Kath Williams: The Unions and the Fight for Equal Pay

By Zelda D’Aprano | Go to book overview

14
Women, work and the fight
for pay justice

Trade unions developed within industrial societies over the past 200 years for the sole purpose of protecting and increasing the living standards of employees. Australian trade unions were in existence in the 1850s,1 and workers were taking to the streets in marches and rallies throughout the 1860s. To bring about some regulatory control over the trade unions in Queensland, the Trade Union Act of 18862 legalised trade unions.

History has shown that working people have gained far more through collective industrial action than by any other means. The need for the powerless to be able to exercise their conscience and will through collective action is of paramount importance in a democratic society.

From the beginning of the twentieth century countries such as Denmark, Italy, Greece and France recruited women into unions.3 Australian unions did not do this and, in the main, they discouraged women from seeking employment in what were deemed to be male industries and refused membership to women. Most men in Australia of that era were conditioned to believe it was their manly duty to provide for wife and children and deemed it humiliating if their wives sought paid employment. They also failed to comprehend that the economic system requires men to be held financially responsible for their

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