Brisbane launches Women of Steel

Women of Steel book launch in Brisbane. Photo: Susan Price

More than 30 people attended the Brisbane launch of Women of Steel: Gender, Jobs and Justice at BHP on September 17

The book documents the 14-year landmark struggle for jobs, which began in the 1980s when a group of mainly migrant women took on The Big Australian and won.

Queensland Council of Unions Secretary Ros McLennan in launching the book drew parallels with the current dispute in Blackwater where BHP is threatening the survival of a mining community. She paid tribute to the long-term commitment of the women involved in the Jobs for Women campaign, acknowledging their legacy.

Co-author Carla Gorton spoke about how she had researched the campaign for her 1990 thesis after being inspired as a young feminist activist on campus. She stressed the importance of building alliances with other groups, which was a significant aspect of the campaign. Gorton told how the original group of 34 women had been trying for years to get jobs at BHP, the main employer in Wollongong. She quoted many of the women that she had interviewed as part of her research. Older women remembered that during World War II women had been employed by BHP and it subsidiary in armaments manufacturer, but were replaced by male workers returning from the war.

Gorton showed film clips of archival footage of the Jobs for Women campaign. She explained that a feature film on the campaign is in production planning and invited those present to visit the Jobs for Women Facebook page to keep up with the process

University of Queensland student activist Leela Ford spoke of the importance for young women today to learn the lesson of the Jobs for Women campaign as they continue the struggle against discrimination. She said that young feminist activists acknowledge the legacy of the earlier generations of feminists and are proud to continue the tradition of struggle for justice.

The book launch was held in the auditorium of the Queensland Council of Unions. Members of a number of unions — including Together, TSU, Teachers, Nurses, CFMEU — as well as student activists from the 1980s and 90s joined the young activists of today in drawing inspiration from the Jobs for Women story.

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