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Women of Steel

Denied jobs by the city’s main employer, working class and migrant AWU women refused discrimination.  The documentary, which received donations The Australian Workers’ Union, hundreds of other supporters and many other unions, follows their 14-year campaign as they went from the unemployment line to the factory gate and the High Court, as they challenged BHP, Australia’s richest company.

Women of Steel, directed by now retired AWU member Robynne Murphy, captures the stories of an inspiring victory that defied all predictions.

On the set of Women in Steel

“As women, we have not been good at documenting our achievements, yet there is a lot to celebrate when women get together and achieve. Many or our stories are lost, which is why I was driven to make this film, to capture the living stories of an inspiring victory that defied all predictions.”
Robynne Murphy, Director, Women of Steel


Ms Murphy is a lifelong activist, leader of the 1984 -1990 Jobs for Women campaign at the BHP-AI&S steelworks and, ultimately, a career steel worker. Women of Steel is a personal documentary about the campaign and the hundreds of women who dared to confront discrimination by one of the biggest and most powerful companies in Australia. The 'stars' are not politicians or celebrities but working-class women who, through tireless grassroots struggle stood up to a seemingly unbeatable foe, BHP.

In 1980 Australian Iron & Steel, a subsidiary of BHP, employed around 20,000 people, but women were routinely told there were no jobs for them. The Jobs for Women campaign began in with the aim of obtaining jobs for women at the Port Kembla steelworks. The legal battle to unlock the gates of BHP for women took 14 years and went all the way to the High Court. The Jobs for Women campaign achieved a legal legacy which continues to protect women from workplace discrimination. Women of Steel not only documents the complex realities of a successful campaign against inequality and discrimination, it is the personal stories of a group of ordinary women, determined to overcome a giant.Protesters at a march during the Jobs for Women campaign. From the Illawarra Mercury archives.

“What began with a few dozen women protesting for the right to work in any industry they chose ended nearly 15 years later with permanent change to Australian workplace law. It paved the way for equal rights and better pay conditions for generations to come.”
Desirée Savage, Illawarra Mercury, August 14, 2019

This victory paved the way for women working in 'male dominated' industries and changing laws. To gain an equal footing in all societal issues those affected by injustice today, whether it's equal pay, child care, ending domestic violence, or stopping the continued marginalisation of women in insecure work, need to pick up similar tools to the Jobs for Women campaigners.The film shows the value of building the broadest possible alliances with others to achieve shared goals, making an analysis of circumstances and opportunities, persisting in the face of difficulties and seemingly overwhelming odds, and being prepared to really struggle.

See the world premiere of Women of Steel at the virtual 2020 Sydney Film Festival from 10-21 June.

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