From Australia’s Jewish Past:
First female trade union secretary
First published in J-Wire June 30, 2021
Florence Anderson was born in 1871. Her claim to fame was becoming the first female trade union secretary in Victoria, and the only female trade union secretary in Australia.
Florence was a true Aussie, having been born into the well-respected Meyer family in Bairnsdale Victoria. She married John Anderson in 1911 and together they had three children. Her husband died early and she became a cleaner, although, according to the Biographical Register of the Australian Labour Movement she ‘’rebelled from the expectation that cleaners take office towels home to launder’’. She joined the Female Office Cleaners Union part-time from 1916, later becoming a full-time worker in 1919. In 1920 she was made the Chair of the Worker’s Board.
Her next claim to fame was in 1930, when she was elected as the Victorian Secretary of the Miscellaneous Workers Union, holding office until 1946. She was active in advocating for equal pay in particular for cleaners who were more often than not women and who had worked long hours for little pay. In an interview for the publication – The Labor Call – the official organ of the Political Labor Council of Victoria – Florence called them “Workers of the Dawn, and Dusk too”.
She went on to say: –
If you could only stop to think how very necessary these women are in the service they render. Every big city building has to be cleaned every day and it has been proved that women make the better cleaners – besides they are cheaper than male labour. These poor women had been boosted with the hope, when their children reached working age, they could supplement the income and make the burden lighter for them. The tragedy of it all is that for the past two years not in one case out of ten can the children find employment, and the unfortunate mother discovers that today her purchasing power has rapidly declined.
Whilst having devoted 35 years advocating for women workers, appearing on their behalf before many wage tribunals, she retired in 1946, but she continued to represent the union on the Trades Hall Council until she passed away in 1949.
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