In May this year, Melbourne lost an inspiring feminist and working class organiser. Edith Morgan was a veteran fighter against injustice. A founder of the Older Persons’ Action Centre, well into her 80s she led resistance by pensioners and superannuants against attacks such as the introduction of the Goods and Service Tax. A regular spokesperson for seniors, Edith told the ABC in 2000 “people have to protest — you can’t just lay down and be kicked all the time.”
Edith lived by this motto. The oldest daughter in a family of eight children, she was forced to quit school at 14 to help at home. She described herself as a “sacrificial lamb” who “felt very trapped.” This experience made her into a fierce advocate for equal access to education.
Edith’s mum was a devout Methodist and her dad was a socialist. Edith, like all of her siblings, followed in her dad’s footsteps, rejecting religion and fighting for social justice. While living in Sydney during World War II, she joined the Communist Party (CP). She also became a member of the Union of Australian Women (UAW), attending its inaugural meeting.
After moving to Melbourne, she remained active with the UAW, but did not rejoin the CP because of her opposition to its stand on the uprisings in Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
In middle age, Edith obtained the education denied to her as a teenager, completing a degree in social work. She found the Social Work Department at Melbourne University conservative, describing its aims as “controlling the population.” But Edith put her new qualifications to good use. Rejecting charity models, as the social worker for the Collingwood City Council, she worked to organise and empower the residents of the housing commission flats. She played a leading role in the establishment of the Collingwood Community Health Service.
Her anti-war activism led her to join the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to support those within it opposing the Vietnam war. But like many other genuine working class activists, she quit the ALP when Bob Hawke became leader. Edith was disgusted by “Third Way” politics being embraced by contemporary social democratic parties. In an interview with the feminist website,Women’s Web, she commented on how the ALP has been degenerating: “They are going to disassociate themselves from the union movement. It is almost as if class doesn’t exist any more.”
Class always existed for Edith, and she knew which side she was on. Her leadership continues to provide inspiration for those sure to follow in her footsteps.