Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

The Precarious Working Life of Muriel Heagney, Labour Activist

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2020), 118, (1), 5–31.

Abstract

Muriel Heagney’s activism for equal pay for the sexes has been well documented. Heagney (1885–1974) is an important actor in the key works on the history of the struggle for equal pay and improved opportunities and conditions for women workers in Australia. But what about her own pay and conditions, during her more than 50 years as a labour activist? As an unmarried, working-class woman, how did she support herself and her activism? This article reconstructs Heagney’s working life across the first half of the twentieth century, seeking to explain its significant opportunities and major constraints. It finds two influences on Heagney’s unstable working life: her reluctance to compromise and resistance to factional allegiance, and the impact of the system she worked to overturn, in which as a woman she was paid less than a man for the same or similar work and struggled to secure long-term employment. Sustained by an authentic commitment to securing equal pay, Heagney weathered long periods of uncertain prospects and financial insecurity, experiences that resonate strongly with those of the so-called gigariat today.

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Author details

Dickenson, Jackie

Francis, Rosemary