Summer Schools for Working Women create unique space to learn and grow

ss-bergermarks-groupFor women who work long hours, take care of their families, and need skills and mentorship to grow as leaders and activists, three days together just isn’t enough. That was the refrain from the 2016 Midwest and Northeast Summer Schools for Working Women.

The Midwest school, hosted by the Illinois Labor History Society in Chicago, was divided into Beginner and Advanced tracks, with care taken to tailor the curriculum at both levels to the needs of both traditional union members and worker center activists. The 55 women in attendance learned about concrete topics, such as grievance handling, labor law and economics, and took time for relaxation, yoga, and fellowship (including a visit to a Chicago blues club). The participants also took a labor history tour of the city, which featured a visit from an actor (and SAG-AFTRA member) portraying radical labor activist Lucy Parsons. Workers’ centers were well represented in the Midwest school, including the Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Committee from Kansas City, and ARISE Chicago.

The Northeast Summer School for Women in Unions and Worker Organizations, hosted by Rutgers University School for Management and Labor Relations, boasted an attendance of 139 women from eleven states and a host of different unions and worker organizations. The School’s organizers noted that “this year the energy seemed particularly optimistic” at the School. “Whenever you bring together a source of strong-minded women, not only do you create a sense of unity, you create a sense of focus and drive,’’ summer school instructor Janelle Blackmon told Rutgers Today, a campus public relations news magazine. “We come together and solve problems and come away with a sense of direction about what we need to do.” Workshops included such titles as “Sister to Sister: Building a Young Worker Program That Will Strengthen Our Movement,” and “Strategies for Moving up in Leadership.” One participant, Tsering Lama of the Pakistani women workers’ center Adhikaar, said, “I came back energized, inspired and ready for a challenge, but most importantly I became part of a sisterhood.” Emma McDonald from 1199/SEIU said she came away from the school with a “sense of hope, looking toward not only my future, but our future as a movement.”

Berger-Marks provided scholarships for young women workers 35 and under to attend the Summer Schools.