More than 100 people filled Thirroul Community Centre for the launch of Women of Steel, a new book on the inspiring “Jobs For Women” campaign. The campaign saw working class, mostly migrant, women take on Australia's biggest corporation BHP, who refused to employ women at the Port Kembla steelworks.
The event was opened with a passionate rendition of Solidarity Forever from the Illawarra Union Singers.
Pat Brewer, co-author of the book, outlined the importance of having a “two-pronged” campaign, made up of a legal arm testing new anti-discrimination laws and a political arm that included years of campaigning, street marches, a tent embassy, community education and alliance building.
The women eventually won a sex discrimination case against BHP, resulting in the company being forced to pay millions of dollars in compensation and having to employ hundreds of women at the steelworks.
Campaign participants Robynne Murphy and Slobadanka Joncevska told the crowd of the life-changing nature of the campaign and the enormous challenge of involving scores of migrant women from a multitude of backgrounds.
"This was the first time they'd been involved in anything," Murphy said. "We had to have translators at all the meetings and some of the husbands were against the women being involved; some were quite fearful of possible repercussions."
“Yet incredible bonds of solidarity developed among the women involved,” Joncevska said.
The event also launched the project to make a dramatic feature film on this landmark industrial and feminist struggle.
The audience cheered teaser videos made by the Jobs For Women Producers Group, which gave insights into the struggle, the impact it had on the participants and the importance of its legacy.
The Jobs For Women film producers have a target of raising $25,000 through crowdfunding by June 21. It is an all-or-nothing campaign - if the target is not reached by the end date, nothing is raised. If the campaign reaches its target, the filmmaking team will seek further funds from unions, women's organisations, legal organisations, funding bodies, grants and more to get the full budget needed to make the feature film.
Key supporters of the film include union legend Fred Moore, former ACTU president Jennie George and local Wollongong grassroots organisation Culture Bank, which donated $1000 towards having the film made.
As of May 15, $10,485 had been pledged to the crowdfunding campaign. Support the campaign here.