The chains of history connecting 1910 to 2016 : from Mary MacArthur and Mary Quaile to the Durham Teaching Assistants.

Last week,  when  speaking at a West Midlands Unison meeting for women about the life of Mary Quaile,  I was vividly reminded  of the power of women and the power of women in trade unions.  While the problems women face (at this meeting sexual harassment at work was on the agenda,  not surprising given the environment of cuts)  might have changed,  the basic need for women to get together to discuss the particular issues that affect them,  and construct strategies to change them,  has not gone away. Nowadays trade unions are barely  recognisable from the days of Mary Quaile and Mary Macarthur,  but the issues that drove these women – recruiting women into trade unions, achieving  equality at work including equal pay for equal work –  have not gone away.

Mary Quaile was a grassroots person, even though she attained a place on the General Council of the TUC and later on in life became a Justice of the Peace. During her fifty years of activity she never strayed from her belief that trade unions were the answer to changing working class peoples lives and creating a fairer, democratic society but one with women at the centre.


Mary Quaile 1925

In the West Midlands area one of the most significant strike actions by women was in 1910, when  the Cradley Heath chainmakers – all women – took strike action,  and won. They were some of the poorest of workers; they did not have a vote, were illiterate, worked a 54-hour week and had to take their children to work with them. Their story is told in the brilliant book Breaking their Chains; Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ Strike of 1910, written by Tony Barnsley.


Mary Macarthur addressing strikers and supporters in Cradley Heath 1910

The leader of the strike was the charismatic Mary Macarthur (1880-1921), a woman who should be much better known. Mary was the founder of the National Federation of Women Workers, and , like Mary Quaile, she was an activist who was out on the picket line in the early mornings, rallied workers at meetings in the evenings, edited a paper which she also went out and sold,  and  was always happy to lead her women workers in mass demonstrations. Mary was media savvy, she recognised the importance of getting the chainmakers into the new Pathe news at the burgeoning cinemas which led to 10 million  people finding out about the chainmakers dispute,  and no doubt influencing the victory.

The chainmakers strike was in 1910,  but my research from the minutes of the Manchester and Salford Womens Trades Union Council  shows that as early as November 1903 the women in Cradley Heath contacted the MSWTUC and asked  whether one of the organising secretaries,  Eva Gore Booth,   could come down to help organise the women. Eva went down twice,  and on 1st March 1903  the MSWTUC minutes reported that Eva had held a meeting, and that 200 new members joined.

The two Marys had much in common. They were both anti-war and  both believed that internationalism was the answer to the onslaught of capitalism. But once the First World War had broken out,  both women worked to ensure that the increase of women workers going into industry, due to men being enlisted, would not be exploited.  Once again both women went out organising women into trade unions and, most importantly,  called for “equal pay for equal work.” Employers were quite happy to get women to take on men’s job but at  lower  wages. Throughout the war both women fought for equal pay for women and, by the end of the war,  women’s wages had increased by 50%.

Writing about the importance of trade unionism in  1908 Mary Macarthur said; “It entails loyalty, self-sacrifice and self-control: that it stands for the greatest good for the greatest number, and the interests of the individual must always be subservient to the common interests.” Both Marys gave their lives to improving the lives of women and building a trade movement that included women. Sadly few of Mary Quaile’s speeches were recorded but in her obituary in the Manchester Guardian it said; “Her determination to get trade unionism for women accepted was often met with jeers, boos, rotten apples and threats of violence. She spoke at hundreds of factory gate meetings in both the East End of London and Manchester; she never betrayed any sign of fear when faced with hostility.”

In 2016 we have seen the rise of modern Marys from the hotel workers in London to the Durham and Derby Teaching Assistants and the Kinsley Cleaners. For them the need for a trade union has not gone away, and they are following in the footsteps of their sisters; Mary Quaile and Mary Macarthur.

Lisa Turnbull,  one of the Durham T.A.s says,  Looking back at strong women like Mary Quaile makes you realise that as a woman you can take the lead and fight for what’s right and fair. one else is going to do it for you”.


Meet and listen to Lisa at the Mary Quaile Club Grunwick Strike   event on 3rd  December, 1pm,  at the WCML in Salford see

Watch Lisa and her comrades here

Read about the Kinsley Cleaners here You can donate by making a cheque out to Wakefield Unison and sending it to 18 Gills Yard, Wakefield WF1 3BZ.

Support the Durham T.A’s here

You can buy “Breaking their Chains; Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ Strike of 1910” by Tony Barnsley here

Read about Mary Quaile  and buy Dare to be Free Women in Trade Unions Past and Present here

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, political women, Salford, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Book review; All in a Day’s Work: Working Lives and Trade Unions in West London 1945-1995, edited by David Welsh.


Reading this book reminds me of Brecht’s poem, “Questions From a Worker Who Reads” (1935).  It reminds us of our trade union history – the lives of women and men who, over the years in this country, have contributed to making this a fairer,  more democratic society- a history that is absent from the books, television and radio programmes that dominate our media, our education system and our lives. And if we don’t research and write our own history –who else will?

“All In a Day’s Work: Working Lives and Trade Unions in West London 1945-1995” is a tremendous achievement. It began with an oral history project which collected over 100 interviews between  2009 and 2013. Its aim was to cover fifty years of working class history, looking at everything from family background (and importantly how people came to this area of London),  as well as their lives at work, their involvement in trade union politics and how this affected their lives.

The project focussed on a particular area of West London,  which included the many global factories which  dominated the industrial belt, as well as smaller firms, and the growing public sector. Many of the interviews were done by volunteers with  the people interviewed playing an important role in providing photos, union membership cards, as well donating their time and views to the project.

This is a successful project and book because of the  people involved. The National Britain at Work oral history project was set up by  Professor Nina Fishman (now sadly dead), who was not just an academic, but an activist working in trade union education across the region. It also has an inspiring introduction by John McDonnell, an MP for the local area, who reminisces about his own experience of political and trade union activity. He sums up the importance of this project; “The Britain at Work Project helps us to listen and learn from past lives and past struggles. For that we owe it and all its participants a debt of thanks.”

Central to the story of West London is the manufacturing industry: it had one of the highest concentration of manufacturing, not just in London but in the whole  country. In 2016 it’s hard to imagine the scale of the number of factories and of people working in them. Just five West London factories employed 6,000 people, for instance.

They needed lots of workers,  and immigrant labour provided an important source of workers, like  Rose Madden who was born in Ireland in 1939,  and in 1957 moved to Kilburn to live with her sister and find work. She says; “I was given a job in McVitie and Price’s biscuit factory towards Harlesden. There were machines that wrapped biscuits and I was working, making chocolate…it was fascinating really, like Heath Robinson.” Rose wasn’t alone, as many people from across the world were attracted to West London to find employment and make a home in the region. Many of them experienced racism, sometimes from their own union members or officers,  and it is important  that these stories  are included in the book.

It was a time of full employment for 30 years after the Second World War, and a time when trade union organisation and activity flourished.”Many West Londoners became part of a massive social movement through this activity, a movement that was increasingly linked with communities at a London-wide level and with the national trade union movement.”

One of the fascinating stories is of the women workers at Trico-Folberth factory in Brentford, who in 1976  stayed out on strike for 21 weeks for equal pay and won. I love the comments by Sally Groves as she took part on the picket line ; “We had such tremendous support from other trade unionists- it was fantastic, to make the picket possible…We obviously had a right to speak to the drivers. Yeah it was a huge battle…I was dragged away and then Eileen was dragged away.”


It wasn’t just women and men in factories who were out on strike,  it is great to read about the hairdressers walking out of Ivan’s salon in the West End in 1973, and a strike at BHS HQ in Marylebone after it sacked a trainee manager for being gay.

Reading this book is inspiring for me. It’s not just the stories of ordinary people fighting for equality at work, but the fact that we can read their stories, see their pictures, and remind ourselves that we can change our lives at work, at home and in our community. It is a history that needs preserving and promoting,  but one that needs to be taken seriously by the trade union movement and other progressive organisations and individuals.

 Today we are living in a time when trade unions play a declining role in workplaces,  but trade unions are its members and they can make a difference, just look at the Blacklisting Campaign. Lucky for this campaign,  they have produced a book that tells their story, unfortunately many other disputes have been forgotten or just written out of the trade union histories. I hope this book can inspire other people to write up their own history of activism,  and perhaps create a blog to publicise it. You can buy it  here see

 Questions From a Worker Who Reads

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?

In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?

And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?

In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them ?

Over whom did the Caesars triumph ?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ?

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ?

Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him ?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep ?

Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it ?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?

Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill ?

So many reports.

So many questions.

Posted in Blacklisting campaign, book review, education, feminism, human rights, Ireland, labour history, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, TV drama, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rojava; the real alternative. My review of “The Alternative Towards a New Progressive Politics” edited by Lisa Nandy MP, Caroline Lucas MP and Chris Bowers; and “Revolution in Rojava” by Michael Knapp, Anja Flach and Ercan Ayboga.

In 1925 the Manchester Irish trade unionist Mary Quaile led a TUC delegation to the new Soviet Union. Mary had spent her life working at a grassroots level with women workers; advocating for women’s involvement in trade unions so that they could get equal pay and decent working conditions.  In the Soviet Union she saw a different society that had at its core a worker based politics with  factory committees that existed to promote wage equality, and state policies that had as much to say about the private lives of workers as about the economy. After the 1917 revolution in Russia many activists in this country saw its society as a positive example of how life could be transformed, both personally and politically for women, men and children.

But In 2016 we are all fed up with our stagnant political system, and our politicians who inspire hatred rather than hope. Brexit was just one example of people hitting back at the political elite that run this country and who refuse to either take notice of or include within the political discourse the rest of us.


In a new book edited by Lucas, Nandy and Bowers, The Alternative Towards a New Progressive Politics, they  cites as a major problem the unfair electoral system and suggest that “progressives”( not quite  sure who they are) should work together to oppose the Conservative government and its policies. Unfortunately “progressives” are few and far between amongst the political classes, and it’s  hard to see how the ordinary person on the street can really believe this message. Politicians in this country and the political elite that surround them, with a few exceptions including Caroline Lucas and Mhari Black, are now so despised by the public it is highly unlikely they would buy the message from this book. Indeed would they even bother reading it? Who are books like this written for? Is it just written for the same Guardian readership? What about the rest of us?


People are looking for hope and look to other societies that may  give a real alternative to the stagnancy of western politics and politicians. In a new book, Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan, we can see how people in a war zone, and surrounded by enemies, have created a community-based democracy, putting at its heart the equality of women. What makes this book relevant is that the writers are not just observers of Rojava, but have fought to defend this communally organised democracy. Both Anja Flach and Ercan Ayboga have taken part in the revolution, while Michael Knaff is an activist with the Berlin Kurdistan Solidarity Committe.

So where is and what is Rojava? It is part of northern Syria, and includes three cantons of Cizire, Kobani and Afrin. It is a war zone, surrounded by ISIS and Turkish forces which  are hostile to the Kurdish people. In January 2014 these three cantons issued a declaration of Democratic Autonomy creating a “democratic-autonomous administrations,” which  would be inclusive and pluralistic: a “third way” rejecting the Ba’athism dictatorship of Assad and the chauvinist Islamist opposition.

Central to this new society is the Kurdish freedom movement and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK),  a Marxist-Leninist party (including Turkish and Kurdish revolutionaries) that after the fall of the SU in 1991 adopted a  new vision of politics and society in the Middle East.

The Kurdish people are one of the most repressed in the world and although, and particularly in this country, there is a vibrant campaign to support the Palestinian people, there is little information or news about their struggle. Kurds are a displaced people, hated by the Turkish governments who have over the years persecuted them, and after the military coup in 1980 allowed the PKK to settle in Syria. The aim of the PKK was to establish a homeland in Northern Kurdistan.

The guerrilla war that ensued led to many young women and men becoming involved,  with women participating equally even as frontline soldiers.  The women had their own army known as YAJK (the Union of Free Women of Kurdistan) with its own headquarters. Women were now free to develop principles of autonomous women’s organising, dual leadership and the minimum of 40% participation of women in all areas. It was these principles that have been carried forward in all four parts of Kurdistan and are central to the new society they have created in Rojava. An activist on the Women’s Council in Cologne commented;”For thirty years I have been in the PKK movement..Only with the Rojava revolution, with the women’s communes with Arabs and Syriacs, have I really understood what it means to create a women-centred society within the state.”

This is a fascinating, if complex book. In the West we are starved of information about what is really happening in areas such as northern Syria. Our views of Middle Eastern women are often dominated by  stereotypes of them as passive victims,  not of women taking up arms to defend their country. It’s not just that people in Rojava are trying to create a radically reordered society;  they are doing it whilst besieged by the Islamists and the Turkish government who are determined to crush this  revolution. For the people in Rojava there is no alternative; “What spurs them on is the knowledge that there is no objective alternative for the Middle East, a profoundly heterogenous region. Or put another way; communalism or barbarism.”

Buy it here

Watch a film about women in Rojava see

Read Mary’s report “Soviet Russia, An Investigation by British Women Trade Unionists April to July 1925” at the WCML

Posted in book review, Communism, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, Manchester, Middle East, political women, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“How many magnificent battles will be won…”Our Enid The Life and Work of Enid Stacy 1868-1903


Over the last few months we have seen a revival in grassroots trade union activity, much of it by working class women. From the Kinsley Cleaners in Wakefield to the Teaching Assistants in Derby and Durham – women working in some of the low paid and undervalued jobs in our communities. These women are walking in the footsteps of past female (and male) activists whose history is often marginalised and absent, even from trade union histories.

Ruth and Eddie Frow were activists and historians and recognised the importance of recording the histories of their comrades and their organisations –  and that is why they set up the Working Class Movement Library. One of their comrades was Angela Tuckett, who wrote up the history of her aunt, the formidable socialist (and much more) Enid Stacy, but never got the manuscript published. This year the WCML have taken that manuscript and published it; “Our Enid The Life and Work of Enid Stacy 1868-1903”.

Enid Stacy lived in exciting times; a revolutionary time for women as the campaign for the vote exploded on our streets and ideas of socialism were seen as the way forward for ordinary women and men. She came from a close progressive family where girls were encouraged to take part in all activities, and political discussion was an important part of family life. The Stacy family lived in Bristol which was a hive of political and cultural activity reflecting the growing discontent about the suffering of poor people which brought together a mixed bag of activists from secularists to socialists of all religious backgrounds.

From an early age Enid was concerned with the lives of poor women, but she believed that it was only through socialism that women would be able to live free and independent lives,  later commenting that she had “entered the Socialist Party in the belief that the women’s movement was only properly taken up by them” by which she meant socialists.  Over the years Enid’s dedication to socialism fired her political activity and at the age of 22 she became the Honorary Secretary of the Association for the Promotion of Trade Unionism Amongst Women in Bristol. But she paid a price for her politics and she was deprived of teaching work at a time when she was the main wage earner for her family.

By 1893 she was attending the founding meeting of the Independent Labour Party. She was also addressing a familiar question even today in the C21st on how politics affects the personal relationships of activists and how socialism should be about making life better for all. She believed that women and men should be equal participants in the struggle and “not for each father to guard and fight for his own little flock against the fathers of other little flocks but for all workers to stand together, women equally with men”. Enid believed that gaining the vote for women was crucial, but only as part of wider changes in society and the achievement of a truly democratic society.

Over an incredible, but  short life, Enid had a packed schedule of meetings and lectures which took her across the UK, as well as to the USA. This did not stop her marrying and having a child,  although she had doubts about maintaining her independence and even asked close friend Bernard Shaw as to his views on the matter.

Edith went onto to become one of the most popular speakers for the Labour movement, no doubt because of her own practical experience in struggles, as well as her belief in the importance of socialism and the need for an Independent Labour Party. But it was a role that led Enid to be verbally and physically attacked. One of the worst occasions was when she was in Liverpool in 1895 where there was mass unemployment and hunger and the police intervened to stop speakers addressing the crowd. They didn’t stop Enid, though, she got on a tramcar and continued her speech.

This is a fascinating biography ,  not just because of a relative’s affection for her aunt but because it is written by a comrade – someone who understands and respects the life of an activist. Angela was lucky, not just because she could speak to people who knew Enid, but because she had access to her pocket diaries and letters from the early 1890s that form such an important part of Enid’s life story.

Enid Stacy was a formidable woman. She never sought national offices in organisations nor wrote any books, although she did produce pamphlets on war and peace, socialism, education and women’s rights. She was of her era – speaking at thousands of meetings and promoting a message of hope through socialism. As Angela comments; “But Enid also won what she valued more than the acclaim of national leaders; the personal affection and trust of countless working people who regarded her as one of their own for helping them to enrich their lives.”

Buy it here

Posted in biography, book review, Communism, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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