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.
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