WORKING WOMEN AND GENDERED LABOUR
Edited by Emma Robertson and Glenda Strachan
From Making Do to Making Home: Gender and Housewifery on the Victorian Goldfields
Feminist historians have been strong advocates for the recognition of women’s domestic lives, yet housework remains an underexplored area of labour history. Scholars of material culture have explored individual aspects of domestic life on the goldfields, particularly needlework; however, the broader focus has remained on women’s activities outside the home. Although typically interpreted through narratives of masculine adventure, hardship and goldseeking, the goldfields were also domesticated landscapes. Both men and women consciously made attempts to create home, even when the concept of home was transitory. Commonly, the task of transforming an industrial landscape into a domestic one fell to women, who had been assigned the “natural” responsibility of household labour for centuries. The expectation was that women would attend to the daily labour-intensive work of creating and maintaining home.
Pioneer Girls and Flappers: Australia’s Early Female Ammunition Workers
In 1890, in the midst of an extended public debate on the right of women to work and the conditions of those who did, a small arms ammunition factory was built on the banks of the Maribyrnong River in Victoria. The Colonial Ammunition Company (CAC) employed women almost exclusively from its establishment until the end of World War I. During this time, the workforce became the largest group of women workers engaged in the metal industries across Australia. This article will draw out their working experience by focusing on several key questions. Why were women employed? How was their experience and how were their methods of organisation shaped by gender? How did World War I impact on this experience? Exploring the answers to these particular questions draws out some of the key ways in which gender shaped the working lives of these women.
“When Women Do the Work of Men”: Representations of Gendered Occupational Identities on British Railways in World War I Cartoons
Emma Robertson and Lee-Ann Monk
During World War I in Britain, women workers took on previously men-only jobs on the railways. In response to this wartime development, the National Union of Railwaymen published a series of cartoons in their journal, Railway Review. These images depicted women employed as porters and guards, occupying the engine footplate, and acting in the role of station-mistress. Through a close reading of the cartoons, and related images in the journal, this article examines how the humorous portrayal of female railway workers reinforced masculine occupational identities at the same time as revealing ambiguities in (and negotiating anxieties over) the gendered nature of railway employment. Despite wartime labour shortages, certain occupations, notably the driving and firing of steam trains, remained stolidly men’s work and would do so until the late twentieth century. By scrutinising the construction of gendered occupational culture in union journals, we can better understand the tenacity of notions of “traditional” work for men and women on the railways.
“These Labourers in the Field of Public Work”: Librarians, Discrimination and the Meaning of Equal Pay
Diane Kirkby and Caroline Jordan
Librarianship has long been recognised as a numerically female-dominated occupation. Despite demonstrating a standard pattern of a sex-segregated labour force, it has suffered neglect in historical studies of women’s work. This article positions Australia’s librarians in the history of white-collar public service workers, and librarianship as illustrative of important themes of twentieth-century women’s labour history. For smart, educated, ambitious women, librarianship offered professional standing, economic security and opportunity for advancement. Strategies of overt discrimination, however, deliberately kept women librarians out of senior administrative positions and confined them to the lower-paying jobs. Librarians in state and municipal libraries worked under public service regulations that established a dual labour market of wages and conditions for clerical and professional workers. Key decisions between 1918 and 1922 explicitly advantaged men in recruitment, wages and promotion, denying women similar opportunities. Studying the history of women librarians sheds new light on the meaning of professional workers’ struggle for equal pay.
“Armed with Glamour and Collection Tins”: Femininity and Voluntary Work in Wartime South Australia, 1939–45
Between 1939 and 1945, more than 500 voluntary organisations operated across South Australia, the largest with a membership of more than 30,000 women. Focusing on the voluntary activities of these South Australian women – which ranged from providing material comforts for servicemen to fundraising as participants in beauty and pin-up competitions – this article reveals that female voluntarism was a highly visible and ubiquitous part of the home front experience in Australia during World War II. Oral histories, press reports and archival sources show that female voluntary work was considered crucial to the upkeep of male morale, and thus functioned to ease concerns regarding the war’s impact on traditional gender relations. In practice, however, the close relationship between paid and unpaid work meant voluntarism did not necessarily limit the wartime gains of South Australian women, instead the rhetoric used to describe women’s voluntary work obscured the social and economic benefits it often provided.
Called to Serve, Shunned as Citizens: How the Australian Women’s Land Army Was Recruited and Abandoned by the Labor Government
The establishment and contribution of the Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) during World War II was welcomed by farmers. At that time Prime Ministers and premiers, along with a range of politicians, labelled their work as a vital war service, applauding their efforts as enabling Australia’s victory. However, in 1945 and following the war, key political leaders turned their back on this appreciation, denying the AWLA access to post-war benefits and services. This paper documents the reasons for the work of the AWLA from 1942–45 and traces how the Labor Government in 1945 dismissed their contribution. It argues that to a large extent, this responsibility for denying the women the recognition and benefits which had been promised, was a betrayal of the women they had called in to service.
Class, Gender and Cold War Politics: The Union of Australian Women and the Campaign for Equal Pay, 1950–66
The confluence of social and political forces during the Menzies era stalled the progress of wage justice for women workers until the end of the 1960s. Nevertheless, women’s organisations and the progressive trade union movement advocated equal pay for the sexes throughout this period. This article examines the contribution of the Union of Australian Women (UAW), which represented the interests of working-class women, to the campaign for equal pay from 1950 to 1966. It discusses the ways in which the mixture of women’s culturally accepted domestic roles and widespread anti-communism muted enthusiasm for the UAW’s message. The article argues, however, that the UAW made an effective contribution to keeping equal pay in the public consciousness, redressing the inattention to working-class women’s role in their economic emancipation.
Changing the Unions’ Agenda: Women’s Activism in Australian Trade Unions in the 1970s and 1980s
This paper takes a preliminary look at women’s activities in trade unions in the 1970s and 1980s and the ways in which women’s activism changed unions through the instigation of the Working Women’s Charter, women’s committees and training for women. Women’s activism in trade unions created distinct spaces for women to support each other, to develop policies and to work together for their acceptance and adoption within unions. This resulted in major changes to policies that addressed women’s specific needs within trade unions and in the wider society. The activism of the 1970s and 1980s formed the foundation for ongoing changes in policies and representation in trade unions. This article focuses on the experiences of women as they worked within unions to make changes and charts some of the major changes at the national level of the ACTU. It draws on a limited range of sources and the author’s own experiences of the time.