Labour History

Zelda D’Aprano, Leadership and the Politics of Gender in the Australian Labour Movement, 1945-75

Labour History (2013), 104, (1), 101–118.

Abstract

Zelda D’Aprano was influential in different phases of her life as a factory worker, union official, member of the Communist Party of Australia and feminist activist. This paper engages with a theoretical perspective in which the key to understanding leadership is an assessment of an individual’s capacity to influence others. Relying on D’Aprano’s writing, recorded interviews and documents in her archives, it considers her emergence as “a woman of influence.” The paper examines her engagements with employers and unions from 1950 to 1968 during her membership first of the Clothing Workers Union and subsequently the Hospital Employees Federation No. 2 Branch, where she gained the position of shop steward. Second, it considers her experiences in post-war Melbourne of leadership of the Communist Party of Australia, in which she served as a branch secretary, and with her experiences as a worker at the time of the 1969 equal pay hearing for a communist-led union, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union. Finally the paper explores her reconsideration of the meaning of “leadership” in the early 1970s, drawing on her experiences in the women’s liberation movement as co-founder of the Womens Action Committee and her early hopes of combining socialism and feminism in a search for equity and social justice in Australia. As late as 2011, D’Aprano was still called upon to speak at commemoration events, marches and protests, a telling recognition of her place as a leader in the history of the Australian labour movement.

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Footnotes

*I thank Rosemary Francis for research assistance for this paper and several people who read and commented on it: Stuart Macintyre, Jackie Dickenson, Sean Scalmer, Chips Sowerwine, Noah Riseman, and the two anonymousLabour Historyreferees. Above all I thank Zelda D’Aprano. Google Scholar

1.For collections of papers from the Women and Labour conferences, seeElizabeth Windschuttle, ed., Women, Class and History: Feminist Perspectives on Australia 1788-1978(:Fontana, 1980); Margaret Bevege, Margaret James and Carmel Shute, eds, Worth Her Salt: Women at Work in Australia(Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1982); Women and Labour Publications Collective, ed., All Her Labours, 2 vols (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1984). Google Scholar

2.Edna Ryan and Anne Conlan, Gentle Invaders: Australian Women at Work(:Thomas Nelson, 1975); Beverley Kingston, My Wife, My Daughter and Poor Mary Ann: Women and Work in Australia(Melbourne: Thomas Nelson, 1975); Ann Curthoys, Susan Eade and Peter Spearritt, eds, Women at Work, special issue ofLabour History, no. 29 (1975); see also Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates, eds, Women, Work and the Labour Movement in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, special issue ofLabour History, no. 61 (1991). Google Scholar

3.Zelda D’Aprano, Zelda: The Becoming of a Woman(:Zelda D’Aprano, 1977). Note that D’Aprano protected her immediate family and people associated with the Communist Party and the unions by changing their names. Google Scholar

4.See especiallyJoy Damousi, Women Come Rally: Socialism, Communism and Gender in Australia 1890-1955(:Oxford University Press, 1994) and Marilyn Lake, Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism(Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1999). For other evaluations, see Barbara Caine, “Feminist Autobiography and Biography,” inCompanion to Women’s Historical Writing, ed. Mary Spongberg, Barbara Caine and Ann Curthoys (Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 192-203; Emma Grahame, “Zelda D’Aprano” inAustralian Feminism: A Companion, ed., Barbara Caine (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998): 406-7. Google Scholar

5.See the recent collections:Fiona Davis, Nell Musgrove and Judith Smart, eds, Founders, Firsts and Feminists: Women Leaders in Twentieth-Century Australia(:eScholarship Research Centre, 2011); and Rosemary Francis, Patricia Grimshaw and Ann Standish, eds, Seizing the Initiative: Australian Women Leaders in Politics, Workplaces and Communities(Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, 2012). Google Scholar

6.Lake, Getting Equal. Google Scholar

7.SeeAlice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli, “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership,” Harvard Business Review(September, 2007):62–71; Judy B. Rosener, “Ways Women Lead,”Harvard Business Review(Nov/Dec, 1990): 119-25; John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You(Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1998). Google Scholar

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11.An interview with Zelda D’Aprano conducted by Robin Hughes on 19 August 1996 is held in Australian Biography, accessed March 2013,http://www.australianbiography.gov.au/subjects/daprano/intertext1.html. Rosemary Francis conducted an interview with D’Aprano on 29 August 2011, Oral History and Folklore Collection, bib. id. 5747263, National Library of Australia. Google Scholar

13.For the early years of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), seeStuart Macintyre, The Reds: From Origins to Illegality(:Allen and Unwin, 1999). Google Scholar

14.D’Aprano, Zelda, 49. Google Scholar

15.Ibid., 50. Google Scholar

16.Damousi, Women Come Rally. Google Scholar

17.D’Aprano, Zelda, 42–43. Google Scholar

18.Ibid., 43. Google Scholar

19.Ibid., 53. Google Scholar

20.Ibid., 401. Google Scholar

21.Centre for Urban Research and Action, But I Wouldn’t Want My Wife to Work Here: A Study of Migrant Women in Melbourne Industry(:Centre for Urban Research and Action, 1976). See also Christina Cregan, Patricia Grimshaw and Renate Howe, “Migrant Women Workers and Their Families: Two Social Surveys, 1975 and 2000,” inDouble Shift: Working Mothers and Social Change in Australia, ed., Patricia Grimshaw, John Murphy and Belinda Probert (Melbourne: Circa, 2005). Google Scholar

22.For a comprehensive study of the unions, seeBradon Ellem, In Women’s Hands? A History of Clothing Trades Unionism in Australia(:UNSW Press, 1989). Google Scholar

23.D’Aprano, Zelda, 56. Google Scholar

24.Ibid. Google Scholar

25.Ibid. Google Scholar

26.Ibid., 10. Google Scholar

27.Ibid., 59. Google Scholar

28.Ibid., 63–64. Google Scholar

29.Ibid., 82. Google Scholar

30.Ibid., 91. Google Scholar

31.Ibid., 53. Google Scholar

32.Ibid., 88. Google Scholar

33.Damousi, Women Come Rally, 134. Google Scholar

34.D’Aprano, Zelda, 75. Google Scholar

35.Ibid. Google Scholar

36.Ibid., 136. Google Scholar

37.See “Seelaf, George (1914-1988)”, Australian Trade Union Archives, accessed March 2013,www.atua.org.au/biogs/ALE1115b.htm. Google Scholar

38.Chris Healy, ed., The Lifeblood of Footscray: Working Lives at the Angliss Meatworks(:Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West, 1986). Google Scholar

39.Ryan and Conlon, Gentle Invaders, 140–43. Google Scholar

40.See Healy, The Lifeblood of Footscray. Google Scholar

41.Zelda D’Aprano, Kath Williams: The Unions and the Fight for Equal Pay(:Spinifex Press, 2001). See also Ryan and Conlon, Gentle Invaders, ch. 6. Google Scholar

42.Lake, Getting Equal. Google Scholar

43.D’Aprano, Zelda, 116. Google Scholar

44.Ibid., 117. Google Scholar

45.Ibid., 118. Google Scholar

46.Ibid., 119. Google Scholar

48.D’Aprano, Zelda, 148. In the preface to the second edition of the autobiography published by Spinifex in 1995, D’Aprano acknowledged her trepidation in1977about the likely reception of her book by certain male office holders. Google Scholar

49.On women’s liberation, see Lake, Getting Equal;Marian Sawer, Making Women Count: A History of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Australia(:UNSW Press, 2008); Gisela Kaplan, The Meagre Harvest: The Australian Women’s Movement 1950s-1990s(Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1996); Natasha Campo, From Superwomen to Domestic Goddesses: The Rise and Fall of Feminism(Bern: Peter Lang, 2009). On leadership, see also Marian Sawer and Merrindahl Andrew, “Collectivism, Consensus and Concepts of Shared Leadership in Movements for Social Change,” inWomen, Democracy and Leadership, ed., Joy Damousi, Kim Rubenstein and Mary Tomsic (forthcoming, ANU Press). Google Scholar

50.Sunday Observer, June 21, 1970, clipping in Zelda D’Aprano Papers, 1971-1987, SLV; D’Aprano, interview with Hughes, 19 August 1996. Google Scholar

51.See“Annual Report of the Women’s Action Committee, 1 March 1971,”D’Aprano, Zelda, VWLLFA, no. 67, UMA; see also D’Aprano, Zelda, 133. Google Scholar

52.D’Aprano, Zelda, 133. Google Scholar

53.Ibid., 154. Google Scholar

54.Ibid., 134. Google Scholar

55.SeePatricia Grimshaw, Nell Musgrove and Shurlee Swain, “The Australian Labour Movement, the Eight Hour Day and Working Mothers in the United Nations Decade for Women, 1975 to 1985,”inThe Time of Their Lives: The Eight Hour Day and Working Life, ed.,Julie Kimber and Peter Love(:Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 2007), 137–52. Google Scholar

56.D’Aprano, Zelda, 135–36. Google Scholar

57.Ibid., 136. Google Scholar

58.Ibid., 135. Google Scholar

59.Ibid., 140. Google Scholar

62.Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex(:Knopf, 1952[1949]). Google Scholar

63.Alison Thorne, “Zelda urges women to finish the fight for equal pay!” The Organizer: The Australian Voice of Revolutionary Feminism, no. 7 (October2011), accessed March 2013,http://www.socialism.com/drupal-6.8/?q=node/1746. Google Scholar

64.D’Aprano spoke at the combined ACTU and the Victorian Trades Hall Council’s commemoration of the centenary of International Womens Day on 8 March 2011; “News,” We Fight For Fair, Maurice Blackburn, accessed 12 February 2012,www.fightforfair.com.au/forum. Google Scholar

65.“ASU Equal Pay Rally and March: 8 June 2011,” MelbourneProtests 2007-2011, accessed March 2013,http://www.melbourneprotests.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/asu. Google Scholar

66.D’Aprano, Zelda, 89. Google Scholar

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Grimshaw, Patricia