A teacher’s ability to inspire students and community members was the subject of a presentation by writer, feminist, activist and self-proclaimed troublemaker Van Badham at Federation’s Women’s Conference in August.
She related how teachers who were “on strike a lot” during the 1980s had an educative influence on her: “You taught me that collective action was the difference between suffering in silence and realising your goals. You taught me that the power of union is the power to demand more, to get more, to be listened to, to influence government and the community.”
Van commented that when teachers, who are “absolutely socially entrenched into the lives of so many people”, take collective action, it sends a powerful message to others to organise to fight for equality.
In addition to acknowledging “the magnificent teachers who gave me such encouragement”, Van acknowledged the teachers who didn’t like her.
“There was plenty of them, because I was stroppy and difficult and didn’t like getting out of bed in the morning and got bored very easily and there were things that I enjoyed and things that I didn’t.”
Van said she learned from them that the world doesn’t have to like you.
“You’re not born special, you’re born as a member of a community and there are going to be people who support you and people who don’t, and there are going to be people who lay down the law and that’s a good lesson to learn — it’s what develops you into a fully rounded human being and it also teaches you a very necessary lesson in the importance of sticking together.”
During her speech Van spoke of the “absolute magnificent power of solidarity, of collective action, of working together and supporting one another”.
Van said being a member of an Australian union was not just about the discount movie tickets or the extra $100 a week you are likely to earn as a union member compared with a non-union member because you have a collective agreement but the experience of being able to influence public debate and being one of the main engines of change in society.
The Australian union movement was behind campaigns for eight-hour day, the end of child labour, equal pay, the award wages system, inclusion, the worldwide debate about a need to end apartheid and advancing the rights of Indigenous Australians, Van reminded the audience of women.
“These are the demonstrations of the power of solidarity and the magnified voice that you get as a trade union member in this country that we all should be incredibly proud to promote and extend and encourage,” she said.
Women’s Conference delegates heard it was important for Australian unionists to be “visible, active and outspoken” because of the record inequality being experienced at the moment.
“We are the recruiters of the next generation and we are the difference between them enjoying the standards and opportunities that we have or losing them, because when the workplace becomes de-unionised that’s when pay falls, that’s when opportunities start to contract, that’s when the fairness we fight for starts to erode and it’s why we must be ever-vigilant,” she said.
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