Report Back from Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLWU) Women’s Leadership Skills Conference & 40th Anniversary

By Elizabeth Laux

My heartfelt thanks to my Local 3657 Sisters and Brothers for the opportunity to attend the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) National Executive Board Meeting, 40th Anniversary Awards Celebration and Women’s Leadership Skills Conference as a member of the National Executive Board (NEB) and Co-chair of the Legislative/Political Committee. It was five days of learning and inspiration, and I came away with a wealth of knowledge I hope to pay forward.

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On Tuesday, March 25, I got in my car and headed to Chicago. I did wonder how the trip would go, but it was uneventful and I find that driving in downtown Chicago is much easier than I anticipated! I got to the Palmer House Hotel, and Miguel, the doorman, was happy to assist. I parked my car and checked in.

Wednesday morning I attended the beginning of the CLUW State Officers & Chapter Presidents Meeting. There were many women there from around the United States including a few new Chapter heads. We went around the room and each introduced ourselves, and said why we were there.  Currently, there is no CLUW Chapter in Wisconsin; however, I said I was there to observe.

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About half way through I had to leave to attend the CLUW Orientation for New NEB Members. The National Executive Board is the highest policy-making body of CLUW except when the Convention is in session. It has the authority to charter Chapters, and make binding interpretations of the CLUW Constitution. During this meeting we introduced ourselves and discussed what would happen in the ensuing days of the conference.

And after that I attended the CLUW Committee Co-Chairs meeting. I am Co-Chair of the Legislative/Political Action Committee. At this meeting we discussed the issue of availability of people to attend meetings and the possibility of merging some of the Committees that serve duo purposes.

In the afternoon, we had our Opening Plenary Session. Along with the normal housekeeping duties, we had two speakers. Bill Fletcher, Jr., NOC Strategic Plan Facilitator, and Executive Assistant to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Vice President for Women’s and Fair Practices. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us—And Twenty Other Myths About Unions”. The second speaker was Maya Raghu, Senior Attorney at Futures Without Violence and she spoke about problems in the work place and how to effectively deal with them.

Thursday morning I attended the Opening Plenary Session which included Keynote Speaker Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice. They introduced the CLUW Young Woman’s Committee. They also gave a conference overview and after the Convention was dismissed from Plenary, we began our Workshop Tracks.

The Workshop Tracks were four programs of 5 hours each. They were Community Partnerships and Engagement; Political and Legislative Action; Public Speaking: Crafting Your Message; and, Recognizing Your Own Power as a Leader. The workshops were divided into two two-hour segments, and one-one-hour segment for a total of 5 hours each. Each delegate to the convention chose which Track to attend and followed it throughout the conference. I thought it would be good for me to learn to speak publicly more comfortably on the spur of the moment, so I signed up for Public Speaking. I learned a great deal from the presenter, Tammy A. Miller, MA, DTM.

In addition to the Workshop Tracks, there were 13 individual workshops. Over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when not in the Track Course, I attended Understanding Race/Defeating Racism; Working Women’s Rights are Human Rights; Moving Beyond Abortion and Contraception; Common Sense Economics: A Focus on Women and Families; and, Using Social Media in Organizing and Contract Fights. Each of the classes was two hours long and filled with so much information I’m sure the presenters could have easily done entire day seminars. I do plan on following up on research in all of them for more background information. Plus, in the media course, I signed up for a Twitter Account, and I’m still familiarizing myself with that.

Thursday evening was the 40th Anniversary Dinner at the Palmer House in the Grand Ballroom. Three women were honorees and received awards. Katie Jordan of the SEIU and President of the Chicago Area CLUW Chapter received a lifetime achievement award. Bea Lumpkin of the AFT (her husband was with the United Steelworkers) and Ida Torres of RWDSU/UFCW each received Pioneer Awards for their lifetime work for labor.

We heard speeches from Jan Schakowsky U.S. Representative from Illinois’ District 9, and Elizabeth “Liz” Schueller, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer (she stood in for Rich Trumka). Following the speeches and awards, a DJ played music; there was dancing and many participated in line dancing and many discussions throughout the ballroom.

Friday the Workshop Tracks and individual class sessions continued and on Saturday all education concluded in the afternoon. We had closing Plenary and to finish the conference we stood in a circle around the ballroom, linking hands and swaying back and forth, singing “Solidarity Forever”.  I got goose bumps from the powerful emotion in the room.

It was a good convention. I learned a great deal and saw many people I had grown close with in Reno; I also met many more people I know I will see in the future. The camaraderie in CLUW is a very strong camaraderie; like you’d find in any Union organization. These women are gathering together to build one another up and make themselves realize they have a voice worth hearing, and they’re taking what they learn back to the Locals to spread the word. They gather to further the fate of all workers, and make better lives for all working men and women, now and in the future.

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