Some 1,200 union activists participated in the 2018 Women of Steel Conference Oct. 15-17, representing a massive, energetic showing that brought together USW members from across North America.
The conference theme was “A Call to Action,” and over the course of three days, the group explored opportunities and resources to make an even bigger impact on their locals and their communities.
“When you leave here this week, are you ready and willing to take action to send a strong message to our politicians that women will no longer be held back?” asked International Vice President Carol Landry, “Because when women get ahead, everyone gets ahead.”
During the conference, delegates heard from a diverse panel of international guests; discussed ways to end the still-present epidemic of gender-based violence; and participated in workshops including those on health and safety, building activism, bargaining to close the gender wage gap, combating workplace harassment and more.
Delegates also converged on University Avenue in downtown Toronto for the Ontario Day of Action for Workers’ Rights, marching from the conference waving USW and Women of Steel flags while chanting “Hands Off!” and “Fight Back!”
Health care workers were among representatives from across the union’s diverse sectors, from steel to paper, energy, glass, public sector, and more, all proudly united under the title, Women of Steel.
Jackie Anklam, president of Local 9899 in Saginaw, Mich., said that unlike many of her union Sisters in heavy industry, her health care local is primarily made up of women. But even though her challenges are different, the conference had a lot to offer.
Local 9899 President Jackie Anklam participates in the Ontario Day of Action.
“I’m looking forward to getting information to take back into my local, especially so we can start working to get more active,” said Anklam, an environmental tech at St. Mary’s of Michigan. “It’ll be good to re-energize our WOS committee.”
Marketa Anderson, a member of Local 9349 who works at the Range Center, a residential and vocational center for people with mental and physical challenges in Chisholm, Minn., also said that the dynamics are different when the local is largely run by women, but is still important “because it gives women an outlet in their unions to be active.”
But Anderson thinks the union could do more to further the cause of women’s equality. “Since I have been active, I have heard how we have gotten more women in top positions, but I have not seen it,” she said. “I don’t see anyone up there with Carol (Landry).”
On the final day, delegates took to the mics to share the specific ways they’re going to go back to their locals, engage more women and become more active.
“You have a voice,” said Landry. “Don’t ever let someone take that away, and if someone tries to take that voice, speak louder.”