by Louisa Lawson (1848-1920)
ADU Editor .. The Dawn was Australia’s first journal produced solely by women (1888-1905). As a monthly publication it focused on the issues of the day that concerned women. This included the right for women to vote in Australia and the right for women to be employed in jobs of their choice. This article concerns the bully tactics used against employers and small businesses to stop the hiring of women.
While these problems have been corrected in Australia, they still exist in other parts of the world.
The Dawn, Volume 2, Number 6 . . . Sydney, 5 October 1889
Associated labour seems to be in its own small way just as selfish and dictatorial as associated capital. The strength which comes of union has made labour strong enough, not only to demand its rights but strong enough also to bully what seems weak enough to quietly suffer under petty tyranny.
We have a notable example of this in the boycott which the Typographical Society has proclaimed against The Dawn. The compositors have abandoned the old just grounds on which their union is established, viz: the linking together of workers for the protection of labour, they have confessed themselves by this act an association merely for the protection of the interests of its own members.
The Dawn office gives whole or partial employment to about ten women, working either on this journal or in the printing business, and the fact that women are earning an honest living in a business hitherto monopolised by men, is the reason why the Typographical Association, and all the affiliated societies it can influence, have resolved to boycott The Dawn.
They have not said to the women “we object to your working because women usually accept low wages and so injure the cause of labour everywhere”, they simply object on selfish grounds to the competition of women at all.
Now we distinctly assert that we do not employ women because they work more cheaply; we have no sympathy whatever with those who employ a woman in preference to a man, merely because they think she will do as much work for a lower wage. We will be the first to aid the formation of trades’ unions among working women, whether they be compositors, tailors, or any others, so that women who try to earn a living honestly may win as good an income in proportion to the quantity and quality of their work as men can do.
In this object we know we have the sympathy of our readers, and as to the boycott we only need their co-operation to entirely neutralise its effect. A great many women have written to us at various times wishing to be able to help us and begging to know how. There is now an opportunity to help us, and the woman’s cause generally, with pronounced effect, and we can give a comprehensive reply to all our kind well-wishers.
The aid can be given by those who have no time to write for us, no time to attend women’s meetings, no time for anything but the duties of their own household. It can be given us in the most powerful form, merely in the course of the necessary expenditure of your weekly income, whether that be large or small. If it is made clear to your tradesmen that you deal with them because they advertise with us, the boycott is immediately defeated.
Subscribers alone never entirely support a newspaper: the expense could not be borne without the profit of advertisements. Therefore, of course, the most effective way to injure any publication is to prevent the possibility of advertisement support. We are told that a Sydney journal on which two women were engaged, was recently interfered with and effectually extinguished in this way.
Union men personally visited those who advertised in that journal, and threatened them with a union boycott if they continued their support. As a consequence the tradesmen withdrew their advertisements, and some newsagents who had also been visited, refused to sell the paper, producing of necessity, the stoppage of the journal and the bankruptcy of the proprietor.
This is not likely to be our fate, since we possess the sympathy of so many Australian women, but we shall need the aid of our friends, and we ask them to give it in this way – the most potent and conclusive way discoverable – namely, to deal as far as due economy and your circumstances allow, with those tradesmen and others who advertise in The Dawn, and to tell them that you do so deal with them because their advertisement appears in our columns.
We have no bitter feelings of hostility, but unjust treatment must be opposed in some way, and the method we ask our friends to adopt is both effectual and comparatively pacific. The question raised is not merely a question of the employment of women on a woman’s journal, for though this is the immediate point of conflict, there is a larger principle in the background.
Trades’ unions would dispute, or force out of sight if possible, the right of women to enter the labour market at all. But women must have work, for there are thousands not depending on any man for support, and yet possessing, as far we know, as good a right to live as any other human being. Men have made the avenues to dishonour (among which we include the mere marrying for support) plentiful and easy, while the avenues to honourable competence are few. Of nurses, governesses, and housekeepers, there are already too many, and though housework, if well done, is as honourable as any employment whatever, we cannot forget that there are a great many women with abilities leading them in other directions than these.
The trades which women can manage easily and well are filled by men: the muscular arms of men are handling postage stamps and millinery, big men sit cross-legged on benches, sewing. You can see such anomalies as a six-foot Hercules leaning over two skeins of floss-silk matching the colours, another in the feather and flower department drawing an ostrich feather over the back of his white hand to display it. In like occupations are thousands of men slowly wasting their physique, while the women are crowded out, and as far as possible, kept out. Setting type is perhaps a less unmanly employment than those enumerated, yet, an old compositor admitted to us that he was often ashamed to be doing nothing all day but such light-finger work.
There are parts of printing work which men must do; but the work of a compositor is both light and healthy and as in our office the girls do no night work we can defend ourselves and ask the support of our reader with a clear conscience, certain that in fighting our own cause we are also advancing that which we have quite as much at heart: the cause of all women workers, present and future.
About the Author
See our page on Louisa Lawson. Includes a linked list of all her writing available on our website.