Mel Cashman

Ellen Imelda Cashman (1891-1983), union organiser, was born on 19 November 1891 at Gladesville, Sydney, youngest daughter of Ellen and Edward (Ned) Cashman, licensee of the Bayview hotel. She attended St Joseph's School, Hunter's Hill, leaving at an early age to start work, first in the clothing trade, then in the printing industry. After ten years she earned 1 pound 1 shilling a week as a forewoman. When women formed the Women and Girls' Printing Trades Union Mel joined and lost her job. She became union president in 1914, and secretary in 1917, shortly before its amalgamation with the men's union to become the Printing Industry Employees' Union of Australia. Mel was appointed organising secretary of the Women and Girls' Section and, from 1918, the Cardboard Box and Carton Section. She was paid 1 pound a week until she protested at the discrepancy between her wage and those paid male organisers; she then received 95% of the male rate. In union elections she could count on a solid block of votes from the women, about one-third of the membership, and was always elected to the Board of Management. She wrote a column for the Printer and organised social activities, debating, physical culture and camps for the women, many of whom were juniors. She gave evidence to the 1918 cost of living inquiry, was an assessor, representing employees, for the 1926 inquiry and appeared for her union at arbitration hearings. The union narrowly restricted the range of work which it allowed female members to do - mainly sewing, folding, numbering and making paper bags. It tried also to restrict the influence of the women: there were several moves to limit their voting rights, and following another attempt, which was appealed to the Industrial Commission in 1940, Mel resigned. She was appointed a Commonwealth arbitration inspector, one of six appointments from over 600 applicants. In 1941 she was seconded to the Department of Labour and National Service to survey conditions in the clothing industry. When the Women's Employment Board was created, as a wartime measure to regulate the terms under which women would be employed to do 'male' work, Cashman joined the Board as the Commonwealth's representative. She voted usually with the majority, usually for between 60% and 95% of the male rate. Before the end of the war the Board's activities were wound down; in December 1944 Mel resumed her appointment as arbitration inspector. After hospitalisation in 1952, she found the amount of travel required in the job too demanding and resigned. She became bored and for some years did casual work. When she finally retired, she lived with her niece, Ellen Brown, who predeceased her in 1978. Mel died in 1983.

Heather Radi