THEY do not link arms for renditions of The Internationale, nor do they call each other “comrade”.
Instead, the Welcome to Country starts each monthly meeting at the Bendigo Trades Hall Council – an organisation that has seen many changes in its 132-year history.
On Wednesday night, the council will see another significant change – the first meeting chaired by its first female president.
Debbie Uren was elected unopposed to the position at the Bendigo Trades Hall Council annual general meeting last month, and will chair monthly meetings of the council’s 24 affiliated unions.
The council has had 70 consecutive male presidents since 1885, including its last president Martyn Stradbrook who served in the role for 19 years.
Ms Uren said she was honoured to be a part of Trades Hall history, and plans on raising the concerns of young workers experiencing issues in their Bendigo workplaces.
“The way some youth are treated in the workplace is a concern,” she said.
“I will also have a focus on workers rights as a whole, and particularly the casualisation of the workforce. One of our main aims at the moment is to oppose moves to reduce penalty rates.
“I see being in the union as an insurance policy for workers. If anything goes wrong in the workplace, whether it be bullying or an injury, you can always contact your union.”
Ms Uren has worked in injury claims with Union Assist for 20 years, a role she will continue while also serving as Trades Hall president.
She said union membership across most industries in Bendigo had remained steady in recent years.
Trades Hall helps to co-ordinate union action across Bendigo and central Victoria, with monthly votes among its delegates dictating the direction of its advocacy.
It also puts its backing behind local Labor candidates. Its power to organise has helped to keep Labor in power in Bendigo for almost 20 years.
Ms Uren said she also wanted to highlight the history of the Trades Hall in Bendigo, recently unearthing portraits of former presidents and honour rolls.