Telling the Story of Female Electricians

A Review of a New Small Book That Tells Young Women They Can be Electricians Too 


Harry Targ

People work for a lot of reasons; reasons that are not necessarily in conflict. First, people work to earn a living. Only the super-rich, the ruling class, do not have to work as most people experience it. Second, people work to produce goods and services that serve their communities; from the food we eat, to the buildings we live in, to the education our children receive, to the medical care that keeps us healthy and alive. Third, people work because it fills time and hopefully, gives dignity and hope. People identify with their jobs and to a degree their self-concepts are shaped by their jobs.

However, for many work does not provide sufficient resources to live healthy lives. Workers often are forced to produce objects that do not serve communities but facilitate destroying them, such as manufacturing arms, or pursuing certain kinds of police work or surveillance. And for many workers, boring, routine, assembly line jobs do not give dignity and hope. They dehumanize people. And finally, work is foisted upon people against their will in a system of economic exploitation that for many constitutes modern slavery. And to do this capitalists, managers, and bosses exploit workers often reinforcing old cultural ideas about who can do what kind of work.

But with the rise of the feminist movement, progressive trade unions, and demands in society for cultural change, workers, particularly women workers are finding work that earns livable wages, channels their energies and talents to the community, and provides them self-satisfying and dignified labor.

WireWomen: What It’s Like to be a Female Union Electrician (Hardball and Little Heroes Press, 2022) is a beautiful book, text and wonderful graphics, that describes and celebrates women electricians. It is written by seven women and one-man all apprentice electricians, and one journey woman and a professor of labor economics, It is illustrated by a “multi-disciplinary artist” interested in the intersections between art and social movements, The apprentices are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 in New York. These IBEW apprentices take a five-year electricians course which includes training in the classroom and on-the-job. In addition, apprentices take college courses leading to an associate or bachelor’s degree in Labor Studies at Empire State College, SUNY.

The text exudes the pride and enthusiasm these apprentices have for the work they are being trained to do. “We pull wire with the strength of an elephant tugging out tree trunks, we climb ladders with the agility of a mountain lion scaling a peak, and we read blueprints with wisdom and inquisitiveness of an owl. We use our extraordinary powers to build and light up our city.”

The text describes the success these apprentices have achieved in their “search for daily meaning,” helping to build skyscrapers, installing revolving doors, adding electrical wires to tall buildings, wiring subway systems, wiring guidance systems for Air Traffic Controllers at airports, and even stringing the lights for the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. And all of these tasks are beautifully presented in colorful, exciting illustrations adjacent to the text which highlight the vital role electricians play in society.


And WireWomen reminds readers, mostly girls and young women (but males as well) that the possibilities of careers as electricians are available to everyone. The book demands that young people forget the old stereotypes of who could do what work. It encourages young women particularly to pursue their evolving interests and dreams. If they are curious about electricity, have a fascination for using tools, want to know “how things work,” the book suggests, they can enroll in a union apprentice program, learn a skill, and secure lucrative employment doing self-actualizing work. “We like to make our work look good because we take pride in what we do and are committed to doing a good job….We use our brains, eyes, ears, and touch to make sure everything is just right.” As Studs Terkel once wrote:


WireWomen come from all income levels, ethnicities, and races, and from different kinds of prior job experiences. And what brings them together is their passion and curiosity and a union that is committed to the dignity of work and workers. The union provides “the best training, excellent health care and pensions, safe working conditions, and good pay.” In New York state the average wage of electricians is $81,340. In the United States union women in all jobs earn a lot more than women in non-union jobs (about $195 per week more).


WireWomen also is an example of a potentially powerful new genre of literature that combines text and illustration in an engaging way. In ways analogous to graphic novels and documentaries, the reader is drawn into the text by the attractiveness and power of the visual images that accompany it. And in the case of WireWomen the authors want to attract and engage the readers with a message, challenging traditional stereotypes of what women can do. Also, the authors wish to recognize that progressive trade unions can facilitate growing opportunities of women in the workplace.

Educational institutions and union locals should order multiple copies of WireWomen to hand out to young women (and men) who evidence some curiosity about becoming an electrician. It could be an excellent recruiting tool.

(Hardball and Little Heroes Press publishes fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children that take a working-class perspective. The Lennie Moss series written by Tim Sheard and numerous other fictional books about workers and unions entertain and enlighten. The Little Heroes series provides education and entertainment for younger readers.)



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