Going 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.
Operating Engineer and Northern California Apprentice Coordinator Holly Brown on visiting a Sikh Temple
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
- 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.
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.
…of Marcus before going to bed. Thanks, Beth, Good night from Delhi from the US Delegation of Tradeswomen.
Friday, 20 January 2017
The fourteen Delegates arrived last Sunday and Monday. Depending on their arrival time, they had a day or two in Delhi to settle in and see some of the city. Lost luggage was resolved fairly easily. A hotel/hostel with mostly double beds was a non-issue. If you are following us on Facebook at “Building Bridges 2017” you probably saw pictures of the alleys of the Main Bazar, cows in the street, ten of them at a Sikh Temple in scarves and one turban (!) and videos of rides through traffic in tuktuks.
The Delegates are from Boston, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota and California. We have electricians, carpenters, operating engineers, a sheetmetal worker, a painter, a regional labor leader (the one guy), a contractor, a health and safety educator and a young logistics assistant. You will get to know them as they write here about their experiences. They are a diverse group, passionate about tradeswomen’s issues, committed to this experiment and coming together as a small community. They are figuring out India as people in India are figuring out them.
Let me share a few pictures, some words from Kansas Tradeswoman Marcus and a few pictures of our first couple of days.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Good evening everyone, India has been a blast thus far. Every day we have opportunities to see miracles. For example, I witnessed a 15 -16yr old young man tapping into a street light pole for power. The survival techniques that has been displayed by the Indian culture has been enlightening.
–Marcus McClanahan Laborers Local 1290 Kansas City, Kansas
We have just returned to Delhi after a two day conference in Noida at the VV Giri National Labour Institute. This morning we visited a naka, a corner where construction workers wait to get work from contractors. We had a visit– and a challenging experience– with ten women construction workers. Lots to tell in next post.
Love and peace.
The Delegation is landing! Folks will be arriving today through Tuesday. The Boston group has been delayed and after spending an extra day in Amsterdam will be here early Tuesday morning.
Electrician Noreen Buckley arrived last Monday night and spent the week with me in Mumbai. She kicks off the Tradeswomen’s Posts with her thoughts this morning.
From Noreen Buckley, San Francisco, IBEW Local 6, Apprentice:
India is fast and full of movement. People, traffic; all doing something and going somewhere.
I was able to find the rhythm of Mumbai and jump in, traveling to the four corners of the area. One day at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the north, the next in the shopping district of Bandra in the west, down to the docks of Mumbai in the south and always returning east to Tata Institute, where I called home for a week.
In my 5 days of travels I had 4 separate experiences of women construction workers.
The big one was Vrishali, a female Electrician that Susan met by chance while looking for a lamp. Vrishali has been in the field for 25 years. She started as a helper in a manufacturing plant and through passion, worked her way up to become an electrician.
Roadwork was the main construction I encountered and had one sighting of tradeswomen doing labor work. Transporting dirt and rock from a trench being dug. Two women on the site, each were working in tandem with a man. The man was explained to me as being a husband, brother, uncle, etc.
While exiting the train station in center city Mumbai, there were two women workers on break. They were wearing orange safety vests doing some interior construction on a closed store inside the station.
Lastly, while waiting for a bus in the national park, I chatted with a local woman (a self identified housewife) who was showing her parents the area.
Sharing the reason for my visit to India, I asked if she personally knew any women that worked in construction, she said “No.” Adding, “that is a poor persons job. Uneducated, desperate for money. Not a good things for women.”
The delegation arrives today and I am looking forward to learning more about the Indian tradeswomen and the community that supports them.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Oh, my blog followers!
Some of you know me personally and have asked, “Why no posts?” To others farther afield, I just faded away and have now reappeared. Let me catch up those who have been most out of touch.
When I returned from India last April, I decided to organize a group of US tradeswomen to return with me on the next trip planned for January 2017. Two weeks after getting home, I flew to Chicago for Women Build Nations, the annual national tradeswomen’s conference.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
I am at Logan. Harneen and Hayden dropped me off and my flight to Mumbai via Amsterdam leaves in 2 hours.
Women Build Nations was so exciting. From several hundred women just a few years ago, last April there were almost 1500 participants in Chicago. I was joined by Fernanda “Nanda” Campos da Cruz Rios, a student from Brazil studying at Arizona State University. One of my research goals is to mentor young feminist scholars who want not to “study” tradeswomen, but to part of building participatory reseach with tradeswomen on the social barriers and strategic solutions to improving women’s access and retention in the skilled trades. Nanda has followed the story of women in Brazil who were part of building the World Cup sites and was planning to do interviews with US and Brazilian tradeswomen as part of her studies. Unfortunately, and shortsightedly, the Brazilian government failed to approve her study. She and I hope that Nanda can become part of the research community supporting tradeswomen internationally in the future.
With Melina Harris, carpenter from Seattle and president of Sisters in the Brotherhood, I offered a workshop at the conference on Transnational Tradeswomen and the issues of women working in construction across the globe. I also had 500 flyers with me advertising the opportunity to be part of the First Delegation of US Tradeswomen to India. I handed the flyers out and put them on tables at the plenary sessions. Honestly, I was not confident that tradeswomen would be interested, but I knew that I was wrong when the “First Delegate,” Marcus McClanahan, Kansas Laborer and tradeswomen, ran up to me with the flyer in her hand and said, “I am going to India with you!” By the end of the conference, I had more than enough interest to fill the Delegation. Getting the tradeswomen was the easy part. The rest of it has been much harder. I never aspired to be a travel agent and as soon as this is over, I am giving up that job forever. India is a complicated country and moving a group of 15 around to 3 cities in 16 days is a lot of work. I will confess that I still don’t know how we are getting around after the first week, but I am sure (kind of) that I will have it figured when it is time to move onto the next site!
More to come soon. You will meet the Delegates. I have asked that each do at least one blog post here. We will be doing lots of social media and send out lots of pictures. I have an idea that we might do some Facebook Live. Please share those things that might interest your circle of friends and thank you for your support of women working in construction in India, the US and the world.