Centre for People, Organisations and Work 2016 Seminar Series: After the amalgamation: what the Female Confectioners Union women leaders did next
When presenting my research on the Female Confectioners Union, an Australian women’s trade union that existed between 1916 and 1945 and then amalgamated with the male-dominated Confectioners Union, a common question asked was ‘and what happened next?’ This interest in the post-amalgamation experience of the women and the members they represented is the rationale for this presentation.
Consistent with my earlier focus on the union’s female leadership, both paid and honorary, here I turn to what happened to the women leaders of the Female Confectioners and the profile of women in the merged union over its first dozen years. This is of particular interest, not only as a study of a union merger, but also because amalgamation had been discussed and debated for nearly the entirety of the union’s life with protection of the women’s sectional interests (as they were described) a particular sticking point. How did the collective of women then fare and were these long-held concerns over the women’s sectional interests realised?
In the presentation, I will draw out the gendered dimensions of the merged union and how the representation of women’s interests were shaped by the profile and influence of the women within the leadership group and how this changed over the course of the next dozen years. What will be seen is that, after decades of resisting amalgamation proposals seen as compromising their sectional interests, the emergent post-merger union culture experienced by the Female Confectioners was one more aligned with that of the men’s union. This meant that, despite the formal structural features concerning women’s representation and the emergence of new activists, women’s interests proved not to be sufficiently safeguarded.
Cathy Brigden is an Associate Professor in Industrial Relations, in the School of Management. Her current research projects include her ongoing historical and contemporary trade union project, in which she has explored women’s trade unions and union responses to regulatory change, an industry-funded history of industry superannuation in Australia and a comparative study of radical theatre (partly funded by the Search Foundation).