S.A Register 15 Jan 1890 p.6, e

Women's Trades Union public meeting in Adelaide

A public meeting of "female workers in all branches of labour" was held on Tuesday evening, January 14, in the Rechabite Hall, Grotestreet, "for the purpose of organizing a Women's Trades Union." About a 100 women attended, together with thirty of the other sex, including members of the Trades and Labour Council. Mr. D. M. Charleston (President of the Trades and Labour Council) occupied the chair, and explained that the meeting had been convened in accordance with the desire of a public meeting recently held, at which a committee was appointed to draft a suitable scheme on which to form the Union, and these suggestions would be laid before the meeting for consideration.

Mr. M. W. GREEN said that there was a growing feeling amongst the women workers and others in the city that the prices of various kinds of work that the women were doing were being steadily lowered until it was difficult and would soon be impossible for them to obtain an honest living by their labour. This applied particularly to those who engaged in seeking their living by needlework. It was a great pity that anything of the kind should exist. They knew that it did exist, but whether these low prices prevailed to the extent that they did in the old country he was not prepared to say. How could the matter be remedied? There were certain difficulties in the way. For instance, some persons who worked at tailoring and other branches of women's labour were not dependent upon this work for their livelihood, and could afford to offer their services at a lower rate of wages than ought to generally prevail. Their labour was in other words supplementary to that by which they were supported, and the question was to get these persons to join an organization that would benefit the whole of the sisterhood. He suggested that a committee should be appointed to enquire into the prices that prevailed, to wait upon the employers, and to induce all the women engaged in the trade to join the proposed Union. If the women joined there would be little difficulty in obtaining a proper position for all. One of the main objects of the Union would be to prevent the employers keeping their employés engaged at late hours. (Cheers.)

The Rev. J. HASLAM considered that they had reached the stage when their action in this important movement should be essentially practical. He moved — "That this meeting considers it desirable that a Women's Trades Union should be formed, and that steps be forthwith taken to attain this object." He suggested that the women present should enrol their names at once, and thus form the nucleus of the Union.

Mr. BLAKE seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously.

The CHAIRMAN submitted the following resolutions, which were taken seriatum, and with the exception of the last two clauses were adopted without discussion: — "(1) That the name of this organization shall be 'The Women's Trades Union of South Australia;'" "(2) That the membership shall consist of female workers engaged in all branches of labour;" "(3) That the workers in each branch of trade may manage their own special business, the general business of the Union being managed by an executive composed of representatives from each trade;" and "(4) That the objects of the Union shall be — (a) To regulate the hours of labour, (b) to ensure an adequate rate of wages, (c) to arrange for the settlement of disputes by reference to a Board of Conciliation or otherwise, (d) and generally to conserve the interests of the workers in such various ways as may be deemed necessary."

Mr. COHEN M.P., Mayor of Adelaide, said that the appointment of a Board of Conciliation was very important. Trades organizations were formed to prevent strikes rather than to assist labour disputes. No matter how well organized affairs might be, disputes could not be avoided. Labour should possess its organizations as well as capital, and the aim should always be to harmonize the working of the organisations representing both sides. (Cheers.)

The Rev. J. HASLAM mentioned that the object of the clause marked d was to meet cases of emergency — the sick and otherwise.

Mr. M.W. GREEN said that they wanted to prevent persons taking work home from the factories and elsewhere after the usual hours. Independent of the fact that the trade would not be fairly dealt with by this means there was a danger in cases where there was fever in the house of the germs of the disease being conveyed in the apparel to the factory. It was necessary also to see that employés were fairly treated by their employers. There were instances, he said, where girls worked late hours at low wages, and were obliged to finish their work before they could leave for their homes, and consequently were deprived of food and other things. He read a letter from the Secretary of the Melbourne Society of Tailoresses, which stated that previous to the formation of the Society two attempts were made without avail to get the girls together, the failure being attributed to want of unanimity. On another occasion the girls struck work of their own accord, being unable to endure the continued reductions which, although infinitesimal in each case, lowered their earnings 20 or 30 per cent, per annum. The Trades and Labour council took up the matter, and a meeting attended by 800 girls and leaders of the various Trades Societies was held, at which a Tailoresses' Union was formed. Committees were appointed from among the girls of each branch of the trade to compile a log of prices. The manufacturers were then invited to a conference, and the log of prices adopted after revision. The writer advised that the President and Secretary of the S.A. Union should be middleaged men if possible, and the delegates, Treasurer, Trustees, and Committee females. The Society, which had been in existence since December, 1882, had between £600 and £700 in funds, and had sent delegates to three Intercolonial Trades Union Congresses. The letter further stated that two Tailoresses' Unions, with a membership of 1,320, existed in New Zealand, the entrancefee to membership being 2s. 6d. and the subscription threepence per week. In connection with the Melbourne Union there was a Sick Fund, members enjoying the privileges of the fund by paying an entrancefee of one shilling and a weekly subscription of a penny.

The CHAIRMAN explained that it would be necessary in the Union just formed to have separate logs of prices for the respective branches of the trade.

Mr. M.W. GREEN moved — "That no entrancefee be charged to any member who enrols within one month from date."

Mr. ZADOW seconded the motion, which was unanimously agreed to.

Mrs. M. LEE said that the object of the new organization was to secure to every woman a fair share of enjoying the gifts that God had granted to us all. She anticipated no difficulty on the part of the Union in having matters fairly adjusted with the employers. They wished to insist upon equal pay for equal work without regard to sex. They would have no women in the Union who would fail to do less than an honest day's work, and they wished to abolish any attempts at "sweating."

Messrs. SCHERK, M.P., H.D. GELL, and J.N. BIRKS also addressed the meeting.

A provisional Executive Committee, consisting of the gentlemen previously appointed, together with Mesdames Lee, Milne, Zadow, and Hitchen, and Miss Ellis, was deputed to draft a code of rules to be submitted to a future meeting.

Mr. M.W. GREEN , as Secretary, pro tem., took the names of the women in the hall willing to become members of the Union.