The advocate within
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No number 4, 3 June 2022, page no. 22
Advocacy is not always loud. I grew up in a household where feminism was quiet. But having two brothers, I lived by the motto "If they got to do it, so did I”.
I never thought that I couldn’t participate in or do something because I was a girl. I just tagged along and joined in.
I sometimes feel that’s how my Union journey began – I just tagged along and joined in.
I began my teaching career at Rosedale P-12 Campus as an itinerant primary music specialist. After two years, I moved to Logan for seven years, then it was on to Redlands, where I became a Union Representative for the first time.
Kevina O’Neill, currently a QTU Assistant Secretary, was my Organiser at the time, and one lunchtime (in the days when we all sat around the staffroom table) she came along to address the staff and ask for volunteers to become Union Reps. I liked what she had to say so I joined up. Then she sprung me with: “Oh by the way, there’s a branch meeting this afternoon, why don’t you come along?”
So, I tagged along.
My time at Redlands helped my activism to grow. I attended branch meetings, Area Council, then State Council meetings, and in 2012 joined the Women Teachers’ and Girls Education Committee (WTGEC). WTGEC helped to develop my confidence in speaking out on Union issues. It also reinforced my understanding that leadership comes in many guises, and that we need to bring women forward with us.
When I applied for the AEU Rosemary Richards Scholarship, I did so to help women understand their working conditions and parental leave entitlements. After being awarded the scholarship, I delivered some Know Your Working Conditions workshops in and around the state. My confidence was boosted, and I took the next step. In 2014, I nominated for Executive and was elected.
I was no longer just tagging along. I had found my voice and was able to increase my activism, not only in my local context but within the QTU itself.
Embarking on a “sea change” and moving to Cairns brought different challenges, as relocating to many other regional, rural, and remote towns would. The importance of being an active union member was even more apparent. However, with these challenges came opportunities: to act in different positions, to embrace different perspectives and cultures, and to advocate, organise and campaign.
The importance of individual advocacy
Individual advocacy is critical to the QTU. Union Reps are at the chalk face day in and day out, dealing with different issues as they present themselves. Whether in schools or TAFE, your advocacy means that, working with others, you can achieve a better outcome.
There are many different types of advocacy, and we’re not always loud in celebrating our achievements.
At times, our activism can be quiet, as we sort out the issues in our workplaces that make a difference to many. But there isn’t often an opportunity to share these with your colleagues. I want to acknowledge the hard work you do at your workplace.
Taking time to reflect is important when you’ve had a win. Celebrating that win is also important. We learn from each other, so through sharing our Rep stories and wins at branch meetings or Area Councils we can improve outcomes in all our workplaces. This strategy is just one of many that can help you to reflect, and I hope you take it with you and share it with your Rep colleagues.
It only takes one person to make a difference. I know we’ve all heard that before, but I want you to be that one person. Whether it’s at your next branch meeting or Union event, bring someone with you, so they can tag along and begin their own Union journey.
We need to bring others on the journey with us and empower the next generation. Never underestimate the power of your advocacy, no matter how quiet. Because what you do makes a difference!