Political Women; Honor Donnelly

Working class, Socialist, Activist.

Honor 2014

Honor 2014

Honor comes from a working class background. She was born in Manchester; her father was a skilled manual worker while her mother came from a poor background, of Irish descent, in the Hulme area of Manchester and worked as a cleaner.
“My Mum had a thing about the Black and Tans. But she was made to feel ashamed of her Irish background. She was ashamed of her childhood poverty too and bought into respectability rather than simply a British identity which she saw as a way out of poverty and as a step up.”

Honor’s childhood was not a happy one. “I spent a good deal of my childhood in various children’s homes and this meant that my education was disrupted and I left school at 15 with no qualifications. I have spent a long time trying to rectify that.”

Her first job was in a florists, but it didn’t last long. “I didn’t know what a trade union was and saw a poster about the trade union, Usdaw, and was just talking about it and got sacked. We were treated badly by the shop, working long hours, paid next to nothing. I found out later that they had been taking National Insurance and tax out of our wages, even though our wages were well below the threshold.” Over the years she has been a member of a number of trade unions, including NUPE, COHSE, USDAW and PCS.

Honor’s politics are driven by her own personal experiences; “Surviving children’s homes, surviving a lousy education system and then having children made me want to do better and have ideas that things could change. I was (am) motivated to make sure that things would change “

In the late 1970s, living in a Conservative dominated town in Cheshire, she joined the Labour Party. “It was the only group that discussed anything. I met radical people through the Labour Party, some of whom were in Militant and some in the Communist Party.”

Honor 1980s

Honor 1980s

She didn’t work because she was a full-time carer for her children. “I don’t consider myself a feminist, to me class is more important, but I have campaigned for women’s rights and better access to education and nursery places”.

In the 1980s she returned to Manchester in order to improve her education. “It is an awful thing to feel you are not well educated and haven’t achieved anything.” Honor started a Diploma in Higher Education at Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University). “I was in the National Union of Students for some considerable time and was an active member, although I don’t recall standing for anything specific – but at the Poly we did implement some policies through a caucus and we brought Joan Lestor MP in to open the first Student Union in the country to be named after a woman – Winnie Mandela – (which was later dropped).” We also raised money for the NUM miners’ strike at the time and collected and distributed food to striking miners. She gained more than just a DipHE: “It was a political education course and a practical one.”

Throughout the 1980s Honor was involved with CND, going to the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common with her children and taking part in the actions there.

Educating her own children has been very important to her. “I encouraged my own children to read widely, to go out into the world and take reasonable risks. To think.. And to question everything. They were exposed to different cultures, religions, and countries as well as being politically and philosophically well informed”.

In the 1990s Honor moved back to a council house in Wythenshawe where she became involved in working with local groups and rejoined the Labour Party. “I think once you are politically aware you cannot stay away from it for very long” although she is frustrated about the way some people in politics (not just the Labour party) behave; “They do not know about real struggle. They live in a different world from working class people. I still think that you have to work from within. But you have to get people to a point of education and it is my view that an educated population will produce a peaceful revolution.”

In 2003 Honor resigned from the Labour Party. “I left specifically over Iraq, I was on the Two Million march in London and then stood as an Anti-War candidate in May of that year. I achieved a similar vote to the Green Party and Socialist Alliance.” Honor produced her own election poster and voter reminders and hand delivered them to every household in the ward.
She has always been a local activist and the current big issue in her life is the Bedroom Tax. “Along with all those directly affected I was in from Day One, if not some time before, as the changes were being proposed and announced. I went on and led almost every march in Manchester, and every meeting and, chaired a number of those including the first Greater Manchester Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and the meeting with Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.” Honor is still active on the issue. “I am currently one of the few remaining ‘active’ campaigners with a case still before the courts – and keeping the pressure on both legally and politically.”

Personally Honor feels that politically things have gone backwards to the 1950s. “I live on a street where people do not engage. I do go out and talk to working class people about the issues and try and engage them with ideas about how they can do something about it. I also use my Radio Show where possible to raise issues and to engage people or give them a different perspective on politics, the environment and war.”

So what is her advice for young women? “Make the most of your intellectual assets for yourself, the planet, and the greater good. Set goals decide what you want from life. Change them, rearrange them, challenge yourself.”

Join Honor in the Bedroom Tax Campaign at
Listen to her radio programme at

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. I am a member of the Manchester and Salford National Union of Journalists.If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
This entry was posted in anti-cuts, feminism, human rights, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, peace campaigns, political women, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, young people and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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