Elevate Difference

Live Wire: Women and Brotherhood in the Electrical Industry

Live Wire provides a full and exhaustively detailed history of the presence of women in the construction electrical trade, discussing and illustrating the enormous challenges that female electricians still face. By also discussing the mechanisms and impact of the Civil Rights struggle of the 1970s on the racial integration of the electrical industry, Moccio highlights the elements unique to the integration (or lack thereof) of women in that field. The book is capped by some theories on how more effective recruitment and retention of female electricians could be attained.

Skilled trades lack a certain societal transparency that other, more white-collar careers have; I suggest that most people could guess off the top of their heads roughly how one goes about becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but have no idea what the training and job description of an electrician or pipe fitter might look like. A good measure of the fascination of this book flows from the sheer novelty of the subject matter, which is due largely to the structure and traditions of the various unions associated with the electrical industry. Moccio deftly peels back the layers of history one by one, so that the reader is left with a solid grasp of the entire industry, its unions, and how they have evolved together, while still highlighting the thread of female experience throughout.

I would have preferred a much more in-depth exploration of specific ways to open doors for women with the industry than only the two final pages, but perhaps that may be outside the intended scope of this particular work. Although Moccio does indeed attempt to describe the basis of male electricians' overwhelmingly negative reactions to the entrance of women in the trade, her solutions don't seem to address those issues specifically. This leaves me wondering if any resolution can succeed that doesn't directly counter the underlying reasons why women are perceived as threatening to the industry's very existence.

Do not let the jazzy cover art fool you—this book is first and foremost a labor studies textbook, and it reads like one. Except for the short and uncomfortably pompous “Personal Background” section of the “Introduction,” Moccio's writing is very dense yet clear and illuminating. This is no relaxing beach or bedside read; the reader must do the work of paying close attention and assimilating all the complex networks, associations, and histories carefully laid out by the author. Your reward is a competent and empowering understanding of the struggles of women in a field that would rather you remain ignorant.

Written by: Kirsten Cook, January 30th 2010

Thanks, Kirsten, for writing this fine review. I would never otherwise have known of this addition to labor studies, which I happen to like and read a fair bit of. I'm glad to hear that a close reading is rewarded. Cheers. Lawrence Hammar