Muriel Heagney

Muriel Heagney (1885-1974), trade unionist, was born on 31 December 1885 in Brisbane, daughter of Annie Agnes (born Currie) and Patrick Reginald Heagney, publican and later a carpenter. Her father became a founding member of the Richmond branch (1902) and secretary of the central executive (1904-10) of the Victorian Political Labor Council. Muriel was educated at a Richmond convent and later trained as a primary school teacher, a vocation which she abandoned in 1915. She was appointed as a clerk in the Defence Department and there being no female rate she received equal pay.

A member of the Richmond branch of the Political Labor Council from 1906, she was a delegate to the Women's Central Organising Committee in 1909 and attended the first Victorian Labor Women's Conference. In 1915 she joined the committee of the Workers' Educational Association. During the war, she was active in the anti-conscription campaigns. She was secretary of the Australian Relief Fund for Stricken Europe in 1921-23, travelling then to Russia, Geneva (where she worked briefly for the International Labour Organisation), and London; she attended the first British Commonwealth Labour Conference. On her return she served on the Victorian central executive of the Labor Party (1926-27) and unsuccessfully contested the Booroondara by-election in 1933.

Heagney's main endeavour was to establish equal pay for women; she saw wage inequality as the major obstacle to the achievement of equality of status and opportunity. In 1919-20 she worked as an investigator for the Federated Unions of Australia in their submission to the Commonwealth royal commission on the basic wage and in 1923 and 1927 she prepared cost-of-living schedules for the Clothing Trades Union for its arbitration submissions for equal pay. She presented a paper 'The Trade Union Women' at the Pan-Pacific Women's Conference, Honolulu, in 1928.

During the depression she formed the Unemployed Girls' Relief Movement (1930) which established sewing centres where women worked for unemployed families in return for a relief allowance. To counter propaganda against the employment of women she published Are Women Taking Men's Jobs? (1935). In 1937 she helped found the Council of Action for Equal Pay, serving as honorary secretary until 1949. On several occasions she gave evidence in basic wage hearings. She attended the International Labour Organisation conference in New York in 1941, believing victory on equal pay was imminent; but while the wartime Women's Employment Board awarded a high percentage of the male rate to women in 'male' industries, women in the traditional female sector remained on 54%.

In 1936-42 Muriel made a living as a travel organiser for the Queensland Tourist Bureau in Sydney. In 1943-47 she was an organiser for the Amalgamated Engineering Union. She wrote Equal pay for the Sexes (1948). and Arbitration at the Cross Roads (1954). After her return to Melbourne she became secretary of the Women's Central Organising Committee and a member of the party's central executive. She began to write a history of the labour movement, but was unsuccessful in her application for a Commonwealth Literary Fund grant. She died in poverty at St Kilda on 14 March 1974.

Jennie Bremner

Worth Her Salt edited by Margaret Bevege and others 1982 ch 22.