Who was Anna Stewart?
A former journalist and active Victorian union official from 1974 to 1983, Anna Stewart died tragically in 1983, aged 35. Her involvement with the union movement began at a time when women workers comprised one third of the paid workforce, but the few industries in which women were employed offered jobs that were poorly paid, lacked job security, flexibility, skills recognition and unpaid maternity leave.
A prime consideration motivating Anna was the need to develop strategies which would address the issues confronting working women and to facilitate the important contribution that women can make to the trade union movement.
With the Federated Furnishing Trades Society of Australia, Anna Stewart successfully spear-headed the first blue collar union campaign for maternity leave award provisions. At the time, Anna was in the late stages of pregnancy with her third child.
After moving to the Victorian Vehicle Builders Federation in 1975, Anna fought for child care facilities in car plants, researched and argued work value cases, initiated campaigns against sexual harassment as an industrial issue, and assisted with the ACTU Maternity Leave Test Case and campaign.
The influence of Anna’s work is difficult to measure. Many women gained strength and confidence from her example of combining motherhood and a career. During Commission hearings, Anna would either breast feed her young son or seek adjournments to do so, exposing the Commission, employers and the union to the needs of women workers. In addition, Anna secured many conditions for the members she represented and indirectly for all working women, by setting these precedents. Women unionists are fortunate to have Anna’s example to assist and support them in the struggles that continue today.