Bulletin Board

Labour History Conference, 2019

The 2019 Labour History Conference will be held on 3 – 5 October at the Perth Trades Hall Building (now the CFMEU Offices) at 80 Beaufort St Perth, WA. This year’s conference theme is Activism, Struggle and Labour History.  

For more information about the conference, including requirements for abstracts of papers to be presented, conference keynote speakers and conference fees and payment arrangements, please see the 2019 Conference page on the ASSLH website: https://www.labourhistory.org.au/2019-conference/   

Note that the deadline for abstracts (both refereed and non-refereed) is 1 May 2019.

For other enquiries about the Conference, please contact the Conference Convenor, Associate Professor Bobbie Oliver at Bobbie.Oliver@uwa.edu.au 

Saving Women’s Stories: Women in Australian Unions Oral History Project

The recorded history of the Australian trade union movement has been dominated by the stories and personal histories of the men who have led it, with far less attention being paid to the contributions of individual women. To some extent this may be accounted for by the lower representation of women in leadership positions in many unions and in peak union bodies before the 1980s, but women have been present in the union movement – in some industries in very large numbers – for a long time and it is, for example, now almost 130 years since the NSW Trades and Labour Council saw its first woman delegate. 1*

Certainly, since the late 1960s, the Australian trade union movement has been increasingly feminised, so much so that today there is a greater proportion of women unionists (15.9% in 2015) than men (14.4% in 2015, ABS 2015). And over this period there has been a steady flow of women into leadership positions in individual unions and onto peak union bodies. 

While it may be difficult enough to locate the limited number of oral histories of male unionists, the relative absence of women’s voices means that the historical record neither reflects nor acknowledges the contribution of the many thousands of women, whether rank-and-file activists or holders of positions in the movement, to the development and defence of workers’ rights in Australia. 

Through the Women in Australian Unions Oral History Project, labour historians Sarah Kaine (UTS) and Cathy Brigden (RMIT) aim to correct the imbalance in the narrative of Australian union history by capturing the stories of women union activists in their own ‘voice’ and allowing access to those stories through an online digital repository.

More information and an opportunity to contribute to ensure the success of the project is available at https://chuffed.org/project/save-womens-stories

1 Annie Creo Stanley, Secretary of the Female Employees Union, in September 1891. 

Following the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Great Strike of 1917

Commemoration of the death of a labour movement martyr 

In the last issue of The Hummer (vol. 12, no. 2) we reported that NSW MLC John Graham and the Unions NSW 1917 Commemoration Committee were in discussion with the City of Sydney with the aim of marking the site of the death of Merv Flanagan, the striking worker who was shot by an armed scab after a confrontation in Pyrmont Bridge Road Camperdown. 

These discussions were successful, and on Sunday 26 August 2018 around 100 people gathered in the Orphan School Creek Reserve, just off Pyrmont Bridge Road Camperdown, to join Sydney City Council Deputy Mayor, Councillor Linda Scott, John Graham MLC, Merv Flanagan’s grand-daughter and members of the Unions NSW 1917 Commemoration Committee in unveiling a plaque commemorating Flanagan’s death. 

In addition to speeches, Christina Mimmocchi sang The Ballad of Merv Flanagan (Mortuary Station)1*, from the 1917: Strike! show, after which attendees adjourned to a nearby pub for a traditional Irish wake – something Flanagan’s family could probably not have afforded at the time of his death.

1 Lyrics reproduced in Hummer, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 36-7.

Proposed restoration of Flanagan’s grave at Rookwood Cemetery

The appeal launched by the Unions NSW 1917 Commemoration Committee to raise funds to restore Flanagan’s grave has now closed and the Committee been working on arrangements with Rookwood Catholic Cemetery Trust and Friends of Rookwood to have a memorial erected on site. 

A key obstacle is that the grave site in which Merv Flanagan is buried was owned by Frederick Owen Webster and the Committee needs the permission of his descendants to have a memorial erected. 

If any Hummer reader can help with information about Frederick Owen Webster’s descendants, could you please contact us ASAP at sydneybranch.asslh@gmail.com and we will pass the information on to the Committee.

Forthcoming Labour Movement Films

Documentary on the Great Strike of 1917

The documentary film on the Great Strike being made by Amanda King and Fabio Cavadini of Frontyard Films is now nearing completion. The film-makers hope to enter the full-length film into the Melbourne Film Festival later this year and it is hoped that a shorter version will be available for trade union training purposes. More information on the film is available at http://www.documentaryaustralia.com.au/films/4147/the-great-strike-1917 and on Frontyard’s website at http://www.frontyardfilms.com.au/thegreatstrike1917/ .

Sydney Branch ASSLH will advise members (and others on the mailing list) of screenings.

Documentary on the Wollongong Jobs for Women Campaign 

The Jobs for Women campaign was a public campaign waged during the 1980s to win the right for women to work at the Port Kembla steelworks in Wollongong. The campaign won a historic court case under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act and set a precedent for the employment of women in non-traditional areas of work.

In 1980, 34 women lodged complaints with the newly-created NSW Anti-Discrimination Board. As a result, 150 women were hired by Australian Iron and Steel (AI&S) to work as ironworkers. When an economic recession hit two years later, most of the women were retrenched based on the ‘last on, first off’ principle. The same women then lodged a complaint with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, arguing that if they had been hired when they first applied for a job years before, they would not have lost their jobs in the latest round of retrenchments.

In 1989, the High Court ruled that AIS employment practices amounted to unlawful direct and indirect discrimination, awarding the women $1.4 million. The case was described by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Sue Walpole as the most important piece of discrimination litigation to have occurred in Australia. 

Film-maker Robynne Murphy, who was herself a participant in the 1980s campaign, indicates that the film, now in the rough-cut stage, is likely to be completed later this year, if sufficient funds are raised to cover production costs. Further information about the film, including how to donate to production costs through either Documentary Australia Foundation or the Jobs for Women account, is available at http://www.jobsforwomenfilm.com/ .

When the film is completed, Sydney Branch ASSLH will advise members (and others on the mailing list) of screenings.

Documentary Film About the 1998 Patricks Dispute

Hummer understands from the MUA Film Unit that a documentary on the 1998 Patrick Dispute on the wharves is also in production. We hope to have further information in our next issue.


Bulletin Board items are compiled by Danny Blackman from information provided to her. If you have something you would like to be included in a future issue of Hummer, please email her at:
dannyblackman@gmail.com or at sydnybranch.asslh@gmail.com