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.”



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


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


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.


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.


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.


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,


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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.


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.


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


  • 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.

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Just got to add this picture…

…of Marcus before going to bed. Thanks, Beth, Good night from Delhi from the US Delegation of Tradeswomen.


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It has been hectic!

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


At Sikh Temple


On the town

Our nagar (neighborhood) in the Main Bazar

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.


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