An abridged version
of a talk by Union of Australian Women member for 50 years, Thelma Prior,
at the launch of Bread & Roses, A personal history of three militant
women and their friends 1902-1988, Audrey Johnson, LEFT BOOK CLUB
After reading Bread
and Roses I feel great admiration for the incredible strength and
determination of all these ordinary women who go out into the streets
and join together to march and demonstrate outside government departments
and markets, demanding women's rights.
I am very much akin
to two of the women in this book as, like them, I also worked in a textile
factory, packing stockings. I became a Shop Steward at the age of 15 years.
I saw speedup and unguarded machinery which caused the death
of a girl.
I did a safety course
at night school for 12 months to help improve safety on the job. I was
involved in many campaigns for reduced working hours - from 44 hours to
35 hours a week.
In 1949 I was sacked
for fighting for an increase in junior wages of 2 shillings and 6 pence
a week. I was blacklisted throughout the trade.
In the same year
I transferred to the Federated Iron Workers Association and got a job
as a process worker for Lightning Zip-Fasteners. I was elected
shop steward and remained there for 37 Years.
Today (1990) women
are represented on union executives, however back in my time, this was
not so. As a shop steward I had great trouble getting co-operation from
the unions on problems facing women in the workforce.
I relied very much
on discussions with the women at work, in the Union of Australian Women
(UAW), and other women's groups, to help me with many of the problems
faced by women at work and at home.
These women signed
petitions against high prices, for peace and Ban the Bomb and supported
many of the campaigns the UAW took up.
In 1956 I was elected
by my workmates to represent them at the Second World Peace Conference.
The workers at my factory helped to pay my fare. Peace was something these
girls understood - many of their people had been killed in the war.
I nearly did not
get back to Australia. On arrival back in England, I, with two other delegates
had to go to Court at the Old Bailey to contest the Australian Menzies
Liberal government's Order of Deportation.
The English judge
told the Australian government that they did not want us - so we were
allowed to come home. We had our Australian passports taken from us in
So, may the experiences
of the three militant women in the book Bread and Roses, so in
keeping with those of their many sisters, serve as an inspiration to future
I have great pleasure
in recommending this book. Thank you.
Luckily the Union
of Australian Women organised a public meeting for interested women. I
remember clearly the relief mum and I felt at that meeting - just meeting
other DES daughters and mothers and sharing experiences.
At the meeting Bon
Hull outlined the history, effects and the politics of the DES issue.
A small group formed consisting of DES mothers and daughters, and interested
women. The UAW "assigned" Yvonne Smith to help the fledgling group and
she was an invaluable resource, providing support and practical suggestions.
also was a great support, and in fact lent us her PO box as our address
until we organised our own. Yvonne, Bon and Wendy were our early mentors
and great role models.
Since 1971 medical
research has revealed an ever-increasing range of long-term effects of
oestrogen exposure. I have often thought it was like a stone thrown into
a pond, with the ripples slowly moving out in ever-widening circles.