Profile - Florence (Flo) Cluff (1902-1990)
Flo Cluff was born and educated in Queensland. She embarked on a teaching career but this was cut short following the deaths of her parents. At age 19 Flo married labourer Robert Kershaw and worked in hotels to support her family.
She divorced in 1932 and moved to Sydney, where she joined the Hotel, Club, Restaurant, Caterers, Tea Rooms & Boarding House Employees’ Union of NSW. Here she met communists Topsy Small and Vic Workman, who inspired her to join the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in 1937.
Flo was elected to the Hotel Club and Restaurant Employees’ Union (HCRU) executive (1940), serving as assistant secretary (1941) and secretary (1945); one of the first women to be elected secretary of an Australian trade union. Under her leadership the union achieved equal pay for female cooks in larger hotels; a five-day working week in the catering industry; and sick leave, and weekend penalty rates for club workers. During her time with the HCRU she spearheaded support for the boycott of Dutch ships during the Indonesian independence struggle (1946) and the miners’ strike (1949). She also campaigned for equal rights, Aboriginal rights and the Peace Movement. She represented the HCRU on the Council of Action for Equal Pay and served on the Labor Council Equal Pay Committee.
Flo ran for the CPA in the senate in the 1955 and 1958 elections. In 1961 she became assistant secretary of the NSW Branch of the Federated Liquor & Allied Industries Employees’ Union of Australia (which had absorbed the HCRU) and held this position until 1968. That same year she was named Woman of the Year by the Australian International Women’s Day Committee.
Flo spent three decades as a delegate to the NSW State Labor Council and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). As vice-president of the NSW section of the Union of Australian Women, she attended the Women’s International Democratic Federation congress in Denmark (1953), returning through the Soviet Union and China, where she spent a month as a guest of the Chinese women’s movement.
In the 1970s Flo joined the Petersham Branch of the Combined Pensioners’ Association of NSW, serving as assistant secretary and secretary of the NSW State Branch before retiring in 1988. For her work she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 1984.
Flo Cluff died in Sydney on 20 September 1990, survived by her husband and daughter.
Australian Communist Party n.d., Florence Cluff, accessed <https://www.auscp.org.au/history/florence-cluff>
Blackman, D 2007, Florence Amy (Flo) Cluff (1902-1990), Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 17, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed <http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cluff-florence-amy-flo-12330>
Johnson, A 1990, Bread & roses: a personal history of three militant women and their friends 1902-1988, Left Book Club Co-op, Sutherland, NSW.
Stevens, J 1987, Taking the revolution home: work among women in the Communist Party of Australia 1920-1945, Sybylla Co-operative Press an Publications, Fitzroy, Vic.