October/November 2011

FOCUS Diversity / Inclusion

Caucuses, Conference Show that
the Personal is Political
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Hundreds of members gathered in pre-convention meetings to share stories of victory, ask the tough questions and assess how to strengthen the IBEW. Through a varied patchwork of ages, genders, ethnicities and experiences, a clear image emerged: a collective picture of personal will and enthusiasm to build on the proven traditions of the union.

Electrical Workers Minority Caucus

Under the banner "Always Moving Forward, Forever Lifting Up," the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus event featured two panel discussions with leaders from local unions that have exemplified the mission of building a more inclusive organization.

Diana Limon and Eric Brown outlined how, under the leadership of Los Angeles Local 11 Business Manager Marvin Kropke, the local worked with its EWMC chapter to visit political leaders, building influence as part of a sustained campaign to win billions of dollars of work on public school projects.

EWMC President Robbie Sparks charged hundreds in attendance to fight to keep the gains of the labor and civil rights movements from being snatched away. She recalled her own roots. The daughter of a postal worker and a mother who, she says, "kept our house and cleaned someone else's, too," Sparks remembered her first impression of unions.

"I was making $1.03 per hour in 1966. I looked over at a union job that paid $2 per hour and I said that's where I want to be. … It's time for all of us to hit the bricks [to defend collective bargaining and unions]," she said.

Sparks addressed the impatience of members who believe that internal change is not happening fast enough in the IBEW. "We can disagree with each other, but we don't have to fall out," Sparks said. "So let's stop pointing the finger at what others aren't doing and point the finger back at ourselves and ask what we are doing for our union."

Women's Caucus

The theme of the IBEW's 6th Women's Caucus was "Sisters in Solidarity: Leadership Beyond Borders." Hundreds of attendees—including veteran activists and members of the young workers delegation—were encouraged to transcend their own boundaries and work collectively to be effective change-makers in their locals and communities.

"Individual talent is great, but by sharing our common interests, strengths and abilities, we achieve a greater sense of unity," said Carolyn Williams, director of the IBEW Human Services Department. "That way, we genuinely prosper."

The centerpiece of the caucus was a presentation by Amber Hockin, director of the Canadian Labour Congress for the Pacific region. She is the first woman director at the 3.2-million-member CLC, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S.' AFL-CIO.

"The IBEW has taken great steps already in terms of promoting women and equity-seeking groups within the organization," Hockin said. "I think that continuing to make space for these groups as they take on stronger roles is important."

The diverse crowd—including many men—signaled agreement with the elected and appointed leaders' refrain: that working from within any organization is the path to real progress.

Political Conference

Delegates also gathered at the Political Conference to make union history by bringing together IBEW political activists from both sides of the border for the first time.

Attendees took stock of recent victories and setbacks and prepared for challenges of the next year, including the 2012 elections in the United States and important provincial contests across Canada.

Promising to take action on jobs, anti-worker politicians have instead squeezed middle-class families and attacked collective bargaining rights.

Mike Bellcock, a Milwaukee, Wis., Local 2150 business agent and lobbyist, was knee-deep in the struggle to protect collective bargaining in his state. A 24-year lineman and first-time delegate, Bellcock attended the IBEW Political Conference, saying, "It was nice to hear acknowledgements from the speakers that Wisconsin is ground zero in the attack on our unions."

San Diego Local 569 journeyman wireman Terrelyn Hartman said, "Having gone to the Political Conference, I'm going to go back and throw out some facts to my friends—like how 80 percent of the income gain in the last decade went to the top 1 percent of the population."

Read more: Focus Growth: Delegates endorse growth

Read more: Focus Politics: Cross-border political activism

Read more: Focus Youth: First-ever IBEW youth delegation

Read more: Focus Partnership: Employer cooperation highlighted

Read more: Focus Community: Convention seeks community engagement

The EWMC meeting focused on transcending boundaries to build a more inclusive organization.

San Mateo, Calif., Local 617 member Kathleen Barber adds to the discussion at the Women's Caucus.

Delegates listen to presentations from both sides of the border at the Political Conference.