary part of making progress.
      And thanks for the open invite — love you, too!


  2. Hello Everyone! Today is August 17, 2011 and I just want to say that President Obama is going to announce a JOBS PROGRAM on or about Labor Day holiday. This is the moment we have all been waiting for….may we please rise to this Momentus Occassion!

    In Solidrity,

    L. J. Dolin


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