“As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweetened
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses”
(Verse from Bread and Roses).
On this Labour day I am celebrating a change of government because I feel brave, like suddenly what lies ahead is possibility. The hope that possibility brings is one where change is no longer tied to the emotional labour of arguing and campaigning for fairness. Labour day is the celebration of an 8 hour day followed by 8 hours recreation and 8 hours rest, a concept worth celebrating and one step closer as a new government pursues the implementation of living wages and industry bargaining. What Labour day has always ignored is the unpaid work of women as carers and nurturers.
For me the tales of the union movement are filled with the stories of strong women leaders who have spoken out, agitated and led action to improve the lives of working people and future generations. It is union women who have spoken out for paid parental leave, the rights of women to work once married, the rights of women to maintain employment while pregnant, the rights of women to return to work after childbirth, the rights of women to be free from workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, and the right to the same pay for the same work. Generations of union women have struggled for these rights to be both acknowledged and embedded in law.
The change of government does not negate the struggle. What it does is give us an opportunity to tell our stories of hope and outline our expectations for the future. Yes it is important that the minimum wage is lifted, it’s equally important that it is set at two thirds of the average wage and that the formula is embedded in law. The change platform of this government includes increased parental leave, equal pay, additional sick leave to care for young and elderly dependents. The recent #metoo social media outpouring has shone a new light on the seriousness and frequency of sexual harassment in the workplace and created a new awareness amongst both women and employers.
These changes are important for women and for a fairer more just society. I am absolutely sure that they will not happen unless the voices of strong union women are at the forefront of holding our government to account.