BHP

Below is an abridged version of a speech delivered by socialist unionist Robynne Murphy to this year’s ACTU Congress. Murphy spoke alongside three women from the Electrical Trades Union, who had formed the “Sparkettes”, a network to support other women in their union.

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I worked at the steelworks in Port Kembla for 30 years, during which time I was involved in a long campaign with mainly migrant women for the right for women to have secure and well-paid jobs.

About 2500 workers have been on strike since February 9 at the Escondida mine in Chile’s north.

Owned by two Anglo-Australian mining giants, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, Escondida is the largest producer of “red gold” in the world. The mine extracts about 900,000 tonnes a year. This represents 20% of copper production in Chile, the country with the largest copper reserves in the world.

The first screening of the cinematic tale of women fighting for jobs at Port Kembla steelworks screened to 250 people at the Gala Cinema in Warrawong on April 17.

Set in 1973, The Women Who Were Never There tells a dramatic story, based on real events, of women who chained themselves to the front gates of BHP to protest the lack of jobs for women.

The film brings to life the drama of the women who took on Australia's biggest corporation in their fight for equality.

"Cool fuel" was the groovy title of the Ed! supplement about natural gas in the April 5 edition of The West Australian that gets distributed to all our schools.

To be sure natural gas is "cool" when liquefied. But nowhere among the topics covered, such as "Careers in LNG", "Power to You" and "West is best" is there any mention of natural gas as a significant contributor to catastrophic global warming. Nor does it mention that because of fugitive emissions in the production cycle natural gas is up there with coal as a carbon polluter.

The historian Geoffrey Blainey recently addressed staff at BHP headquarters in Melbourne on the 130th anniversary of the forming of Broken Hill Propriety Company Limited in 1885.

Blainey told the assembled audience “there is no commercial institution in Australia that has contributed so much to the nation’s history”.

To set the historical record straight, he should have added that there is no commercial institution that has fought so hard against the workers whose surplus value it expropriated than BHP.

BlueScope Steel announced a full-year profit of $136.3 million on August 24. This is an improvement on last year’s loss of $83 million, but not by much compared to past profits.

The results were released on the day the Australian share market suffered its worst fall since the global financial crisis, yet BlueScope’s share price went up by almost 9%.


Author Carla Gorton at the Cairns launch of the book and associated film project. Photo: Jobsforwomenfilm.com.

Women of Steel: Gender, jobs & justice at BHP
Carla Gorton & Pat Brewer
Resistance Books, Sydney
$10 paperback, 73 pages
www.resistancebooks.com

On June 12 the Geelong Women’s Unionist Network (GWUN) hosted a book launch for Women of Steel at Geelong Trades Hall. The purpose of the event was not only to launch the book recounting the Jobs for Women campaign which took on BHP in Wollongong in 1970s but also to raise funds for the Jobs for Women film project.


Four Jobs for Women leaders in front of the steelworks in the early 1980s. Photo: Jobs for Women Facebook

In Wollongong in the early 1980s, jobs for women were scarce. They either had to wake at dawn to travel to Sydney on the diesel train or they sewed in backyard sweatshops for minimal wages.

There is a rising tide of worrying economic news in this country and it highlights once more the need to cut back on unnecessary spending, like allowing single mothers to eat.

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