BY MARG PERROT
WOLLONGONG — The life of prominent union leader and left political activist Peggy Errey was commemorated by 150 people at her funeral in Wollongong on December 5.
Peggy Errey was born in Ireland in 1914 to a staunchly republican family. She hid under the bed as a child while British troops regularly raided the family home. She continued to support the Irish republican cause when she migrated to Australia after World War II. She was a founding member of Australian Aid for Ireland and was a member of the Irish Republican Army until she died.
She worked as a cook at the Fairy Meadow migrant hostel, where she was influenced by the strong trade unionism in the Illawarra district and by the militant migrant steelworkers and coal miners. One of her first big battles with the bosses was when the hostel management directed the cooks to water down the food provided to the workers. She refused to do so and was sacked. When the other hostel workers and residents held a mass protest, she was reinstated.
Peggy became a workplace delegate, then held unpaid positions with the local, state and national bodies of the Miscellaneous Workers Union. She was a tireless advocate for better working conditions. After campaigning for the establishment of a university in Wollongong, she worked there and was the union delegate for many years.
Under her leadership, the cleaners at the university won the best working conditions in the district, including a 30-hour week. It is said that every cleaner in the district had their names down on the university job list.
Peggy was also an initiator and leader of the famous "Jobs for Women" campaign, which forced BHP to employ women in the steelworks and, after a bitter 13-year legal struggle, won more than $1 million in compensation for the women who had been refused work.
She was an active member of the peace movement, from the anti-Vietnam War days to the 1980s anti-nuclear campaigns and the 1990-91 Gulf War protests. Peggy was also an advocate for the rights of Indigenous people and an anti-apartheid activist, and was never afraid to take on opponents despite her diminutive size.
Peggy was a life member of the South Coast May Day Committee and the South Coast Labour Council. She helped establish the Wollongong Women's Centre and she was on the first board of the South Coast Worker's Medical Centre, after lobbying the Wollongong council for a building and helping to clean and paint it.
A member of the ALP for nearly 40 years, she was often openly critical of the policies of the party, especially after the 1984 scrapping of it's anti-uranium mining policy. She was great friends with renegade ALP members like the late George Petersen. She always put the needs of her class ahead of party politics.
Peggy's life will be remembered by workers, trade unionists, activists and friends, as one of activism and dedication to the working-class locally, nationally and internationally. Her presence on the picket line, at the meetings, on the job and in the marches will remain in people's memories as an inspiration for many years to come.
Vale comrade Peggy Errey!
From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.
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