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A History of Union Organisation of Laundry Work in Western Australia 1912 - 1975

Batterham, Linley (1998) A History of Union Organisation of Laundry Work in Western Australia 1912 - 1975. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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The laundry industry in Western Australia has divided into two major sectors: the private commercial and the government hospital laundries. This labour intensive service industry has relied on a labour market structured to provide a workforce of women to satisfy its demand for cheap labour. The many analyses of workplace practices place strong emphasis on both the broad gender division of labour and gender segregation on the factory floor. This thesis does not dispute the realities of these forces which place women in jobs deemed unskilled and unworthy. The introduction of new technologies further deskilled and divided the female workforce in all laundries. Unity of action to improve their conditions and wages was difficult. External forces provided the impetus.

Unions as key institutions of organised labour have been the vehicle for reform. Many studies state that the very essence of unionism, its maleness, has been reflected in the failure of the union movement to assist women. This thesis supports that conclusion but also argues that the success of unionism for laundry workers was restricted by the structure of the industry. Private sector managements' willingness to consider reform was determined by competition. This limitation did not arise in the government sector where managements accepted greater responsibility towards workers.

An analysis of the work of the Metropolitan Laundry Employees' Union and the Hospital Employees' Union over the sixty three year period of this study shows that the success of the unionisation of the laundry workers depended primarily on the structure of the industry as well as the nature of the work, the role of technology and the quality of union leadership. Underlying all these factors was society's fundamental assumption that laundry work was women's work.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Layman, Lenore
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