chapter  9
‘I want to voice out my opinion’: bringing migrant women into union work
Pages 23

Whilst there is a growing interest in critical public relations approaches which challenge dominant interests (Ihlen et al. 2009; McKie and Munshi 2005), there is remarkably little within public relations scholarship which examines trade union practice. However, critical public relations can contribute an important perspective on unions, as organizations that engage workers in the struggle for their rights. Further, union engagement activities can contribute to a ‘new public relations agenda’ (Weaver 2001) that challenges, rather than serves the interests of, global capital. Feminist activists within the Australian union movement have long drawn attention to the need for unions to challenge the discriminatory basis of labour relations (Acker 2000; Baird 2012), not only at the level of policies and laws, but also in relation to social norms, because these are instrumental in shaping broader power struggles in society (Pocock 1995; Franzway 2000; Probert 2002). This chapter illustrates the negative consequences for a group of migrant

women workers who became disengaged with workers’ rights and trade unions. As a contrast, the chapter presents a case study of union activities that fostered collective identity, voice and visibility amongst a different group of migrant women. In analysing the two situations, the chapter draws attention to the interactions between gender, race and class, and the transformative power of trade union work that actively builds stakeholder engagement amongst migrant women workers. Drawing on recent critical theory, which situates public relations as a

potentially transformative practice (Weaver 2001; Dutta 2009; Holtzhausen 2011), this chapter positions low-paid migrant women workers in Australia as legitimate but marginal stakeholders in unions. It introduces the voices of three women who emerged from many years as passionate and vocal members of a unionized worker community in the textile industry to become casual workers as cleaners, carers and servers. They reflect on the sense of power they experienced through having a voice and being visible members of a largely migrant community of factory workers. These reflections provide a striking counter to their narratives on life since retrenchment, where silence, invisibility and marginality have led to a sense of personal disempowerment and disengagement from the struggle for their rights.