Because of my union, I have a voice
WHEN I reflect on the people in my life, the decisions I’ve made and the values that have brought me here today, I can’t help but think of two people.
The first is my Mum: Juliet Rakosi.
The second is my union organiser and my friend: Doumoua Howcher.
I grew up in a little Housing Commission unit in Mt Druitt in western Sydney.
We didn’t have much but Mum made me feel like I had everything. She let me use our linen cupboard as storage for all my craft materials, my books, my blocks… all the great open-ended materials that I now provide children with as an educator.
She was the one that instilled in me a lifelong love of learning and a passion for expressing myself creatively.
Unions can change lives
When I was eight, I lost my mum, my world, to cancer. But, before she passed away, she asked her 21-year-old sister to move from the Philippines to Australia to look after me.
What I learnt from her was the value of hard work, education and relationships. Fast forward and it’s no surprise I end up as an educator.
And then one day, a union organiser named Doumuoa Howcher, walks into my centre and lights this fire of social justice in me. Ever since then I have been on a steep political/union learning curve.
From the day I joined my union, United Voice, I learned that the meaning of power was simply the ability to act.
I decided to stand up and speak out for our 97% female-dominated profession that had been historically undervalued and underpaid as “women’s work”.
For me, unions are about uniting people with the same issue and who want to fight for social justice and equality.
I sought out and seized every opportunity to advocate for early childhood education and care as:
• the foundation of education for children;
• an essential service for families to return to the workforce and;
• a profession in itself.
This is what has led me to where I am today.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, union membership is declining but it is the first time that there are more female workers currently at 19% compared to male workers at 17.5% that are members of a union.
For me, unions are about uniting people with the same issue and who want to fight for social justice and equality in our world.
You only get out what you put in
Because of my union, I have had the opportunity to meet like minded people in my profession from across the country and build what I know are lifelong friendships.
Because of my union, I literally sat at a table with just four other educators with the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and shared my concerns and vision for our profession.
Because of my union, I had the opportunity to jump the fence and work a union organiser myself for 14 months so that I could spark fires of advocacy in educators across the state as Doumuoa had done for me.
Because of my union, I have a voice.
I believe the only catch with unions is that: you only get out what you put in.
• This is an edited version of a speech Marian Rakosi gave at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on Thursday, 3 July 2014 on ‘The New Unionists: Early Childhood Education and the Big Steps Campaign’.
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