Woman Carson, Barbara

Nurse and Trade unionist

Written by James Tierney and Christina Cregan, The University of Melbourne

Barbara Carson became Branch Secretary of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) (RANF(Vic)) in 1980. This appointment heralded an ideological shift within the union, which had traditionally been a conservative organisation. As noted by former Branch Secretary, Belinda Morieson '[Carson] was the first leader to industrialise and make a union of the ANF' (Interview).

Carson graduated in 1952 from Maryborough Base Hospital in Queensland. She became Chief Nursing Officer in October 1971, before joining the RANF. Carson's leadership laid the foundations for the establishment of an effective professional-industrial trade union. A program of college-based training with professional examinations was introduced and Carson persuaded Council to allow students to apply for union membership. She oversaw the implementation of a professional indemnity insurance scheme for members. Most famously, in 1984, Carson lobbied successfully for the removal of the 'no-strike clause' from the Branch Rules and, in 1985, led the first nurses' strike ever carried out in Victoria. On 11 October 1985, Branch members resolved to strike indefinitely from 17 October onwards, in objection to the ongoing obligation of nurses to perform non-nursing duties. This was the first time in its history that the RANF had voted to strike. A policy of concerted industrial action was adopted with bans on non-nursing duties. The strike lasted 5 days, but was merely a precursor to the strike the following year led by Irene Bolger. When Carson took office, there were 13,000 members. When she resigned in January 1986, membership had risen to 21,148. A large proportion of the increase in membership occurred during the 1985 industrial action.

Additional sources: Interview with Belinda Morieson, 23/12/2009, personal possession of authors.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Tierney, James and Cregan,Christina, 'Strategy and Structure in a Successful Organising Union: The Transformational Role of Branch Secretaries in the Australian Nursing Federation, Victorian Branch, 1989-2009', Labour History, vol. 104, May 2013, pp. 149-168. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5263/labourhistory.104.0149. Details

Online Resources