Kath Williams: The Unions and the Fight for Equal Pay

By Zelda D’Aprano | Go to book overview

2
An early history of
women and unionism

Kath’s teenage years were in an era when there was much emphasis on women’s role as housewife/mother. When she began her activities as a union organiser, she joined a long line of outstanding women from the early history of women in unions.

It is interesting to note that not all Australian women of the past were the passive ladies often depicted in women’s magazines or novels. On the contrary, women in industry and the public service have a reputable past of courage and tenacity in working to improve the conditions under which they toiled.

In the nineteenth century women in every State were campaigning for a livable wage and better working conditions. In 1882, in Melbourne, 500 tailoresses at Beath Schiess and Co. went out on strike against threatened reductions to their ‘already paltry wages’, and presented their own log of claims to the employer. This was the first strike organised by a women’s trade union in Australia. Their solidarity ‘gained them considerable public support … (and) Trades Hall Council backing led to the enrolment of several thousand women in the union, extension of the strike to other factories, and recognition by the employers of the log of claims’.1

As early as 1890, the women of Queensland, working in various enterprises, formed a women’s union and May Jordan,

-21-

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