Schools Building local campaign hub strength bit by bit

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Ballarat-based member Fiona Finnegan may be an award winner, but that’s not her focus. She’s all about making sure that her local campaign hub helps support schools in a time of upheaval.

Fiona Finnegan joined the union while studying to become a teacher at RMIT because she wanted to feel reassured that the AEU had her back.

“It was about that extra support, and the union being there to help you out as you need,” she recalls. “Someone came to uni to talk about what they do, that they were our voice in the system, making sure they’re getting the best for us and our schools.”

Fiona went on to teach at a small school in Melbourne before she and her partner relocated to Ballarat. She now teaches food studies, maths, science and a little bit of German in the considerably bigger Ballarat High School, which has north of 1,500 students. “We’ve got a really good school community. The staff are supportive, and the kids are pretty nice as well, so that’s always a positive.”

Working in a friendly, tight-knit community helped encourage Fiona to get more involved with the union. “The more work I’ve done on the activism front, the more it’s turned my view on its head and made me realise that the power of a union is really in its people, and us working together to push for change. The union just enables that.”

“Using our regional meetings and linking in with the campaign hub, we can help all schools to feel comfortable about pushing for change and making sure that consultative processes are in place.”

Signing up as a rep, and then joining the branch council, she says she’s gained a lot of support from Ballarat organiser Billy McCabe and interacting with union members at the local campaign hub. “Getting involved with the hub has been good for helping me develop skills, think about our different strengths, and what we can do best with our little group of people. It’s really, really good to hear from different people about what matters most to them,” Fiona says.

Working side-by-side with an ES member at the hub has been an eye-opener. It also came in handy when they spoke to their local state Labor government MPs Michaela Settle and Juliana Addison. “Juliana was a teacher in her previous life, so she was pretty aware of the teacher concerns, but she was particularly interested to hear about what ES staff are dealing with,” Fiona says. “It was nice to feel like they were interested in what we had to say and took our concerns seriously.”

Fiona says she and her hub colleagues will focus on building the capacity of local schools members to know their rights when implementing the new agreement. “Within our sub-branch, we’ve had lots of conversations already, particularly around working with ES staff to ensure their roles match the new range review.”

She reckons the hubs are a great example of union strength. “Using our regional meetings and linking in with the campaign hub, we can help all schools to feel comfortable about pushing for change and making sure that consultative processes are in place. It’s really about giving that power back to each and every single school and all staff.”

Impassioned but modest, Fiona hasn’t let being named Ballarat Trades Hall’s Young Activist of the Year go to her head. “It was nice to have that recognition – but, honestly, I thought I hadn’t done that much until they read out a list at the Labour Day dinner,” she chuckles. “I guess I don’t think of it as individual achievement. It’s just being part of that collective action.”

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