Some women made history in the 1970s and 1980s by going to work every day -- as truck drivers, firefighters, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and in other construction trades. These traditionally male, blue-collar occupations were mostly unionized, with good pay scales, health benefits, vacations and pensions - which help explain why pioneering women were willing to fight so hard to for the jobs.
It is hard to remember today just how unusual it was to see a woman in any skilled blue collar job. It was equally unusual to find women in trade unions, often named brotherhoods to symbolize the close-knit bonds formed by sharing an occupation. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are two well known examples. The term reflects the fact that union members refer to one another as brothers, and hints at the frequency of family ties in a trade. Skills, tools, and the possibility of a union job were often a cherished inheritance, passed on from father to son. Discrimination could be a consequence of this tradition, though it was not always intentional.
We present here selections from a new book by oral historian Jane LaTour -- Sisters in the Brotherhoods, Working Women Organizing for Equality in New York City (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008). They give a glimpse of this complicated story of women as ironworkers, stationary engineers, craft technicians, plumbers, tile setters, mechanics, truck drivers, electricians and electronic technicians, and describe a bit of what it took to bring about the dramatic change in the New York City's blue collar workforce in the last third of the 20th century.