As part of the national Women’s #March4Justice (M4J) rallies on March 15, myself and four other Geelong Women Unionists Network (GWUN) organisers, pulled together the 4000-strong rally in Geelong in just under two weeks.
When we heard about M4J, we acted quickly. We knew women everywhere were enraged and would mobilise against the Scott Morrison government’s lack of interest in following up on the rape allegations against Christian Porter and the other sexual assault cases in federal parliament.
I asked Adele Welsh, Amanda Best, Nada Iskra and Zeta Henderson what they thought was our key to success.
Welsh, who co-convenes GWUN, and also is president of Geelong Trades Hall told Green Left: “We already had the campaigning and activist skills needed to bring large sections of the community together in a short space of time, to run the march safely and efficiently, and for it to be embedded in the grassroots activism that GWUN is known and valued for.
“Being working-class union women, we knew that the M4J was only going to be possible because of the decades of hard work put in campaigning and protesting by generations of Aboriginal and migrant women, unions and working women. We felt it was important the Geelong march reflected that.”
Best, who is a GTHC executive member and an Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) delegate, told Green Left: “Having access to Trades Hall resources, being able to call on our male comrades at a moment’s notice and networking through our unions to help us build campaigns is why GWUN has continued to be successful. It’s also why I joined in the first place.”
Best was a rally marshal and said she was “overwhelmed with pride and emotion” as large numbers came together against rape culture, sexism and misogyny. She is hopeful that GWUN can keep harnessing the anger and rage women feel to create real change. “This is our golden opportunity to make history.”
Iskra, a former co-convener of GWUN and a rally marshal, told Green Left: “I was amazed with the size and diversity of the rally. Women and men were marching in solidarity together. It was a safe space; women felt comfortable enough to breast feed in public without fear of being ridiculed.
“Men asked us how they could help the M4J movement and many people thanked us for organising the protest. So many women from many different backgrounds joined the protest because gendered violence does not discriminate between race or class.”
Henderson, a GTHC executive member and another ANMF delegate, was a spokesperson on the day. She and Welsh were interviewed by all the media, including the Murdoch-owned Geelong Advertiser.
Henderson believes socialist women were critical to the success of the Geelong rally and will be to the M4J movement going forward.
She said it’s because socialists will fight on for the movement’s immediate demands, including holding parliamentary inquiries into every allegation of sexual and gendered violence, but also because they will ensure that working class women’s demands are not sidelined.
“To end women’s oppression once and for all, economic equality has to be put front and centre of this new movement.
“Socialists campaign for equal pay, free childcare including properly paid early educators, and for an end to low-paid, casualised, insecure work that has become the hallmark of all feminised industries. Unless women have economic equality, and women are no longer expected to bear the brunt of unpaid labour at home, we will never gain broader societal respect.”
GWUN formed as a sub-committee of GTHC nearly 15 years ago to organise union women around feminist campaigns.
Initially, GWUN played a more educative, social and supporting role, building confidence and knowledge. It has now evolved into a formidable campaign force, and organises the International Women’s Day rallies, raises funds for charities assisting families in crisis, holds an annual conference on topical feminist themes and helps other feminists organise the Reclaim The Night rally.
GWUN are currently talking with M4J about next steps. If you would like to be involved in the M4J movement, contact Geelong Trades Hall on 03 5221 1712.
[Jackie Kriz is a co-convenor of GWUN and is a member of the Geelong Trades Hall Council. She, along with Adele Welsh, Amanda Best, Nada Iskra and Zeta Henderson, are all members of Socialist Alliance.]