Our visit to a construction naka: We meet women construction workers

On our last day in Noida, the staff of VV Giri arranged a bus and a translator to take us to a naka, a village intersection where construction day laborers wait to be hired by contractors. This system is familiar to many in the US where urban immigrants – almost always men– wait for work on residential and small commercial construction sites. If you have not seen a naka in the US, check out the parking lot of your local Home Depot at 7-8 am. In the US and India, these workers are in the “informal sector” or the “underground economy,” meaning they are paid in cash and have no benefits or workplace protections. Several differences exist in India. The nakas are huge, highly visible and not hiding from the law. And, in the past, half of the workers waiting were women. This has changed recently and the number of women construction workers in India has dropped dramatically. As I described in my original proposal to Fulbright for this project, “women’s work” in construction, the so-called unskilled labor of materials moving and tending, is rapidly being mechanized and replace by technology. And a second and unforeseen change has accelerated the process of driving women from the industry. As Beth Barton, Tradeswomen Delegate and Carpenter from Kansas, will describe below, on November 9, the people of India woke up to demonetization. 

Imagine that tomorrow you woke up to find that the government had — overnight– declared that $10 and $20 bills were worthless and you needed to turn them in for new bills. (And there would be no more $20 bills, only $50). This is what the Government of India did on the night of November 8. I will leave you to google and wikipedia for the explanation(s) and the controversy, but one picture will give you an idea of the impact on the wider population.demon-queue

The impact on construction and construction workers has been devastating. Construction is a cash industry and 93% of its workers are in the informal sector. Construction has stopped all over the country, unemployment is almost total and women have been the first to go and hardest hit. During the Delegation’s visit, we met a couple of hundred women construction workers and found a handful– less than a dozen– working.

In this video of a woman laying brick, see the construction workers’ children in the background at about 20 seconds in.

This will provide you with some background and context for Beth’s story below of our trip to the naka and the amazing visit we had on a bus with ten unemployed women construction workers in Noida.

Love and peace

susan

20 January 2017, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India

“This morning we went to a Naka, a corner where construction workers are hired for the day. What an experience. Twelve of us from the delegation with one interpreter all piled out of the bus on to the street corner where hundreds of Indian’s mostly male were standing. We followed Susan through the crowd looking for women workers.

 

When we found them, we began talking to them through the interpreter. Immediately swarms of men surrounded us, and we begin the slow process of trying to ask questions, then moving away to a quiet area to talk, only to be followed by the swarm of men. We moved several times and there were a few men who are very vocal and aggravated us as we talked to the women. I was pretty uncomfortable about it, I felt threatened. I didn’t like being at the center of 100 men’s focus.

At several points I thought we should all run for the bus, like when we were in front of the food stand, when Susan was yelling at the one men to leave us alone, I thought, “shit be nice so you don’t piss them off, because if they decide to get mad at us…” Fortunately, shortly after that someone had the great idea to take the women back to the bus, and the walk there was comfortable while we were being teased – or something like it – but it was hard to tell what the men were saying to me in a different language. I was so glad to get back to the personal space and safety of the bus. The women workers didn’t seem intimidated at all by the hundred men or so and proudly turned their noses up at them, taking our hands and walking away.

Once on the bus, everything was wonderful. The women were glad to come with us and asked if we could hire them for work. As we all sat on the bus with the 10 Indian women construction workers we began the process of developing who we were and what we wanted, and they begin to understand and started asking questions. The exchange of questions and answers began to form a picture.

Most of the women said they were single or widowed, all were from small villages in the state of Utter Pradesh. Most of them had not worked for about three months. The recent demonetization (removal of the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 bills in November 2016) has put a strain on the construction industry, which largely operates on a cash basis. The women said they usually earned Rs.200–250 a day, as compared to the Rs.400 male workers made. They were the last to get hired for work, yet these women seemed to be in good spirits. They were excited to be with us, and happy to answer any questions we had. I thought they would have reservations about getting on a bus with 15 strangers, but they didn’t. I thought anyone who hadn’t worked in months and looks like they hadn’t eaten much lately would be angry, but they weren’t. I expected them to be utterly defeated in spirit, but they weren’t. These beautiful, strong women were energetic, and lighthearted, and spirited. I didn’t need a translator to feel a strong connection to them, and I felt like they were feeling it too.

I was so humbled. These women are my idols. I wish I could be more like them. I wish we could’ve kept them with us, and brought them home to America, to give them all good food and jobs. But since we couldn’t do that we put together enough money to give them Rs.300 each [to compensate them for the day’s pay they missed by getting on the bus with us], and drove them away from the crowd, and they got off the bus. They were excessively grateful, passing blessings over each one of us. Saying goodbye was sad. I didn’t want to leave them without a solution. I am hoping the rest of the trip we will build a network to connect the right people and start to change the plight of these women. I want to bring hope to them, as they have brought hope to me. Thank you women construction workers in India!  I deeply appreciate the opportunity to have met you!!”

—Beth Barton, UBC Local 1596, Board President, Missouri Women in Trades (MOWIT)

 

 

 

 

 

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Building Bridges 2017: The International Tradeswomen’s Conference in India

On January 17-20, the Delegation was hosted by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute in Noida, India. We stayed in the very comfortable Institute dorms and were provided with wonderful meals by the Institute staff. On Wednesday and Thursday, the 18th and 19th, we participated in a conference with government, labour and civic leader and organizers. Operating Engineer Holly Brown will give you and introduction to the events and the Delegates from the US below.

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“We arrived in New Delhi, DRIVING FROM THE AIRPORT WAS A TRUE EXPERIENCE. The smog made it uncomfortable to breath. We stayed at the Smyle Inn, which is a Hostel. We were two to a room and breakfast was included. People carve out any spot to sell things and live, burning fires on the sidewalk for warmth. Susan made sure everything went smoothly.

We then went to stay at the VV Giri National Labour Institute. It was an honor to be part of the First Building Bridges International Tradeswomen Conference. When I walked into the conference it was more than I could have hoped for. We all had a part in the conference, I talked about apprenticeship programs. It was a two-day conference with highly respected people. We each talked about our career, how we got started, struggles, harassment on the job, etc.

We learned that they just started a construction workers’ welfare board. Most of the workers in construction are called the untouchables [Dalits]. They get paid in cash and in most cases they are not even listed on payroll. Women do all the unskilled work while the men do the skilled jobs. They do not even get minimum wage and their wage scales differ from person to person.

Just to name a few of the people who attended the conference from India: Shri Manish Kumar Gupta director General, VVGNLI & Joint Secretary, Shri Rajeev Arrora Joint Secratary, Labor and Employment. Dr Ratna Sudarshan Former Director, Institute of Social Science, Shri Subhash Bhatnagar Founder, NIRMAMA Society, Shri Piyush Sharama, Joint Labour Commissioner, Ms Mridula Bajaj Mobile Creche Dehli, Ms SwapnaKarve Delhi Construction Welfare Board just to name a few. There are 15 of us in all: Shamaiah Turner, Sheetmetal apprentice; Holly Brown, Operating Engineers Local 3 JATC Coordinator; Kelly McClellen, IUOE; Brian Doherty, Metropolitan Building Trades and Labour; Janet Butler, Federal Concrete Inc (Employer); Noreen Buckley , Electrician going into apprenticeship; Marcus McClanahan, Labourer; Linda Oba, Carpenter; Denise Soza, IBEW; Kathleen Santora, Painter; Edwina Patterson, Labourer; Susan Moir, UMassBoston; Diane Factor, Occupational Health & Safety; and Willa Factor, delegation assistant.

Because of the economic bust with the change of money there has not been a lot of women on job sites. Almost everything is done by hand. A Big Thanks to VV Giri National Labour Institute for taking such good care of us.”

— Holy Brown, Operating Engineers

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Holly (left) describes construction apprenticeship in the US at VV Giri

At the conference, a Special Issue of VV Giri’s journal Labour and Development was released. The journal focused on Gender, Work and Development and included an article on the Delegation and the Building Bridges project, “BUILDING BRIDGES: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF WOMEN WORKING IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY IN INDIA AND THE US, by Dr. Susan Moir.” The journal is posted on the blog home page.

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Official release of the special issue on Gender, Work and Development

VV Giri sent the following media advisory on the conference to press in India.

Building Bridges 2017: The International Tradeswomen’s Conference in India

(A Collaborative Initiative by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute & Labour Resource Centre, University of Massachusetts, Boston)

18-19 January, 2017

The V.V.Giri National Labour Institute in collaboration with Labour Resource Centre and University of Massachusetts, Boston USA organized a two day International Conference Building Bridges 2017: The International Tradeswomen’s Conference in India from January 18-19 2017. The conference brought together fifteen tradeswomen delegation from US to share their experiences and information pertaining to the construction industry and engage in a dialogue and discussion with the Government, Trade Unions, Civil Society Organizations, and Academia for providing inputs for policy formulation related to the construction industry in India.

The Director General, VVGNLI Shri. Manish Kumar Gupta welcomed the participants and highlighted that the conference would strengthen international relationships and experience sharing around the issue of gender and construction industry in the world and enable in  working towards joint policy initiatives on labour engaged in construction industry. Dr. Susan Moir, Director, Labour Resource Centre UMASS, Boston introduced the theme of the conference and provided a background of the conference. The conference was inaugurated by Shri. Rajeev Arora, joint Secretary, Labour and Employment, Government of India. In his inaugural address, Sri Rajeev Arora highlighted on the commitment of the government for the welfare of construction workers and also reiterated on the need for skill development of women workers in the construction industry. A Special issue of the Institute’s Journal, Labour and Development on the theme based on Gender, Work and Development was also released in the conference. The conference was attended by a fifteen member US delegation, Senior Officials from Ministry of Labour, Officers from the Labour Department, officers from other ministries, academicians, Senior leaders from Trade Unions, Members of Civil Society organisations, faculty members and officers of VVGNLI.

The vote of thanks was given by Dr. Ellina Samantroy, Associate Fellow, VVGNLI.

Each Delegate participated in a panel on subjects that included “What US Tradeswomen do to Work”, Labour Standards in the US, Apprenticeship, Health and Safety and Organization Building.

 

Three tradeswomen give their thoughts and impressions below.

From Dee Soza, California Journeywoman Electrician

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Dee (right) receives honorary plaque from VV Giri Labour Institute

“It is eight days into our Tradeswomen Delegation, and every moment of everyday has been filled with colorful sights, bustling sounds, at times to the point of needing earplugs, and unexpected emotions. Dr. Susan Moir has done a tremendous job in organizing every detail of our amazing trip without missing a beat. Our first few nights we stayed in a Hostel in the Main Bazaar right in the middle of the hustle and bustle. The weather was quite cold and we were lucky to get in a quick warm shower in the small rooms we shared with a bunkmate. The narrow alley to get to our hostel was filled with street vendors, small stores, places to eat, cobble stones, dogs, unknown scents, and the occasional scurry of nice fat rats.

We completed our first conference in Delhi at the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute. This two-day conference brought Government officials, and Professors of womens’ studies, labour studies, and social studies. I learned Construction in India is the largest non-agricultural form of employment. One in five workers work in construction where the normal work-day is twelve hours. Over 90% of construction work is classified as “informal”, or as we may call it at home “the underground economy”, where they are paid cash for their work. Two young women from India who work in construction spoke and are paid 250 rupees a day, equal to $3.67 U.S.

Our U.S. delegation shared our experiences and successes being skilled union Tradeswomen. The members of the conference were eager, surprised, and encouraged to hear us speak. The members of the conference were very gracious hosts and we were served traditional delicious meals. We have now traveled to Mumbai where we are being hosted by the Tata Institute of Social Science for our second conference.”

From Noreen Buckley, California Apprentice Electrician

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Noreen (left) and Laborer Marcus McClanahan (right) close the conference with their impressions

The level of hospitality and openness that the Indian people have shown us has humbled me. In this two-day conference, various voices presented the many layers surrounding women construction workers in India. The US delegation heard from members of the government and the ways in which they are establishing policy and creating programs to support the Indian construction workers as a whole.

The Indian labor organizers and union representatives shared the work they are doing to gain rights for construction workers around pay, safety standards on the job site, and pension after retirement as well as spreading that information to the workers, informing them that this option is available to them. The unions admittedly have tried to ignore the issue of women in construction only to now acknowledge that it is not going away. We sat on panels with activists who have been fighting for the basic needs of construction workers, specifically women construction workers. And we listened to academics that have studied and researched women construction workers, identifying the many hurdles they face in the field and their daily lives.

With just such a short time together, the Indian members did a great job in painting the picture of Indian cultural, governmental, economic, and social ways of life and how they all factor into the struggle that women construction workers face in their country. Before arriving in India, it was hard for me to see how the US and India could share best practices and benefit each other when our countries are on two different socio-economic levels. We talk about a fair wage for US union constructions workers being between $60-90/hour (for both genders) while 300 rupees a day ($4.50 US) is the norm for Indian female construction workers. But, the core issues that we as US Tradeswomen face are the same as Indian tradeswomen.

  • Access to childcare:
    • India – the women who “chose” to work outside the home are still responsible for all household duties and looking after the children.
    • US – the struggle women have to set up childcare (that is not family) when a job starts at 6:00 am. The acceptance and allowing of missing work to tend to a sick child as part of the cultural (as it is with more traditional female professions)
  • Equal pay for equal work:
    • India – women construction workers often work as a family, side by side with their male counterpart. The women always receives less pay then the man and often do not actually receive the money, rather her pay is given to the husband, father, male that she is with.
    • US – as a country, women still make ¾ of every $1.00 that men earn.    Making
  • Policy versus Implementing Policy:
    • India – many of the Indian panelists acknowledged, and at times joked, that Indians are great at making laws and bad at enforcing them.  The Indian government has taken steps, on paper only, to address some of the hurdles of women and construction workers
    • US – in 1978, Carter signed a law that 6.9% of the federal funded construction workforce has to be women.  To date, nationally we are roughly a little under 3% and we were slightly above 2% when the law was created.
  • Cultural perceptions of what women can and cannot do:
    • India – women are not strong enough, women are not smart enough, women will not be respected, women cannot lead…
    • US– women are not strong enough, women are not smart enough, women will not be respected, women cannot lead…
  • Harassment and Sexual harassment:
    • India – As a response to harassment of women, this country has established separate ladies’ cars on trains, designated ladies only seats on buses and just yesterday, I read that Air India (a local Indian airline) is debating if fights should have ladies only seating options.
    • US – I would go out on a limb and say that ever member of this delegation could share a story of workplace harassment and majority of the US female population could as well.

I have barely touched on the richness of this conference, the people, the discussion, the stories. We, as a delegation, are moving on with more questions than answers regarding the growth of tradeswomen in India and the United States.

From Kelly McClellen, Missouri Operating Engineer and member of Heartland Women in Trades

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Kelly (left) discusses tradeswomen’s health and safety issues

“My major take from the conference is that women here in India have no real rights as citizens except on paper. Men do not have respect for women and it’s sad to see.  Men and women were created to work together to make a great team. Not one better than the other. The policy makers and advocates have a great prospective on how life should be practiced but they haven’t found a way to teach or even spread the policies to the workers.  India needs a lot more activists and business representative speaking and taking action out in the field.  It is going to take an army of people to turn this country around. The fact that this group of ladies can bring inspiration and passion to these people is incredible and humbling!”

A few more thoughts on the conference:

  • Women’s unpaid labor is an issue globally and particularly in India where women do 100% of household work– work that is not counted and which prevents many women from being fully employed in the formal economy. The Delegation is preparing a proposal to the Government of India that a comprehensive Time Use Survey be conducted to create an accurate statistical portrait of the contributions to the national economy of unpaid labor by Indian women.

  • Dr. Sakshi Khurana presented qualitative interview research she has done with women construction workers in Delhi. She supported results from my research here in India in 2016: Women strongly identify as construction workers and have pride in being members of the industry.

  • We first raised our question, “Why can’t women be Masons?,” at the VV Giri conference. Many participants agreed that there is a need to train India’s women construction workers in skilled work and that masonry is a viable entry level skill. The Archana Women’s Centre in Kerala and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) have created model programs that struggle without wider political and economic support. Joint Secretary for Labour and Employment for the Government of India, Shri Rajeev Arora, who gave the inaugural address at the conference, stated that training resources should be reserved for training women to be masons in the construction industry.

  • Representatives from Mobile Creche in Delhi, including Executive Director Mridula Bajaj and Co-Founder Devika Singh, attended the conference. They brought two women construction workers with them. Aside from the US Tradeswomen Delegates, these were the only construction workers in attendance. All agreed that the problems are immense, the solutions difficult and no real change will occur until the women themselves are brought into the rooms where the discussions are happening and the strategies developed.

Love and peace,

susan

 

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A tradeswoman’s refection on traffic, caste and housing

From Operating Engineer Holly Brown

“Nothing prepared me for what I would see in India. The amount of people is mind blowing. It seems like anything goes when in it comes to the road in Delhi. You have your normal cars and busses, but then you have tuktuks, rickshaws, people pushing carts, animals pulling carts, bikes, motorcycles, scooters, cows walking down the road, and of course, all the people. Everyone inches along in an ebb and flow like no other place. Sometimes I could reach out and touch the car beside me because it was only inches from us. There are dogs all over. I have seen four people at a time on motorcycles and scooters. There are horses, camels, mules, and bulls pulling carts. It is very loud here, with horns honking and people talking.

There is a lot of social injustice, I am just starting to understand the caste system. There are so many poor people here doing everything to survive with little to nothing, and people are sleeping on the street. They make shelter anywhere they can from traps, to huts, etc. There is not enough housing, food, or jobs to go around. Animals look so thin you can see their bones. I have seen people washing off in their underwear and using the bathrooms outside because you sometimes have to pay for those facilities. They are a resourceful people and come up with ways to make things from what is available to them. There are all walks of life here, from people walking around bare foot, to people in suits with high priced cars. They are not in a hurry and everyone is so nice. The women’s clothing is so bright and beautiful. We have seen amazing mosques and temples. There are so many unfinished buildings. They do have equipment here but it seems like most of the work is done by hand and building is slow. I have not heard anyone complain or curse. They are a resilient and amazing people.”

 

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Holly, accompanied by Dee and Kelly, took a personal visit to the Ganges.

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India is tough

Kelly McClellen is an Operating Engineer from I.U.O.E. Local 101 in Kansas and Missouri and a member of Heartland Women in Trades. She shared her thoughts early in our trip:

“Have you ever been a part of something way bigger than yourself?

During my time in India, I’ve seen some of the saddest cultural life I hope is around!

Children begging to feed their families. The injustice for humans is horrible. It is amazing to think that I may have been a part of a movement that gives women the ability to become skilled with tools and work alongside the men as I do. It is a process that could take more than 100 years and I’m sad I won’t be able to witness this but I’m anxious to see a baby step in the right direction.

Construction here seems to be a few steps behind us as they dig ditches by hand and hoist concrete in buckets with a rope and pulley. There are many people here trying to help and as far as I can see the policies and laws are there to protect all citizens and even females in construction but the enforcement is so different because of the number of people and lack of ability to enforce and control the human culture.

Hopefully with advocates, activists and our US Tradeswomen Delegation we will inch in the right direction.

This group of women & Brian are an amazingly diverse, intelligent, passionate and skilled family. Yes now we are a family. We will together help change the world for the better.

I would urge everyone to visit India with the time to soak up the culture or even research with looking into the poorest (informal) sector and the less poor (formal) of construction life and cultural life. #humbledtradeswoman.”

Kelly McClellen
IUOE – International Union Operating Engineer Local 101 KS/MO
HWIT – Heartland Women In Trades

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Holly, Kelly and Edwina with two women construction workers and rep from Mobile Creche of Delhi.

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Brian and Kelly with young Tea Stall worker and his little brother.

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Operating Engineer and Northern California Apprentice Coordinator Holly Brown on visiting a Sikh Temple

img_0788Going to the Sikh Temple was amazing. The first thing people do is take off their shoes and wash their feet and hands before entering. When you enter the main temple you walk clock wise around the room. The most amazing part was the kitchen where volunteers cooked in order to feed 30,000 people a day. They cooked basic Indian food, all vegetarian. Anyone could come eat regardless of religion. They also allowed people to stay the night. There were huge vats of food cooking in copper pots: lentil soup, rice and curry, lots of people preparing the bread, rolling it, and flipping it for naan bread. People from all walks of life, even rich people were there volunteering. Most of the food is donated.

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At Sikh Temple. Holly 3rd from right.

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Dee Soza, California Electrician, shares her thoughts

It is eight days into our Tradeswomen Delegation, and every moment of everyday has been filled with colorful sights, bustling sounds, at times to the point of needing earplugs, and unexpected emotions. Dr. Susan Moir has done a tremendous job in organizing every detail of our amazing trip without missing a beat. Our first few nights we stayed in a Hostel in the Main Bazaar right in the middle of the hustle and bustle. The weather was quite cold and we were lucky to get in a quick warm shower in the small rooms we shared with a bunkmate. The narrow alley to get to our hostel was filled with street vendors, small stores, places to eat, cobble stones, dogs, unknown scents, and the occasional scurry of nice fat rats.

We completed our first conference in Delhi at the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute. This two-day conference brought Government officials, and Professors of womens studies, labour studies, and social studies. I learned Construction in India is the largest non-agricultural form of employment. One in five workers work in construction where the normal work-day is twelve hours. Over 90% of construction work is classified as “informal”, or as we may call it at home “the underground economy”, where they are paid cash for their work. Two young women from India who work in construction spoke and are paid 250 rupees a day, equal to $3.67 U.S.

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Dee receives plaque for VV Giri staff

Our U.S. delegation shared our experiences and successes being skilled union Tradeswomen. The members of the conference were eager, surprised, and encouraged to hear us speak. The members of the conference were very gracious hosts and we were served traditional delicious meals. We have now traveled to Mumbai where we are being hosted by the Tata Institute of Social Science for our second conference.

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Delegates share: Marcus, Noreen, Wil, Linda and Kathleen

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A few personal notes

1 February 2017

Yesterday I finished a 2½ year project that had been almost twenty years in the making. The First Delegation of US Tradeswomen to India is complete. The Boston delegates, Kathleen, Linda and Shamaiah are home by now. The Midwest girls, Beth, Kelly and Marcus are on route. Edwina from Minnesota is over the Arctic someplace. Holly and Dee are on their way to California. We dropped Noreen off in Pondicherry on Monday and Diane and Willa will spend another two weeks in the Indian south.

I am home in Bombay, in my dorm room at the Tata Institute. My roommate, Mirjam from Switzerland, is away doing fieldwork. She’ll be happy when she returns because Vrishali, the 7th floor housekeeper, and I cleaned the screens and windows this morning. Now the windows can be opened without filling the room with dust.  I wish Mirjam was here but I have completely taken over the room and my stuff is everywhere. I am sorting clothes and receipts and research materials and gifts received and to be given.

As I wrap up this project and my last two weeks in India, my personal goal is to let go of the state of high alert and mid-level anxiety with which I have lived now for a long time. It was a big job. I went to the evening yoga class here on campus last night. I was late but I went and I will go again tonight. And I had a good start this morning when two things went wrong and then went right again.

One of the delegates (you know who you are!) brought her contribution to our common funding account in a fistful of US dollars—not usable in India. Two weeks ago, I stashed the bucks away to be added to the account later. While we were visiting four cites, staying in multiple and highly varied accommodations, traveling by plane, taxi, rickshaw and on foot and meeting hundreds of people, I forgot where I put the stash. The longer I could not find it, the surer I was that it had been stolen out of my luggage on one of our three flights around India. I beat myself up all morning that I had put it in an unlocked bag. Then I found it. Relief and joy. It will be added to our delegation fund. All will be accounted for, the books will be reconciled and the financial part of this endeavor will be closed.

Shortly after that relief set in, I realized that I had I washed my laundry in sugar. I had two plastic bags, one with laundry soap and another with sugar. I can’t find the laundry soap. I realized this when I went looking for sugar for my tea. Everything is rinsed. If I start attracting bugs, I will wash it all again. For now, I can’t go anywhere because all my clothes – except the socks which I have not needed since the winter days in Delhi–are wet and hanging.

I have a lot of work ahead in the next few weeks to catch up on reporting on the trip and to write my final report for Fulbright. It was very difficult to keep up with the blog while we were traveling and working. Luckily, the delegates took lots of pictures and recorded the trip on our whatsapp and facebook pages. It is all there and now I have to document it for the ages. I was also negligent in keeping our funders up to date on our Go Fund Me page and I will be rectifying that beginning today.

It was a big idea. A good idea but bigger than I anticipated. The results for the future- as you will see if you continue to follow upcoming reports—are somewhat vague and unsure. We did not produce an action plan. That was also true in 1995 when the first transnational group of tradeswomen met in Beijing. Perhaps it will be decades again before women working in construction meet across borders. Perhaps it will be sooner. But relationships were built, knowledge was shared and ideas were created. Of such things, change can happen.

Stay tuned for more.

Love and peace,

susan

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A Laborer’s Perspective

Edwina Patterson is a nearly 4 year Laborer from Moundsview, Minnesota. She decided to come to India when she saw our first outreach flyer at the Women Build Nations Conference last April. She was moved by the picture of the woman working with a baby in a sling on her back. Here is Edwina with workers at a naka. Below are some of her thoughts early in our trip.

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So, as I walk down the street while in India I see a ton of construction but I don’t see much for PPE. All I can think about is every time an inspector says where’s your hard hat, or where are your safety glasses, or my Foreman looks and notices I don’t have ear plugs in, and I get attitude and I roll my eyes but I still go get whatever PPE I need. I see these people working in sandals, some with no shoes on at all, no hard hat, no safety glasses, no work boots. Then I all I can think about is having an attitude because I have to put in earplugs. Wow…it is so intense when we are hit with a reality check and have to grow up…..we need OSHA, we need regulation, we need employers that care…..guess my world’s not so bad after all.

–Edwina Patterson, Laborers Local 563, Minnesota

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Kathleen Santora, proud union Painter is in India

Delegate Kathleen Santora from Lynn, MA, member of District Council 35, Local 939, never imagined she would be in India with other Tradeswomen. She talks of the resilience of the women here and the courage of women working under such overwhelmingly unfair conditions. They are inspiring because, whatever adversity we tradeswomen have at home, it is nothing compared to what women here have to go through. It makes her grateful for what we have and more committed to fighting for equality for women worldwide. Coming home knowing that Trump is living in our White House, this has lit a fire in her to be more of an activist and be more involved in making change.

Kathleen is forever grateful to the late Bill Doherty for signing her up to be a union member. She honors him with this shirt in India and thanks her Council for their support of her and this trip.

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Two day conference with government, labour and civic leaders

dsc_024223 January

We spent two and a half days at the V.V. Giri Labour Institute in Noida, a suburb of Delhi. Our thanks to Dr. Ellina Samantroy, Associate Fellow at the Institute, who did an amazing job of organizing the conference and inviting the participants. The Institute staff were wonderful and generous. We stayed in the hostel and the accommodations were perfect.

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San Francisco Apprentice Electrician Noreen Buckley describes her experience at the conference.

The level of hospitality and openness that the Indian people have

shown us has humbled me. In this two-day conference, various voices

presented the many layers surrounding women construction workers in

India. The US delegation heard from members of the government and the

ways in which they are establishing policy and creating programs to

support the Indian construction workers as a whole.

 

The Indian labor organizers and union representatives shared

the work they are doing to gain rights for construction workers around

pay, safety standards on the job site, and pension after retirement as

well as spreading that information to the workers, informing them that

this option is available to them. The unions admittedly have tried to

ignore the issue of women in construction only to now acknowledge that

it is not going away. We sat on panels with activists who have been

fighting for the basic needs of construction workers, specifically

women construction workers. And we listened to academics that have

studied and researched women construction workers, identifying the

many hurdles they face in the field and their daily lives.

 

With just such a short time together, the Indian members did

a great job in painting the picture of Indian cultural, governmental,

economic, and social ways of life and how they all factor in to the

struggle that women construction workers face in their country. Before

arriving in India, it was hard for me to see how the US and India

could share best practices and benefit each other when our countries

are on two different socio-economic levels. We talk about a fair wage

for US union constructions workers being between $60-90/hour (for both

genders) while 300 rupees a day ($4.50 US) is the norm for Indian

female construction workers. But, the core issues that we as US

Tradeswomen face are the same as Indian tradeswomen.

Access to childcare:

  • India – the women who “chose” to work outside the home are still

responsible for all household duties and looking after the children.

  • US – the struggle women have to set up childcare (that is not family)

when a job starts at 6:00 am. The acceptance and allowing of missing

work to tend to a sick child as part of the cultural (as it is with

more traditional female professions)

Equal pay for equal work:

  • India – women construction workers often work as a family, side by

side with their male counterpart. The women always receive less pay

then the man and often do not actually receive the money rather her

pay is given to the husband, father, male that she is with.

  • US – as a country, women still make ¾ of every $1.00 that men earn.

Making Policy versus Implementing Policy:

  • India – many of the Indian panelists acknowledged, and at times joked,

that Indians are great at making laws and bad at enforcing them.  The

Indian government has taken steps, on paper only, to address some of

the hurdles of women and construction workers

  • US – In 1978, Carter signed a law that 6.9% of the federally funded

construction work hours has to be done by women.  To date, nationally we are

roughly a little under 3% and we were slightly above 2% when the law

was created.

Cultural perceptions of what women can and cannot do:

  • India – women are not strong enough, women are not smart enough, women

will not be respected, women cannot lead…

  • US– women are not strong enough, women are not smart enough, women

will not be respected, women cannot lead…

Harassment and Sexual harassment:

  • India – As a response to harassment of women, this country has

established separate ladies cars on trains, designated ladies only

seats on buses and just yesterday, I read that Air India (a local

Indian airline) is debating if fights should have ladies only seating

options.

  • US – I would go out on a limb and say that ever member of this

delegation could share a story of workplace harassment and majority of

the US female population could as well.

 

I have barely touched on the richness of this conference; the people,

the discussion, the stories. We, as a delegation, are moving on with

more questions than answers regarding the growth of tradeswomen in

India and the United States.

— Noreen Buckley, Electrician

 

V.V. Giri presented all the delegates with beautiful commemorative plaques.

Construction worker Priya joined us and we had the chance to present her with some construction health and safety posters that we had made in India.

priya

The next morning after the conference, we visited a naka, a corner where construction workers wait for contractors to pick them up for work. We were able to spend time with ten women in a very challenging situation. See a hint below and more later.

Love and peace to all.

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