Abstracts – Labour History No. 104


Edited by Jackie Dickenson, Patricia Grimshaw and Sean Scalmer

Authentic Leaders: Women and Leadership in Australian Unions before World
War II

Raelene Frances

What literature there is on women’s trade union involvement in Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries emphasises the barriers to women’s activism. This article considers case studies of women who did become activists and leaders and argues that they shared a number of commonalities, especially related to family and community and to political convictions. It also analyses the strategies they employed to overcome a range of obstacles to their full participation in the union movement, and the extent to which they were successful.

“Vigorous-Minded and Independent”: Ellen Mulcahy as a Labour Leader
Wendy Dick

Early in the twentieth century Ellen Mulcahy, of Melbourne, engaged in several years of intensive political, industrial and social endeavour. Within the context of a brief consideration of leadership theory, the article outlines her public activism of the period and suggests factors in her family background and her earlier career as a teacher that contributed to her formation as a leader. Even without diaries and personal letters from this period, we can discern aspects of her leadership style from her published writings and from third person reports. There were challenges to overcome and achievements that encouraged labour women at a time when men in the Labor Party and conservative men and women in society in general struggled with the concept of gender equality.

“A Fine and Self-Reliant Group of Women”: Women’s Leadership in the Female Confectioners Union
Cathy Brigden

The contribution of honorary officials has often been overlooked in studies of trade union leadership. Informed by developments in leadership research, in particular analysis of women’s trade union leadership, this paper explores labour women’s leadership in the Female Confectioners Union, a women’s union. Using a group biography approach, the rank-and-file women activists who held the critical honorary positions are traced over the history of the union. Issues explored include the making of the women leaders and the nature of the women’s leadership style. What emerges is the adoption of administrative conservatorship as the prevailing leadership style rather than transformational leadership, as the women’s leadership literature would suggest.

Women’s Leadership in War and Reconstruction
Stuart Macintyre

The consequences of World War II for women’s employment, familial roles and personal freedom have received substantial attention, as have the new forms of domesticity that followed the war. Their place in the ambitious schemes for Post-War Reconstruction is less well understood. This article considers how the planning for Post-War Reconstruction conceived the role of women and how far they were involved in this planning. It suggests that the exclusion of women had particular consequences for the government’s attempt secure constitutional powers for Post-War Reconstruction.

 “Those Knights of the Pen and Pencil”: Women Journalists and Cultural Leadership of the Women’s Movement in Australia and the United States of America
Diane Kirkby

Journalism has been crucial to progressive political movements, and the work of journalists has provided the cultural leadership necessary for recruiting members and advancing the cause. This cultural leadership is explored through the journalism of three women who in Australia and the United States, wrote for a labour and socialist readership and also edited a periodical. Combining paid work and activism, journalism gave them an occupation that was an example to other women, and a vehicle for publicising women’s rights. Exercising leadership through print media was important in expanding women’s economic citizenship and their political engagement. Through their words and personal example over a century, these three women journalists – Alice Henry, Jennie Scott Griffiths and Della Elliott – provided the leadership that helped construct women in the twentieth century as active political subjects.

Zelda D’Aprano, Leadership and the Politics of Gender in the Australian Labour Movement, 1945–75
Patricia Grimshaw

Zelda D’Aprano was influential in different phases of her life as a factory worker, union official, member of the Communist Party of Australia and feminist activist. This paper engages with a theoretical perspective in which the key to understanding leadership is an assessment of an individual’s capacity to influence others. Relying on D’Aprano’s writing, recorded interviews and documents in her archives, it considers her emergence as “a woman of influence.” The paper examines her engagements with employers and unions from 1950 to 1968 during her membership first of the Clothing Workers Union and subsequently the Hospital Employees Federation No 2 Branch, where she gained the position of shop steward. Second, it considers her experiences in post-war Melbourne of leadership of the Communist Party of Australia, in which she served as a branch secretary, and with her experiences as a worker at the time of the 1969 equal pay hearing for a communist-led union, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union. Finally the paper explores her reconsideration of the meaning of “leadership” in the early 1970s, drawing on her experiences in the women’s liberation movement as co-founder of the Womens Action Committee and her early hopes of combining socialism and feminism in a search for equity and social justice in Australia. As late as 2011, D’Aprano was still called upon to speak at commemoration events, marches and protests, a telling recognition of her place as a leader in the history of the Australian labour movement.

Edna Ryan and Leadership: The Womens Trade Union Commission, 1976
Lyndall Ryan

At the end of 1975 my mother, Edna Ryan along with a small group of trade union women, received funds from the National Advisory Committee of International Womens Year, to establish a Womens Trade Union Commission (WTUC). Edna had developed the idea for the commission while conducting research for her book, Gentle Invaders, published earlier that year. She imagined that a WTUC could become an independent platform for women trade unionists in providing advice and support. Above all she believed that the Commission could be a first step towards resolving the long stand-off between feminists and the labour movement. This article draws on Edna’s dairies and papers to explore and unravel her contradictory leadership role in the WTUC over its 12 months of life in 1976. She was neither a paid official nor an active trade unionist in the WTUC. Rather, as an active member of the management committee, she relied on her previous experiences as a trade union activist and her membership of the Labor Party and the Womens Electoral Lobby (WEL), to drive the WTUC to become a change agent for trade union women. By the end of 1976, the WTUC had engineered a major shift in trade union attitudes towards women that would have far reaching benefits over the following decade. The article finds that, while Edna did indeed have important skills, she was by no means a one-woman band. She was a catalyst. She seized the opportunities created by second wave feminism to press for change for women trade unionists.

In Pursuit of Union Leadership: Mary Bluett and Susan Hopgood and the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association 1973–95
Rosemary Francis

This article focuses on Mary Bluett and Susan Hopgood’s paths to leadership in the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association (VSTA) during the period 1973–95. It considers their role as activists in the transformation of a union and an occupation, which was to have far-reaching effects on the wider society through the state education system. The circumstances that propelled them into union activism are examined as well as a consideration of the importance of their family background, the commitment to social justice and their exposure to feminism from an understanding of the power structures in society. Their collective and strategic approach was developed in the women’s caucus, the Open Sub-Committee on Women (OSCW) which was established in 1974 in the face of strong opposition within the union. The development of the union’s affirmative action policy provided women such as Bluett and Hopgood with the opportunity to reach positions of leadership in the VSTA and later in the Australian Education Union (AEU) at both branch and national level.

Strategy and Structure in a Successful Organising Union: The Transformational Role of Branch Secretaries in the Australian Nursing Federation, Victorian Branch, 1989–2009
James Tierney and Christina Cregan

This paper examines the impact of a major Australian professional-industrial trade union’s Branch Secretaries on the adoption of the “organising model.” The investigation was carried out specifically with regard to the union’s organisational strategies and structures that were developed to facilitate mobilisation of workers over the period 1989–2009. The paper draws on the union organising and transformational leadership literatures to develop a theoretical framework. An intensive case study of the Australian Nursing Federation, Victorian Branch, was conducted from October to December 2009. Interview, observation-based and archival data were analysed. The findings demonstrate that, under the executive leadership of two Branch Secretaries, Belinda Morieson and Lisa Fitzpatrick, the union became a member-oriented, decentralised organisation whose main purpose was to support an organising strategy of worker mobilisation. The professional and industrial goals of nurses were aligned. New organisational roles were created and existing roles were adapted to train and support elected job representatives in their key function of encouraging membership and rank-and-file activism. Finally, the entire union became a recruitment and retention machine.


The Long and Winding Road to OHS Harmonisation
Eric Windholz

Australia’s harmonised occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory regime was scheduled to commence 1 January 2012. Presently, however, only seven (out of nine) jurisdictions have enacted harmonised laws, most with differences. That the harmonisation initiative has not (yet) delivered on its promise should not have come as a surprise to those familiar with the history of OHS harmonisation in Australia – a history punctuated by moments of great hope followed by disappointing progress. This article examines this history through the lens of Australian federalism. In doing so, it illustrates the organic growth in the Commonwealth’s sphere of responsibility as matters originally defined as social issues become redefined as economic issues in that they negatively impact on business interests. It also demonstrates the tensions that arise when these economic values come into conflict with the values underpinning Australian federalism and OHS regulation itself.

Inequality of Luck: Accident Compensation in New Zealand and Australia
Melanie Nolan

The romance and liberating effects of the rise of the modern transport and industrial systems have attracted more attention than how accident victims, and their dependents, coped. Every modern society has a system of dealing with ‘blood on the bitumen’ and ‘coming a gutser’ at work or elsewhere but New Zealand is conspicuous in developing a no-fault comprehensive accident compensation system. About the same time, Australia had draft legislation before its legislature that included sickness too. Only New Zealand, however, in 1974, overturned common law and other remedies to institute a radical law reform over ‘accidents’. This paper considers the failure of policy transfer between New Zealand and Australia on this issue.  More generally there has been relatively little historiographical interest in social experiments ‘down under’, or the expansion in the late twentieth century welfare states, despite the current public policy debate over an Australian disability scheme. It is argued that such expansions of the welfare state, such as no fault accident compensation, are awkward developments for the dominant neoliberal model of the state undermining welfare.