MoWIT president Beth Barton to share her journey during a May 18 presentation
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Imagine an active construction site where tradeswomen are lifting heavy construction materials in saris and sandals with no protective gear whatsoever. They work long, grueling hours in dangerous situations, sometimes carrying their babies on their backs while their other children either work alongside of them or wander the job site.
“While this kind of situation would constitute about 45 OSHA violations in the United States, it’s an everyday occurrence for many tradeswomen in India,” said Beth Barton, a local tradeswoman who recently visited the country as part of the first U.S. Tradeswomen Delegation to India. “We saw it every day, everywhere we went.”
Barton, a Tarlton superintendent and Carpenters Local 1596 member, was one of 14 U.S. women and one man in the construction industry selected to participate in the two-week trip led by Fulbright recipient Susan Moir, Ph.D., director of research for the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
BUILDING AN INTERNATIONAL NETWORK
The group met with Indian government officials, union leaders, organizers and construction workers in Dehli, Mumbai and Chennai. The goal was to build relationships that set the stage for an international network by and for tradeswomen and to improve the lives of women construction workers around the globe.
The trip helped Barton build upon the work she has been doing over the last decade as president of Missouri Women in Trades (MoWIT), a non-profit group, which works to support and mentor women in the St. Louis-area building trades and to promote the construction industry as a career choice for girls and young women.
STRENGTHENED RESOLVE TO FIGHT FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS
“It strengthened my resolve to fight for workers’ rights based on the atrocities I saw at those construction sites,” Barton said. “It’s almost unbelievable that people would work under those conditions. It’s definitely solidified my desire to be an organizer and opened the door to work with tradeswomen outside of the region.”
Barton recently gave a public presentation on her journey at the Construction Forum St. Louis office. She has a second presentation scheduled for May 18.
Barton said India was chosen for the delegation because it has critical mass. It has the highest concentration of female construction workers in the world, she said. In the United States, women make up about three percent of the construction workforce compared to about 40 percent in India.
“Women workers are almost entirely unrecognized as valuable workers and are paid one-half to one-third of what men are paid,” she said. “Women are considered ‘helpers’ as opposed to tradeswomen, and families are often hired in units with children as young as 10 joining in the work.”
Additionally, India is going through one of the largest GDP growths – upwards of 12 percent – and construction booms in the world, Barton said. However, the recent removal of the 500 and 1,000 rupee bills has disrupted as much as 50 percent of the building projects since construction there relies heavily on cash payments.
One of the highlights of the trip was the Building Bridges 2017 International Tradeswomen Conference held at the V.V. Giri Labour Institute where national and local labor leaders discussed challenges and opportunities in the United States and India. Barton gave a presentation on her work with MoWIT.
“They were just blown away with our use of cell phones, texting and social media to get the word out about the group, since we have a low budget,” Barton said. “They seemed really inspired by us.”
Barton said the delegation’s goals are to maintain and continue to build relationships with Labor leaders in the country and to begin planning for another conference in India within two to five years.
“It all follows the basic organizing principle that we are better together,” she said.
Barton will give another presentation on her trip to India on Thursday, May 18, at the Construction Training School at 6301 Knox Ave. in St. Louis.
The event is co-sponsored by the St. Louis chapters of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and AACE International, which serves the total cost management community.
It will begin with a networking session from 5 to 5:45 p.m., and the presentation will begin afterward. To RSVP to the event, email Sue Seawright at email@example.com or text her at 636-751-8437 by Monday, May 15.