1897/98/99 MSWTUC organising women Cigar makers, Jewish Tailoresses and Upholsteresses.


During  the years 1897, 1898 and 1899  the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council continued their work of organising women into trade unions, researching the experiences of women at work, and lobbying for better work conditions for women workers.

The make-up of the Council started to change as the number of women’s trade unions increased, so the MSWTUC invited their representatives  onto the Council. In Oct 1898 the Secretary of the Pipe Finishers Trade Union became a member of the Council.

They also became recognised as a key organisation in organising low paid women into unions with national trade unions addressing their meetings. A special General Meeting was held in Oct 1898 when  the General Secretary of the National Union of Shop Assistants spoke about the lives of shop workers and proposed legislation.

The MSWTUC worked with other organisations to encourage women to organise themselves into unions.  The benefits of being in a  trade union meant the women could get strike pay, out-of-work pay and funeral benefits; and, most importantly,  women in trade unions were able to agitate to get  their wages increased. Organising women was not easy as the MSWTUC found out when they conducted an investigation into laundries. In order to talk to the women they had to visit them at home on a Monday –the only day they had off work-when they were busy doing their housework.

Cigar Makers

The MSWTUC worked with the London-based Cigar Makers Mutual Association  because of an incident at a workplace in Manchester. One of the union members was collecting dues, and was instantly sacked by the owner who did not want union members working in his factory. The other women workers stopped working,  Mr Cooper of the national CMMA came down, and together with the MSWTUC,  advised the women. When the employer saw the women removing their tools, so serious  were they about the strike, he relented and they went back to work. In Manchester 200 women were involved in the trade and the number of women in the  CMMA numbered 90.

Jewish Labour

In the Manchester and Salford area there was a large Jewish community, with new immigrants of whom some only spoke German and Yiddish, and therefore  could be easily exploited by factory owners. In November 1897 a report is made about an  employer who tried to use Jewish immigrants in one his factories, no doubt to undercut wages, the women workers responded and the Minutes noted that they ”…Had been successful in their attempt to secure the abolition of Jewish labour in the factory”. The women called in the MSWTUC who invited them to join the Federation of Women Workers. The MSWTUC suggested that the Jewish unions should produce recruitment leaflets in German and Yiddish.

The Jewish Tailors Machiners and Pressers proceeded to organise Jewish Tailoresses  and arranged meetings at the Jewish Labour Hall and the MSWTUC took part. The women were organised as a branch of the JTMP,  agreeing to work with the men over wages,  but were  organised in  their own branch.


They obtained a wage increase without any difficulty because they were now organised into a trade union.



In these years MSTUC

  • Supported the petition circulated by the Manchester and Salford TUC (male workers) for increased railway facilities and cheap trains for workers.
  • Supported Bill sponsored by National Union of Teachers to raise age of children in employment from 11-12 years.
  • Responded to Select Committee on proposals for Old Age Pensions. They said it would not be just or expedient to expect to demand contributions from women who received low wages.
  • Issued a leaflet with the Womens Trade Union League on Compensation for Injuries at work.
  • Produced a Fair List of Laundries that they sent to the Home Secretary.
  • Passed a resolution protesting against the curtailment of the powers of the new Chief Lady Inspector. At this time there were separate Inspectors for male and female industries.


The MSWTUC was funded originally by subscribers: wealthy people who wanted to help create the organisation and support its activities. Holding meetings in the drawing rooms of the wealthy elite is a recurring activity in the Minutes, but as the organisation established itself then other like-minded groups gave it grants. This included the Federation of Women Workers, the Shirt Makers Union, and the Upholsteresses Society.

Read about the MSWTUC Transcription Project here

Donations are welcome  to continue this project – there are 23 years of Minutes- please contact maryquaileclub@gmail.com

Posted in education, feminism, human rights, labour history, Manchester, political women, Salford, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book review; See Red Women’s Workshop Feminist Posters 1974-1990


Activists today could learn a lot from the history of the See Red  Women’s Workshop. In this new book  which documents the life of the collective 1974-90, they provide some important lessons for all of us in how you get beyond the usual left/middleclass way of politics, and reach out to the average person, in this case women, to help them to acquire skills, work together in a non-hierarchical way, and produce some of the best political art of the last 40 years.

Their influence has been incredible. If you worked in the youth service in the 70s/80s you may well have seen their posters in youth centres or schools. If you were involved in a women’s group or went to a women’s conference again you would be aware of their artwork on the walls or being sold in stalls at the back of the hall. And it was a time when we had radical bookshops, such as  Manchester’s  Grassroots Bookshop, where you could buy See Red’s iconic  posters and calendars.


In 2016 sexism and negative views of women have not gone away. Today it exists in a different form with  social media and all the nastiness that can be transmitted  through Twitter, Facebook etc.  See Red was born in a time of great political activity which was grassroots and radical. In 1974 an advert was placed in a Women’s Liberation Movement  publication inviting women in the visual arts to a meeting to set up a group which would  discuss and challenge the sexist images of women in advertising and the media. Out of this arose the See Red Women’s Workshop.

In the 70s there was plenty of political activity going on,  but it was dominated by men. As the book observes,  “The left wing at that time, both the radical and the mainstream branches, didn’t take the Women’s Liberation Movement seriously nor recognise it would become a major part of people’s struggles across the world.” But society was changing as women-only conscious raising groups met nationally and locally   – and from  them grew innumerable  campaigns which addressed the inequality and oppression of women. Out of this dynamic environment See Red started to produce posters.


Could be 2016!

See Red was not just producing political art,  but were doing so in a collective way, from the initial idea of the poster to its completed design. This was challenging in itself,  and broke with traditional ideas of the cult of the artist and the pretensions around creativity and individuality. They say,  ”We wanted to challenge this way of working, and we decided from the beginning to work as a collective-to work in non-patriarchal structure, with no hierarchy and all decisions taken as a group.”

By 1976 they were producing posters and calendars,  and importantly keeping them cheap so that all women could afford them. Their posters were printed by silk screen methods which enabled them to set up almost anywhere – from women’s centres to playgrounds – producing art that spoke to women and their concerns in their environment. Through the vast network of conferences and events going on they were able to sell hundreds of posters, raising money which went back into the workshop.

See Red was funded by the women  doing part-time jobs and working for the collective on two and half days per week. Later on they got funding from the Greater London Council and began  to produce work for organisations. Over the years 30-40 women joined the workshop.  Grant funding meant they could bring more women into the printing via links  with local schools and a formal apprenticeship training scheme in 1980.    And  as they comment, “Sharing our skills, especially with women who ordinarily would not have the opportunity to learn about design and printing, was always important.”


everyone I knew on the Left had this poster on their wall  p0st 1979

The history of the See Red Women’s Collective is very much intertwined with the history of the women’s movement and the left in the UK. Over the years the grassroots campaigning philosophy of the women’s movement changed.  as did the style of their work leading to the demise of See Red in 1990. Feminism in the C21st is dominated by ideas of individualism and rising upwards in the system,  rather than collectivism and campaigning against a very unfair and cruel society,  particularly to women.

Looking through the posters they seem just as relevant today; promoting powerful images of women, calling for protest and opposition to inequality and injustice.  But they were also attractive posters, that yes you wanted to put up on your wall to promote the message, but you also loved the artwork. This is a brilliant book, one that I hope  will inspire people,  both  women and men,  to believe that we can make a difference –  but only through a more collective viewpoint about politics and  creating a better world. Buy it here

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1896: Minutes of Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Union Council


This is the second post of the Transcription Project and it is 1896. In 1896 the Council held its first Annual Meeting  in February and  began the year by joining together with other organisations to investigate the working conditions of women. These other organisations included the  Women’s Co-operative Guild and the Christian Social Union. Their investigations showed that some workers had been coerced by their employer into trying to change the Factory Act which would allow employers to get women to do home work after having worked long hours in the factory. All three organisations opposed home working.

In March the organising secretaries, Miss Sarah Welsh and Miss Frances Ashwell,  were busy holding meetings with workers in a variety of industries including Umbrella Workers, Tailoresses, Folders and Servers and Laundry Workers. They reported on a strike by female costume makers.

The question of the vote for women came up for the first time and the Council voted against supporting it because they felt it was “foreign to the purpose of the MSDWTUC”.

By June they had got the support of men in industries such as the bookbinding and printing trade to circulate information about setting up a women’s union in the industry with the male union actively encouraging women to join. This was no doubt because the male workers feared that the women would be used by the employers to  undercut their rates. The Council  decided it might be a good idea to draw up lists of “fair dealing” employers in industries such as laundries, tailoring and printing.

One of the big problems in organising women into unions was finding women who would take on the crucial role of secretary.

In September the organisers  concentrated on supporting home workers eg pocket handkerchief workers. They were also visiting places of work at dinner times in order to get women to join the union. At one meeting they increased the membership of the Shirt and Jacket Cutters and Shirt Makers Union by 40.

The Council   had to deal with an issue that was controversial and affected one of their organisers, Miss Sarah Welsh,  who had recently got married. Some of the members of the Council opposed married women working,  but this was a  minority. Conscious of this, Miss Welsh (now Mrs Dickenson) offered her resignation. A discussion was held but the issue was deferred for three months, and Mrs Dickenson stayed in her post. At the  next meeting in December, the members of the Council  voted unaminously for Mrs Dickenson to withdraw her resignation. They said that; “The Council value her services very highly and wish to retain them.”  They bought her a sewing machine as a wedding present.

Read about the MSWTUC Transcription Project here

Donations are welcome  to continue this project – there are 23 years of Minutes- please contact maryquaileclub@gmail.com

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Read my weekly roundup of radical arts and politics…Burning Doors, Daredevil Rides to Jarama, Kinsley Women Cleaners, Sounds and Sweet Airs

Stop look listen








some political theatre. My favourite writer and socialist, Jim Allen, said of his plays; “I hope that the audience demand answers and action. I’m not keen on sending them to bed happy-I want them angry to get change.”  Jim did face the full force of the state when he wrote the screenplay for “Hidden Agenda” (1990) a film that laid bare Britain’s human rights abuses in Northern Ireland and a new play “Burning Doors” by Belarus Free Theatre exposes the political repression they have experienced in Belarus and the incarceration of artists in Russia. Taking part in the play is Masha Alyokhina, one of the members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot,  who was imprisoned by Putin for speaking out against him. The drama also highlight the case of jailed artists including Petr Pavlensky who set fire to the Federal Security Service building in an act of artistic rebellion and Crimean film-maker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in a Siberian prison. For Maria it is more than just a play;“I want to use this chance to show moments and situations that we have not spoken about, and which people don’t know about Pussy Riot – both while we were in prison but also afterwards,

BFT had to use kickstarter to fund the production and bring over 29 artists from Belarus to perform Burning Doors across the UK in October. Natalia Kolaida, co-founder of Belarus Free Theatre, says they wanted to use the experiences and harrowing stories of Pussy Riot, Sentsov and Pavlensky to make a wider point about freedom of expression, both under dictatorships but also in democracies. “By taking the stories of these three artists, we can use this play to talk about artistic freedom in a broader sense, both under dictatorships but also under democracy, and tackle the idea that a jail is a continuation of their art.” See it and get angry at Contact Theatre from 10-12 October.More info here




Clem Beckett, and the people who fought in the Spanish Civil War in this new play “Daredevil Rides to Jarama” by Townsend Productions. Clem was the Bradley Wiggins of his day- but no cash,  just bags of courage. He was from Oldham and trained as a blacksmith but, because of the depression and being  blacklisted as a member of the Communist Party, he took up speedway. He volunteered to go to fight in Spain where he met fellow Communist and poet Christopher Caudwell at the Battle of Jarama in 1937:  they became great comrades and friends. This year is the 80th anniversary of the start of  Spanish Civil War, and it is important to remember the way in which working class people such as Clem were inspired by the hopes and dreams of Republican Spain.

Neil Gore, who wrote and stars in the play says; “the volunteers fought against fascism and on the side of a democratically elected government that stood for social justice in health and education, new rights for women, free trade unions and respect towards differing national identities. These are values that endure today”. In 2016  there are British people who have gone to Syria to support the Kurdish fighters and in a interesting twist have named themselves the Bob Crow Brigade after a great socialist trade unionist. Read about them here

You can watch the Dare Devil Rides to Jarama in Clem’s hometown Oldham from 12-15 October. More details see here



the Kinsley Women Cleaners- Leslie Leake, Marice Hall and Karen McGee-who are cleaners at Kinsley Academy in Wakefield in West Yorkshire. The Academy  outsourced the contract  to a private firm, C&D Cleaning Group,  and since then the company has cut the three workers’ wages from £7.85 an hour to £7.20 — the minimum wage. The company also abolished the sick pay agreement which the cleaners’ union, Unison, had with the council. The company   are refusing to recognise the union.

The women  are now on official strike. The company has attended some talks at ACAS but this week it was learned that the company had advertised the three  jobs, hoping to recruit strike-breakers.

You can help the women by writing directly  to the C & D management team  in support of the women and asking them to speak directly to the union. The more emails they get the better, so if you can  ask friends and colleagues to write as well, that would be helpful.

Gary Chapman, Managing Director gary@cdcleaningservices.co.uk

Nick Thorpe , Head of HR     nick@cdcleaningservices.co.uk




Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music by Anna Beer. Classical music, rather than  Jeremy Corbyn,  is for me is the antidote to the depressing political  situation.  In this new book Anna reminds us of women composers who rarely get a mention – except for Clara Schumann, who is remembered mostly  for her marriage to Robert,  rather than her life as a pianist and composer. Against all odds women did compose in the most difficult of circumstances from C17th  Florence to C20th  London. It is a testament to these women –  Caccini, Strozzi, Jacques de la Guerre, Martines, Hensel, Schumann, Boulanger and Maconchy –  that they, by all means, strove to overcome the misogyny to exclude them from the world of composition.

The book is not just revealing about the women,  but also the attitude of those closest to them. Mendelssohn is one of my favourite composers,  but he had a sister Fanny who was a talented composer and  performed and conducted on a regular basis. But the public career that her famous brother could have as a man was denied Fanny by both her father and her brother. Gender, class and religion helped exclude Fanny from a professional life, and most tellingly it is her brother who stopped her publishing her work. This is an important book,  reminding us of women who should be better known for their artistic achievements and asking the question; why are they not today part of our cultural heritage? There is also a playlist at the back of the book so that you can find out why they should be better known.Buy it here

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, drama, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, Manchester, political women, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review; Rebel Crossings New Women,Free Lovers and Radicals in Britain and the United States by Sheila Rowbotham



For Sheila Rowbotham history is both personal and political. In her latest book, Rebel Crossings, she links the lives of the six main characters – and their quest for a better world  – with her own history of political activism across five decades. In the introduction  Sheila explains  that for her,  as  a socialist feminist historian,   “a continuing preoccupation has been how to comprehend the elusive interaction of inner feelings and the external expression of resistance.” Unlike many historians who live in an academic world, speak only to other academics and spend their time promoting each other’s  books, Sheila produces books that are relevant to the lives we are leading in 2016, and are written in an engaging and accessible way.

Sheila  is like the Miss Marple of the history world: I love her comment, “Being a nosy person, committed to digging about in bits of the past buried in layers of obscurity, on I went.” And the story of how she went about her research for Rebel Crossings is as fascinating as the history she has uncovered.

Rebel Crossings  started for Sheila way back in the 1970s when she came across a book  in the British Library “Whitman’s Ideal Democracy and other writings by Helena Born with a biography by The Editor, Helen Tufts”. But it was only in 2008 that Sheila began following the trail of not just Helena and Helen but four other characters in this story  of people trying  not only  to change society, but themselves as well.

Like Sheila I am fascinated as to how and why individuals become political activists,  and this is a thread running through the book. Helena Born, who is one of the gang of six moved to Bristol in 1876 with her family, which was a catalyst for change in her life. Lucky for Sheila, Helena kept a scrapbook in which she charted how she went from being  a devout young woman to a supporter of radical local and international campaigns through organisations such as the Bristol Women’s Liberal Association. It was through the BWLA that Helena met  her lifetime friend Miriam Daniell, a friendship that catapulted her physically and emotionally into a new way of living – and a journey across the world.

Miriam’s story then leads us to the next protagonist,  Robert Allan Nicol, a Scottish man, who  was living in a country which was alive with rebellious movements from nationalism to campaigns around birth control. He followed Miriam to Bristol and became secretary of the militant  Gas Workers and General Labourers Union.

Unlike Helena, Miriam and Robert, William Bailie came from a Belfast working class background who pursued  his dreams of revolution onto the streets of Manchester whilst  linking up with anarchists and secularists. An early marriage at 18 meant that he had a wife and children to support whilst trying to educate himself. But it was when he exchanged Manchester for Boston in the USA that William managed to break free from the basket trade and  went to work for a radical newspaper, meeting  people who would open up his life to new  and fulfilling relationships.

Boston in the late 1890s becomes the axis for William, Helena and Helen Tufts to meet up and cement life long relationships. Helen Tufts was the only American amongst the rebels,  and the only one that  came from a revolutionary background.  She started writing a journal when she was twelve, which Sheila was able to access, commenting that; “the journal chronicles her metamorphosis from a Massachusetts Unitarian girlhood into a Boston new woman.”

Gertrude Dix came from Bristol and a conservative High Anglican family, but she moved to London and became part of its  literary scene which was  more broadminded in those days including socialists in groups as such  as the Independent Labour Party through  to anarchists. Her dreams of a freer life led her in 1902 to abandon this bohemian lifestyle and  join Robert in an old mining town in California.

All of the six were living at a momentous time with not just a progressive political culture but one that included cultural icons as diverse as socialist and free thinker Edward Carpenter, American poet Walt Whitman, William Blake’s poetry and the progressive plays of Ibsen. They lived in a time of great inequality and injustice but this led to the birth and growth of ideologies such as anarchism and socialism, vibrant  political movements that challenged the staus quo.

Weaving through the book is not just the politics of the six but their drive for personal self fulfilment. Today it is hard to imagine how constricting life was for women, even ones with education and self-confidence, in this period. But as we get to know Helena, Helen, Miriam and Gertrude we see and feel their pain, joy, anger and disappointment in striving for a sense of self,  as well as a better society to live in.

Sheila first discovered the six rebels when she was involved in radical politics believing, as you do, that society was going to be turned upside down. And for her, like many activists, our dreams have not been realised:  she comments; “Like many in my generation, I accept this reality rationally, but emotionally find it ineffably baffling.” In 2016 we need stories of hope and Rebel Crossings for me is inspiring and prescient. Can these stories get beyond the usual exclusive academic world? Will both new and experienced activists get to meet the six rebels and so be inspired to start and keep fighting inequality and injustice? The book costs £25 so maybe you can borrow it from the local library or if you can afford it (maybe together with some mates) buy it from

Posted in book review, Communism, education, feminism, labour history, Manchester, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Read my weekly roundup of radical arts and politics…I Daniel Blake,Birdsong; Stories From Pripyat,Off Beat:Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground, Scapegallows

Stop look listen











I, Daniel Blake for free next Sunday, 25 September, through this link.  Like many of Ken Loach’s films it’s a polemic about the state of society in the UK today. For people who are living the lives of modern day Daniels and their supporters  it’s nothing new, but for those unaware of the descent of ordinary working class people into the austerity state it will be shocking. The film will not change the government’s policy, nor shame Labour councils across the northwest who are just “following orders”, but it is a call-out to everyone else to support all the Daniels (and Danielle’s) at their local Job Centre such as  Ashton-u-Lyne each Thursday morning see.



Chernobyl, and celebrate its links with the north west. In the late 80s I remember going on a coach trip across the Peak District that Manchester TUC had organised for Belarus trade unionists; we wanted to show them the beautiful countryside but they wanted to buy frying pans and black plastic bags! We made sure they did both. In this new film Birdsong; Stories From Pripyat, a town only 3 miles from Chernobyl, there is new archive film footage from the Ukraine, as well as a new live music score that incorporates the oral testimonies of the residents of Pripyat and the people who came to the north west to escape the devastation that Chernobyl caused in the region. Find out more here  See it at Home on 30 September details



Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground. The  1950s and ’60s were a strange time when people really were frightened of a nuclear war breaking out and organisations such as CND were born. It was a time when a new underground counterculture began and Jeff Nuttall played a key role in promoting  experimentation in all things, challenging censorship and opposing the commercialisation in society. He was part of a group of, largely men, who were bohemians – creating their own world in art, music, books and poetry. At this exhibition you can get a flavour of what they believed in and how they expressed their views of the world in a selection of letters, books and magazines. Jeff was the British link , and in his seminal work Bomb Culture  (1968)  he explained his philosophy which was driven by living in the H-bomb world. He wrote 40 books, designing many of the front covers,  as well as being a sculptor, actor and musician. It is a fascinating exhibition in many ways,  but needs a good introduction to explain why the international underground counterculture started and was so influential. See it here



Scapegallows  by Carol Birch. She wrote it in 2007, and lucky for me I have a great local library from which I borrowed it. It’s the fascinating, fictional account, of the life of a real working class woman Margaret Catchpole who was born in Suffolk in the late 1700s. Margaret became notorious because she escaped the gallows twice and was transported to Australia. Carol used original sources, including a book written by the son of Margaret’s employer, and the letters that Margaret wrote to his mother. Through these she was able to reveal the real Margaret – a very modern woman for her age. Although a servant she was a strong and self-determined woman who had love affairs, was an excellent horsewoman, and went onto to produce some of the best descriptions of colony life in Australia. Scapegallows is extremely well-written and is a fascinating story so it’s definitely one to search for in your local library if you have one or through


Posted in anti-cuts, book review, drama, education, feminism, films, human rights, labour history, Manchester, Socialism, Uncategorized, women, working class history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing up Women’s Trade Union History: The Transcription Project for the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council 1895-1919



In this post I am going to talk about a unique organisation, which from the start encouraged working class women to join trade unions and support unions that already exist; collected  information about the conditions of women’s work;  and also  lobbied  for legislation to improve women’s lives at work.

The Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council  began in Manchester on   February  5 1895 and survived until 1919. Its minutes were written up by hand  in two volumes which  Manchester trade union activist Mary Quaile, who worked for the Council  from 1911 to 1919, took away with her when she retired. At that time no-one saw the relevance of trade union history, but luckily for us, the volumes are in very good condition,  and they were passed onto the Mary Quaile Club last year.

This year the Mary Quaile Club have created the MSWTUC Minutes Transcription Project. Our aim is to transcribe the two  volumes, create a website to publicise the Minutes so that everyone can gain access, and hand over the volumes to the WCML.

We want people to gain hope and inspiration from the story of the MSWTUC Minutes. Through this monthly post I am going to tell the story of this unique organisation. I have spent my life working in trade unions and other progressive groups, and reading the history of the MSWTUC is inspiring about how we can work together to change our lives, our community and the history of this country.

First of all, the Minutes are beautifully written up in copperplate handwriting. See this page.


The first meeting was held on Tuesday February 5 1895 at the Town Hall in Manchester. For those of us active in trade union politics it is an unusual group of people who have got together to campaign on behalf of poor women.

They include the editor of the Guardian;C.P. Scott , who goes on to take the minutes for the first two meetings. His wife Mrs. C.P.Scott also attends . And the use by women of their husband’s first and surname really dates the document. One of Elizabeth Gaskell’s daughters, Miss J B Gaskell also joins the inaugural meeting. At this time there are other groups representing women workers and a representative of one of them, Mrs Walton is from the Federation of Women Workers. Other worthies include councillors,  M.Ps and two vicars.

Names that pop up in the minutes are women who are also involved with local politics and  the campaign for the vote,  including Mrs.Rose Hyland (no relation) and Margaret Ashton, later the first woman councillor in Manchester.

It is a well organised and funded group. They spend time creating a constitution, discussing committees and sub-committees, raise funds,  and rent premises at  9 Albert Square in Manchester.

Working class women start to appear when the Council agree, at the beginning, to employ an Organising Secretary on £90 per annum. They advertise the post through local trade unions and set up a committee to deal with the recruitment process.  In the event  two women were appointed; Miss Frances  Ashwell and Miss  Sara Welsh.

By June 1895 they are already investigating the lives of women workers in the umbrella-covering, shirt-making and corset-making trades. It is interesting to note that they don’t want to run these unions,  but instead are offering practical support in organising meetings and to help  the women to “manage their affairs in a business-like way.”

There is an interesting account in September when one of the organisers, Miss Welsh, explains how they helped form the Umbrella Coverers Trade Union. It started out well with a public meeting and 80 members joining,  but the numbers declined after  “pressure had been brought to bear by the foreman.”

Stories of poor pay and  women being used as cheap labour are revealed in the investigations that the MSWTUC do into shop work and the tailoring trade. Decisions are made to concentrate on the tailoresses who are doing the same work as the tailors, but only receiving 50% of their pay –  and shop workers,  who are barely being paid enough to live on. By December 1895 the MSWTUC were joining forces with the Womens Cooperative Guild to investigate the pay and conditions of shop girls, launderesses, tailoresses and milliners.

In 1895 the MSWTUC only had 8 meetings but laid the foundations of an organisation that could do groundbreaking work in investigating the lives of women at work,  and helping them to organise to gain better pay and conditions.

Next month I will be looking at 1896 and the way in which the MSWTUC started making alliances with other groups in order to do more investigations into the lives of girls and women at work and help organise them into trade unions.


MSWTUC Report 1912


This project is ongoing and if you would like to donate to it please send a cheque to “Mary Quaile Club” c/o 6 Andrew St.Mossley Lancs OL5 0DN.




Posted in education, feminism, human rights, labour history, Manchester, political women, Salford, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment