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Issue #1918      June 8, 2020

AWU Women Of Steel make history in feature documentary

The Women in Steel documentary – which tells the inspiring story of how a group of Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) women battled for years against BHP in order to achieve equality in the workplace – has been shortlisted for a Sydney Film Festival prize.

The film documents the legendary struggle of a group of AWU unionists in the Illawarra, who fought for the right for women to work in blue collar jobs in Australia.

The shortlisting is fantastic recognition for filmmaker Robynne Murphy, who was one of the original band of AWU members who took on “The Big Australian” at its Port Kembla steelworks after being told there were “no jobs for women” back in 1980.

The documentary, which received donations from hundreds of supporters, including the the Australian Workers’ Union, and many other unions, follows their 14-year fight in Wollongong which paved the way for equal rights to employment for women across Australia.

It documents every part of the struggle against BHP (now Bluescope Steel) which fought them at every step, right up to the High Court of Australia.

Ms Murphy, a now retired member of the AWU, managed to finish off her documentary earlier this year. It’s an incredible achievement considering she was also battling the bush fire crisis as a member of her local South Coast Rural Fire Service.

Her dedication has now been rewarded by being selected to take part in the Sydney Film Festival, which will screen Women in Steel online due to the COVID-19 pandemic from June 10-21. It has also been named a finalist in the $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award at the Sydney Film Festival.

Ms Murphy said: “I am so proud that our story will reach a whole new audience who will learn what we were up against in the 1980s.

“This is only possible because of the incredible support by some many people who believed in our our project. And it makes it even more special that my union, the AWU, has been one of our biggest backers.”

Misha Zelinsky, Assistant National Secretary of the AWU, said: “The AWU Women of Steel are an incredible band of women. It takes courage to reject the status quo and go up against one of the most powerful companies in the world.”

“AWU steelmakers in Wollongong are bred tough – and these women are made of pure iron.”

Misha Zelinsky noted that this victory went beyond just the Port Kembla steelworks, but was an industrial outcome of historic importance.

“This wasn’t just a big fight in Wollongong – it is a landmark industrial achievement and part of Australia’s union history.

“As a Wollongong local, it’s shocking to think that when I was growing up – as late as the ’80s and ’90s – women were blocked from working at the steelworks. Every Illawarra local owes a great debt to the Women of Steel – as do all Australian workers that have come since.

“These brave women never wavered and continued fighting for years on end to not only change their own workplace in Wollongong, but to alter the entire landscape of women’s rights in the workplace.

After hearing about the long fight to make the film, the AWU swung into action and backed the original group of activists plus the production team made up of volunteers.

“Robynne has been working on this documentary for years – and in a style befitting the original struggle – she never gave up.

“The end result is moving and inspiring – every single working person should get out and see this documentary. The AWU is delighted to have been a part of this project and we really do hope Robynne and the group win this award. It would be fitting recognition.”

Australian Workers’ Union

Next article – Union submits progressive vision to Senate COVID-19 Committee

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