Doris Beeby

Doris Isabel Beeby (1894-1948), union organiser, was born on 30 July 1894, one of four children of Helena Maria (born West) and (Sir) George Stephenson Beeby, Labor politician and judge in arbitration. Doris was educated at the Church of England Grammar School for Girls, Sydney, and at the University of Sydney as an unmatriculated Arts student. In 1920 following her father's appointment as a judge of the New South Wales Industrial Court of Arbitration and president of the Board of Trade, Doris became his associate. She was his assistant at the inquiry into the proposed reduction in working hours for the iron and building trades from 48 to 44, which his report supported.

Doris continued as her father's associate on his appointment in 1926 to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The thrust of his awards was always towards approving practices which raised productivity, and to linking wage levels to increased profitability. Several of his awards proved controversial. Doris was secretary to the royal commission (held by her father in 1931) to inquire into the prosecution of J. Johnston in 1928.

In 1939-40 she was London where she joined the Spanish Relief Movement, which assisted refugees from the civil war in Spain, and the Communist Party of Great Britain. On her return to Sydney she joined the Australian Communist Party and from 1942-45 she worked as an organiser for the Sheetmetal Workers' Union. She had particular responsibility for the conditions of employment of the great many women recruited to the industry under wartime manpower controls, and for their case for equal pay before the Women's Employment Board. Previously women had in effect been barred from this area of employment by union opposition but it now supported their right to work and to equal pay. Doris did factory work herself. A delegate recalls she 'went out of her way to mix with workers and get to know them and work for them and with them'. When the union established a women's committee it was not, as in other unions, largely wives of unionists doing mainly welfare work but women workers fighting to enhance their industrial position. With the closing down of specifically wartime production and the re-employment of ex- servicemen the number of women in the union fell rapidly in 1946, and Beeby resigned her position as organiser.

She wrote for the Tribune and for the Australian Women's Digest, the monthly journal of the United Associations of Women. Through the United Associations she was involved in the Women for Canberra Movement and the Australian Women's Charter. The latter was an attempt by women from many organisations to articulate the needs of women in the postwar social order and to mobilise women as a political force to ensure those needs were included in postwar reconstruction. Though the Charter gathered wide support in 1944-45 its promise was never realised, the cold war dividing its supporters and finally destroying the movement.

After a long illness Doris Beeby died of cancer on 17 October 1948. She was widely admired for the strength of her commitment to the fight for better conditions for workers.

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