From Mary Wollstonecraft to Women’s Liberation: courses in Manchester on the history of Radical Women 1790-1890

Mary-Wollstonecraft-StampI will be teaching two  courses on the history of Radical  Women  1790 – 1980 this autumn, one in the evening and one during the day.

The first course will take place at Aquinas College, Nangreave Road,  Stockport.  It will begin on Monday 12 September,  6.30pm to 8.30pm.  The course  will last 10 weeks and  finish on 21 November.  (Half-term will be 24th October).

The course  will explore the history of radical women in Britain, highlighting their struggle for civil, political and legal rights over two centuries. It will include the  important  contribution made by many women from Greater Manchester.

We begin with Mary Wollstonecraft’s  book Vindication of the Rights of Women (1791) and then go on to the  radical movement of the 1790s, the risings of the Luddites, the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, the Owenite Feminists,  Chartism, Socialism, trade unions and the long campaign for Votes for Women which started in 1866 and ended in 1918.

The second part of the course  at Aquinas will start in January  2017 and covers the years 1918-1980.

For information about the course fees and how to book, please contact  Sheila Lahan at the Adult Education Unit at Aquinas College, email:   Telephone:  0161 419 9163.


I will also be teaching this  course at the Working Class Movement Library, starting on Tuesday 27th September,  11am to 1pm. It will cover the same topics as the course at Aquinas.  The course will last 10 weeks. Half-term will be 25 October and the course will finish  on   Tuesday 6 December. There will be an opportunity to look at original documents  and items in the collection at the WCML.

The cost of the course at the WCML  will be £60, payable in advance. For more information about the course and how to book, please contact me:






What was the truth about Angel Meadow: “Victorian Britain’s Most Savage Slum” or Poor, But Politically Engaged?

A new book by  Dean Kirby entitled Angel Meadow :Victorian Britain’s  Most Savage Slum has been getting a lot of publicity in the press judging by the book’s website. I have yet to read it, and I am hoping that it’s  a lot better than the publicity indicates  with sensationalist  headlines about gang wars, riots and cholera,  which sounds a lot  like  Victorian  slum fiction  eg  Arthur Morrison  A Child of the Jago or the work  in Manchester of  the Christian evangelist Alfred Alsop. This  is what Alsop wrote in A Deansgate Street, for instance

Upon every side are to be found houses, whose occupiers are returned convicts, sharpers, smashers, thieves, harlots, gaol-birds, fortune-tellers, unlicensed retailers of beer – all of them well-known to the police. Their looks are demonic – their language steeped in blasphemy – the very air is polluted by their horrid curses – their actions lazy, brutal, cowardly, drunken, demoralising – their morals are at the lowest possible strata. The very scum of the city, the very essence of hell seems to be concentrated here (p.3)

I looked at Angel Meadow in my book The Wearing of the Green : A political history of the Irish in  Manchester  (2000)  and have posted below what I wrote then, which  paints a picture of poverty, some criminality (which no doubt went  on in other parts of Manchester) but also a community which was  becoming better off,   as Daniel Hearne  noted in 1846.  I have also added what I wrote about  Daniel Boyle and Daniel McCabe, two Irish Nationalist /Liberal councillors elected for New Cross and St Michael’s, who were  keyed into a network of Catholic  educational  charitable  and and welfare  societies. Does this picture of a  politically engaged community really accord with the  picture of “Victorian  Britain’s  Most Savage  Slum”?   And the use of the word “Savage” seems to me to take us back again to Victorian stereotypes of the Irish and those books that purported to explore “Darkest  England” and report back to a tremulous middle-class readership.

Angel Meadow and Irishtown

This  area was described by Father Sheehan, priest at St. Chads between 1852 and 1891, as “the most densely populated part of town where the poorest, the less educated and the most criminal members of the community live”. The nearby St.Michael’s graveyard was  closed in 1842, but was seen as a continuing health hazard since the coffins were covered by  just over a foot of soil. It quickly became a rubbish dump and rendezvous for gambling and fighting on Sundays. The area seems to have been regarded with apprehension by “respectable”Manchester from quite early on. In May 1825, for instance, the Manchester Guardian reported that a row between an Irish labourer and his “local girl”  had given  rise to “the most extravagant and alarming rumour” that the Irish Catholics had risen in  a body and were murdering all the Protestants who came their way. In 1851 18,437 people lived in Irishtown, of whom 8,048 were either born in Ireland or had two Irish parents. A survey of 10,000 families in the Ancoats, Newtown, Deansgate and Portland Street areas in 1842 (of which 405 families  were Irish) revealed that there were 627 English handloom weavers and 924 Irish.

The Irish brought the habit of making poitin with them from Ireland and the Excise in Manchester in the 1830s and 1840s spent much time trying to stamp out this illicit distillation. Their raids were rarely welcomed by the local population – presumably because poitin was much cheaper than the legal  spirits sold in public houses – and the customs officers and their police escort often went armed.  In November 1831   a raid on Pump Street off George’s Street discovered a still being operated by three women but news of the discovery soon spread. As the Exciseman Joshua Pritchard later wrote

“While we were destroying the concern a great number of Irish collected and the handcuffs being rather too large for them the Officers also used handkerchiefs to assist in securing them, as soon as we left the house the mob, women, rushed instantly upon us whilst the men continued in the rear, we not liking to use violence to the women, they continued in a heap to gather and Mary Lynch was rescued from us and took one of the handkerchiefs before we were aware of her escape, the mob followed us a considerable distance and endeavoured to get up a row, by calling other persons to come to their help.”

A historical study of  Angel Meadow carried out by Mervyn Busteed and Rob Hodgson, using contemporary records, has  revealed that  the Irish were not spread evenly but were  concentrated in particular streets with a majority of Irish residents  in the eastern part of the area near Rochdale Road and also disclosed that   they  tended to live in multiple occupancy. The researchers concluded that, contrary to the views of many contemporary observers, the Irish were not living in the worst accommodation in Angel Meadow, which was down the slope near the  river Irk into which industrial and human waste was frequently dumped. By contrast the Irish lived higher up the slope in streets which were not subject to flooding and away from the smell of the polluted river. To outsiders  these may have seemed small distinctions,  but to those living in the district moving from one house or one street to another was a testament to living life just that little bit better.

Between 1849 and 1851 the Morning Chronicle published regular reports of conditions in the manufacturing towns in the Midlands and the North, many of  included commentary on the living and working conditions of the Irish. This is an extract from the report on Manchester where the reporter Angus Bethune Reach  visited  a cellar in Angel Meadow whose  dwellers were from Westport, County Mayo and lived by making and selling matches. This was not the worst cellar, apparently.

“There were few or no Irish in the houses we had just visited. They live in more wretched places still – the cellars. The place was dark, except for the glare of the  small fire. You could not stand without stooping in the room, which might be about twelve by eight. There were at least a dozen men, women, and children, on stools or squatted on the stone floor around the fire, and the heat and smells were oppressive. This not being a lodging cellar, the police had no control over the number of inmates, who slept huddled on the stones, or on masses of rags, shavings and straw, which were littered about. There was nothing like a bedstead in the place ”.

Reports such as these and others have led to the impression that the cellar-dwellers were literally at the bottom of society –  living in dark, damp, crowded   and unsanitary conditions – and were almost exclusively Irish. Research carried out by Sandra Hayton in the areas of St George’s, Ancoats, London Road, Market Street and Deansgate points to a more complex picture. She concluded that  there were many similarities between  the Irish and non-Irish, although the Irish were over-represented in the  cellar dwelling population.

“However, in occupational terms fewer differences existed. Furthermore, there is little evidence that the Irish alone were condemned to areas of work that were low paid  and had low security and status. Some Irish immigrants had the right to vote and a significant minority of them formed a part of a stable host community at the same address for many years. The restiveness of the Irish cellar dweller was no more marked than among the non-Irish.”

Anecdotal evidence  that life in Irishtown had  improved with the passage of time was provided  by Daniel Hearne at a  public tea-party at the Free Trade Hall on 15th June 1846, held to mark the priest’s departure from St. Patrick’s and from Manchester after many years service. In his address of thanks for the generous presentations and tributes made to him by his parishioners and Protestant, which was reported in the Manchester Guardian,   Hearne said that twenty-one years before he would never have expected to see so many of countrymen and countrywomen so comfortably clothed and assembled around him and “looking like Englishmen and Englishwomen“.

“Living by the roadside, cut off from the rest of the town by vice and rags he found 11,000 Irish Roman Catholics in misery with a few hundreds creeping down the streets to mass on Sunday but a great number were kept away by vice and wretchedness. He came here and conversed with them and now he left 20,000 Irish Roman Catholics in St. Patrick’s  to all of whom was credit due, for what could he have done without their co-operation?”.

Daniel Boyle and Daniel McCabe.

The two Daniels were Manchester’s most prominent Irish Nationalist politicians, both sitting on the City Council and representing adjacent wards with large Irish populations. Daniel McCabe was born in Stockpor, t but spent nearly the whole of his life in Manchester, receiving his education  at the Christian Brothers school  in Livesey Street and later studying at  evening classes in the Mechanics Institution. According to his contemporaries McCabe spoke with an Irish accent, even in middle age, reflecting the close-knit nature of the Irish community in this period. He was a staunch Roman Catholic throughout his life and from a young age was involved with the work of the St. Patrick’s parish, an area he lived in himself despite its poverty. He served as Vice President of the Society of  St.Vincent de Paul, as Superintendent and Registrar at  the St.Patrick’s Sunday School – possibly the largest Catholic Sunday School in the country – and somehow found time to serve on the committees of a host of other Catholic organisations.

McCabe was also active politically in both the Irish National League, where he was president of the Michael Davitt branch, and in the Liberal party, where he was vice-president of the North Manchester Liberal Association. This dual membership and activity reflected the prevailing political wisdom that only the Liberal party would ever deliver Home Rule for the Irish people. McCabe’s political activity culminated in his election to the City Council  in 1889 for the St.Michael’s ward,  an area with a large Irish population and which part of the parish of St.Patrick’s. He served on the Market, Cleansing and Watch committees and in 1892 became a Justice of the Peace, only the second Roman Catholic to be so appointed. He was regarded as a model of what a Catholic public man should be – hard-working, respectable and devoted to both his religion and his public duties.

In November 1913  Daniel became Manchester’s first Catholic Lord Mayor. In his speech to the Council he drew attention to a number of urgent issues facing the city, in particular the need for clean air and the growing housing shortage, which he believed the council must act to solve. “If private enterprise fails to meet the growing demand for houses the Corporation must not stand idly by. The people must be housed and properly housed. Our future as a nation  depends upon the health, intelligence and skill of the workers and health cannot be had in full measure without proper house accommodation”.  The new Lord Mayor being unmarried, his sister Mrs O’Neill served as Lady Mayoress. The inauguration of the Lord Mayor was traditionally marked with a service at the Cathedral but Daniel was unable to attend, because in those days Catholics were still forbidden to enter Protestant churches. There were some attempts to stir up controversy in the press  over this but public opinion was with Daniel in acting in accordance with his beliefs. A service of thanksgiving was held at Salford Cathedral to which his colleagues on the council were invited.

Daniel Boyle was born in January  1859 near Lough Melvin in County Fermanagh, the son of a farmer. In 1877 he left his home to come to Manchester  where he found employment with the Midland Railway Company where he stayed until 1889. He  became active in the Irish National league and was  Secretary of the branch in the East Manchester constituency. His talents were soon noticed and, after assisting in the organisation of the INL convention in Manchester, he was asked by T. P. O’Connor to accept the position as representative of the Irish party in Lancashire and Cheshire. He was also very  active in the Irish National Foresters – a sick and burial friendly society- travelling in his spare time at weekends to establish branches in the North and Midlands and acting as head of the society on several occasions as well as secretary of the Manchester district. Boyle also found time to act as the Manchester correspondent of the Freemans’ Journal and as vice-president of the Catholic Registration Society.

In 1894 Boyle  was elected to the City Council for New Cross ward – adjoining St. Michael’s – which was the largest ward in the city and contained  many Irish voters. On average Boyle  polled 290 more votes than  his fellow Liberal, invariably an Englishman, in this two member ward and by 1906 was attracting  over 600 extra votes. On the Council he  served on the Watch, Markets and  Highways Committee. Soon after his  election he lobbied and led delegations against a proposal to build huge lodging-houses and persuaded the Council to build cottage dwellings instead. He was also  involved in the re-organisation of the Manchester City Police which had become widely corrupt, a work of some years. In May 1897 the local monthly magazine Manchester Faces and Places described him thus.

“It is as much by character as by speech that Mr Boyle has so soon secured the respect and ear of the assembly. Sound sense, good humour and the wit which is the dower of the Irish race – these are the qualities which tell powerfully for the cause for the cause he may be advocating. On the platform Mr Boyle….. is an  orator. His voice is sonorous and musical….and when particularly he speaks on politics he gives the ring and earnestness and even of passion. Just the touch of the accent of his country  aids rather  than mars the effect of his speech.”

Perhaps Boyle’s  most lasting contribution to Manchester was taking on the complex task of organising the replacement of the Corporation’s horse-drawn trams by a modern electric system, which was  inaugurated in 1901. Speaking at the banquet to celebrate the opening, he  said that the object was to provide a good service with the best possible conditions, and, not least, to give the ratepayers a decent return on their capital. Soon the service was responsible for 140 miles of track with 450 tramcars travelling 30,000 miles a day and carrying 130 million passengers.” Mancunian wits  dubbed it “Dan Boyle’s light railway”.  Boyle also had a strong interest in the welfare of the workers on the tram system  and revolutionised the conditions of service, reducing the hours from 70 to 54, increasing pay and giving a week’s paid holiday while still making enough money on the trams to contribute a large sum  in relief of rates. There were some accusations by political opponents that you had to be Irish to get a job on the trams, accusations angrily refuted at a public election meeting in November 1906. That same year he was the only municipal candidate endorsed by the local Trades Union Council.

Both Boyle and McCabe were on the progressive wing of the Liberal party, supporting  the municipalisation of essential services and decent working conditions for council employees. Indeed on many issues they had more in common with the emerging Independent Labour Party than many members of their own party.  In a speech at Shamrock Hall, Ancoats in July 1895 McCabe told his audience that Nationalists wanted as speedily as possible to bring about the freedom of Ireland and they believed that they could best do this by continuation of their alliance with the Liberals. He recognised, however, that were many at the meeting who were favourable to the labour movement.

“He above all others had not one word to say against the Labour party, and he believed that, above all other men, the Irishmen of this country had nothing to say against any party that went for the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes. The Irishmen in this country had to earn their bread from the sweat of their brows, and whatever was good for the working people and for the bettering of their condition would be to the advantage of the Irish masses in England. But he for one believed that the Irish alliance with the Liberal party would more certainly bring about the improvement in the condition of labour than by following the Labour party at the present moment”.

In 1896 they had supported the right of the Independent Labour Party to hold meetings at Boggart Hole Clough when the police and corporation did their best to stamp out socialist meetings by arresting speakers, including Emmeline Pankhurst. Some Irish Nationalists, however,  were wary of being  seen to be linked too closely with Socialists. When  for instance Richard Pankhurst  stood for parliament in Gorton in the general election of 1895 the Irish Nationalists refused to back him. Emmeline went to Liverpool to plead with T P O’Connor for the Irish vote but he replied “We have nothing but admiration for your husband, but we cannot support the people he is mixed up with”. Pankhurst was unsuccessful, losing to a Tory.  Sylvia Pankhurst  later commented in her book The Suffragette Movement “Thus…..the Irish Party officially refused its support to the man who, of all candidates, had been first and most staunch in upholding their demands”.  There was less unease about the Labour Representation Committee (later the Labour Party) where socialists were in a minority. In the   1906  general election J R Clynes and G D Kelley stood in Manchester constituencies and were backed by the Irish. John Redmond came to Manchester to congratulate them on the victory and looked forward to the time when the party formed a majority in the Commons for “the labour representatives….are our best friends”. In December 1910 Clynes, after his re-election,  visited the United Irish League branch in New Cross to thank the Irish who had worked for him in the general election campaign.  Thus by the First World War Labour had replaced the Liberals in north east Manchester as the favoured party amongst Irish working class voters, although it took the events of the war to completely sever the Irish connection with the Liberal party.

Mr Eugene Garvey was kind enough to send me a copy of  the programme  for a “Conversazione” and “Send-off” organised by the Manchester and Salford District of the United Irish League of Great  Britain for Dan Boyle, which took place in the Marble  Hall, Albion Hotel, Manchester on Friday 9th September 1910 and was reported in the Manchester Guardian. Boyle was leaving for the United States on what was described in the programme as a “mission to the Irish Race of America” in the company of  fellow MPs John Redmond, T. P. O’Connor and Joe Devlin. Boyle was to tour the northern states. The evening was chaired by Daniel McCabe and the programme consisted of familiar songs – “Ireland A Nation”, “Men of the West”, “Paddies Evermore” and “the Boys of Wexford” interspersed by Toasts, one of which was made by John Dulanty (later the  Irish High Commissioner in London), who described Boyle as “the spearhead of the shaft of the Irish forces in Irish forces in this vicinity”. Replying to the toast Dan Boyle said that he looked upon his selection as one of the mission to the United States as a compliment to the Irishmen of Great Britain, who had shown unswerving fidelity to the Irish cause through trying times.

“I believe that this is a period for the rank and file of the party to stand solidly and unitedly behind their leaders, to do the thinking and working out of the plan of campaign. I believe at the present time we have leaders – I do not say merely a leader – who deserve, command, aye and receive a full measure of the confidence of the Irish people, whether in Ireland, in England or America. As a result of the statesmanship and diplomacy that these leaders have shown I believe our cause is nearer accomplishment than it ever was, and as Mr. Redmond recently said at Kilkenny, even the stars in the courses are working for Home Rule”.

At 10pm the assembled guests were asked by the programme to proceed to Exchange Station  “and there a hearty ‘send-off’ will be given to the Envoy on his mission to our kinsmen overseas”. Dinner eaten  and toasts drunk, this was duly done, although Boyle and his  wife actually set off  to Ireland to visit his constituency in Mayo North  before joining his companions for the voyage to the United States, where they attended the conference of the National Convention of the United Irish League. The visit was denounced by Sinn Fein. Boyle had been elected as an MP f earlier that year and remained one until the Sinn Fein landslide of 1918 when he was defeated by the Sinn Fein candidate Dr Crawley who gained 7,429 votes to Boyle’s 1,761.He died in 1925.

Daniel McCabe was knighted in due course and appointed by the King as Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire. It was in that official  capacity that on 29th December 1918 he welcomed Woodrow Wilson to Lancashire when the President of the United States arrived at London Road station at five in the evening on the occasion of his visit to Manchester. McCabe died the following year and  was buried in Moston cemetery where his tomb can be seen directly opposite the main entrance. His photograph hangs in Committee Room Four of the Town Hall and he is also remembered in the same building by a bronze relief in the sculpture hall.




a short history of Manchester’s first May Day marches in the 1890s

walter-crane-a-garland-for-may-day-1895On 1 May 1892 Manchester workers marched for the first time in a mass labour demonstration for a shorter working week and an independent political voice. It was part of a worldwide movement as unskilled workers organised in mass trades unions and Socialism developed a mass political following.

May Day was instituted as an international Labour Day from 1890 onwards. The impetus came in part from a long-running campaign to reduce the working day to 8 hours. In September 1866 the International Workingmen’s Association (otherwise known as the First International) meeting in Geneva passed a resolution adopting 8 hours as a goal. In October 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades & Labor Unions of the United States and Canada also passed a resolution calling for an 8 hour day from 1 May 1886.

In May 1886 tens of thousands of workers responded across the United States. The most militant city was Chicago, where on 3 May the police shot dead six strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. In response strikers organised a massive rally the following day at Haymarket Square. The rally was peaceful but as it ended somone threw a bomb into police ranks. This was followed by a savage battle in which a number of police died, as well as members of the crowd. There was a political show trial of a number of anarchists, of whom four were convicted and hanged. They become known as the Haymarket Martyrs.

anarchsist of ChicagoOn 14 July 1889 the Second International meeting in Paris called workers around the world to march on 1 May 1890 for an 8 hour day.

The Congress decided to organize a great international demonstration, so that:

“in all countries and in all cities on one appointed day the toiling masses shall demand of the state authorities the legal reduction of the working day to eight hours, as well as the carrying out of other decisions of the Paris Congress. Since a similar demonstration has already been decided upon for May 1, 1890, by the American Federation of Labor at its Convention in St. Louis, December, 1888, this day is accepted for the international demonstration. The workers of the various countries must organize this demonstration according to conditions prevailing in each country.”

This coincided with a new mood amongst unskilled workers, hitherto ignored or excluded by the trades union movement, which had largely organised skilled male workers only. In July 1888, for instance, women workers at the Bryant & May match factory in East London went on strike and won with the support of Socialists. The following year there was a massive dock strike in London involving thousands of dock labourers, which brought the miles of docks to a halt. The result was victory for the workers leading to higher pay, better working conditions and a new union for unskilled workers, The Dock, Wharf, Riverside & General Labourers Union. The strike was led by trade unionists and Socialists including Tom Mann, John Burns, Ben Tillett and Will Thorne.

For the first time Socialist ideas were getting a mass audience. John Burns wrote of the importance of the dispute after it had been won:

“Still more important perhaps, is the fact that labour of the humbler kind has shown its capacity to organize itself; its solidarity; its ability. The labourer has learned that combination can lead him to anything and everything. He has tasted success as the immediate fruit of combination, and he knows that the harvest he has just reaped is not the utmost he can look to gain. Conquering himself, he has learned that he can conquer the world of capital whose generals have been the most ruthless of his oppressors.”

On May Day 1890 there were strikes and marches in many part of the United States and Europe. Frederick Engels wrote:

As I write these lines, the proletariat of Europe and America is holding a review of its forces; it is mobilized for the first time as One army, under One Bag, and fighting One immediate aim: an eight-hour working day, established by legal enactment…. The spectacle we are now witnessing will make the capitalists and landowners of all lands realize that today the proletarians of all lands are, in very truth, united. If only Marx were with me to see it with his own eyes!

The London march to Hyde Park was huge, with perhaps 100,000 attending. Engels wrote an account in the newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung:

“There can be no doubt about that: on May 4, 1890, the English working class joined the great international army. And that is an epoch-making fact. The English proletariat has its roots in the most advanced industrial development and, moreover, possesses the greatest freedom of political movement. Its long slumber — a result, on the one hand, of the failure of the Chartist movement of 1836-50 and, on the other, of the colossal industrial upswing of 1848-80 — is finally broken. The grandchildren of the old Chartists are stepping into the line of battle.”

The success in London was repeated in 1891,  and Manchester followed with its own march in 1892.

On 16 April 1892 The Clarion reported that a “a great labour demonstration” was being planned for Manchester for 1 May. Trade union and labour societies were requested to communicate with Mr James Quinn at the County Forum, 50a Market Street. (The County Forum was a debating society). Organising meetings were to be held every Thursday.

On the day before the march Robert Blatchford wrote a millenarian editorial in The Clarion:

“The people will meet , that is the main thing. We shall see each other face to face, feel each other should to shoulder, hear each other voice to voice, trust each other soul to soul and we shall go away open-eyed and conscious of a change. we shall have felt our strength, imagined our numbers, seen as a vision of the world the golden dawn streak of the day of our deliverance, and our triumph. Manhood suffrage and payment of members! What are these? They are as candles to the sun in comparison with the new LABOUR DAY. …Our labour day as bind us as corn in the sheaf. The sturdy miner, the skilful engineer, the broad-handed navvy, the white-fingered artist, the lusty farmer, the fragile seamstress, the outcasts of the streets, the despised denizens of the slums, the sweater’s slave the hearty sailor. Strong and weak, feeble and brave, old and young, simple and wise, the workers shall band themselves together in fraternity and freedom. They shall march on from this labour day growing ever wiser, nobler and juster until there is honour for those who make more than those who mar, reward for those who labour better than for those who loaf, until snobbery and prejudice, and theft and butchery are banished into the Hell they came from; until Labour shall hold that which it wins, and England shall be the freehold and the home and inheritance of the English.”

The procession was to assemble in Stevenson Square at 2.30pm and march to Alexandra Park by way of Oldham Street, Piccadilly, Portland Street, Oxford Street, Stretford Road, Great Jackson Street, Preston Street, Moss Lane and Alexandra Road. The order of procession was advertised as follows

The Manchester Fabian Societies
Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants
Bakers & Confectioners
The Labour Church
Shirt & Jacket Makers
Salford Social Democrats
North East Manchester Labour Electoral
Spindle & Flyer Makers
Horsehair & Fibre Workers
Dressers, Dyers & Finishers
Enginemen & Cranemen
Navvies & Bricklayers
North Manchester Labour Electoral

According to the report in the Manchester Guardian, a white ensign headed the procession with the slogan “Work for all, Overwork for None”. Other banners stated “Unity is Strength” and “Equality by Right, Justice to All”. Members of the Labour Church carried a banner stating “God Is Our King”,  while the Social Democratic Federation contingent carried red flags and a red cap on a pole (the symbol of the French Revolution).

Due to the numbers the procession moved off before the appointed time and was enlivened by at least a dozen bands. The Manchester Guardian noted that watching crowds, especially women, cheered the mottos in favour of the 8 hour day. In Hulme the march was greeted by large crowd and “something like the fervour of enthusiasm.” The march reached the park at about 4pm with at least 60,000 people now present.

At the park there were six platforms with a mix of trade union and Socialist speakers who advocated the following political programme;
1. Formation of an Independent Labour Party
2. Payment of MPs
3. Shorter Parliaments
4. Adult suffrage
5. Nationalisation of the land.

On one of the platforms Robert Blatchford moved the following resolution:

“That this meeting recognises that the establishment of a working day of not more than 8 hours is the most immediate step towards the ultimate emancipation of the workers and urges upon the Government the necessity of fixing a working day by legislative enactment.”

One of the platforms was reserved for Jewish speakers who spoke in Yiddish, including Mr Wess from London. This platform was chaired by Mr R Abrahams, who said that he hoped that next year Jews would be more numerous. There do not seem to have been any women speakers and women’s suffrage was not included as an aim.

In 1893 Manchester Council tried to stop the march taking place, turning down an application from 35 trades unions to use Alexandra Park. According to a report in The Clarion, the Corporation Parks Committee had deemed it:

“…inadvisable that Sunday demonstrations should be held in the public parks and considers that unless desired by a considerable section of the Manchester citizens they should not be permitted. This meeting believes the present application is not of such a nature to warrant such permission and therefore declines to grant it.

Leonard Hall, chair of the demonstration committee, wrote to The Clarion to state that the march was a labour demonstration open to all, and not an Independent Labour Party or Socialist demonstration. After more public protests, permission to use the park was eventually granted.

Manchester was alive with socialist organisations and activity. In the week before the 1893 march The Clarion carried notices for meetings of the Independent Labour Party in various parts of Manchester and Salford as well as a “gigantic” excursion to Morecambe on Whit Friday.The Social Democratic Federation, Hyde Labour Club, Ashton ILP, Oldham Independent Labour Club, North Manchester Fabians and  Manchester Anarchist Group all  held public meetings. Joe Waddington (known as “Clarion” Joe) sold The Clarion, Labour Prophet, Labour Leader, Workman Times, Shafts, A Paper for Women and “Socialistic” literature from his shop at 4a Crown Street, Chester Road. The printers and publsihers, Manchester Labour Press,  was based at 59 Tib Street.

The march took place on 6 May leaving from Stevenson Square at 2.30pm. The Clarion reported that it had been attended by 20,000. In his editorial Blatchford attacked the “city fathers” who had tried to stop them using the park and the Chief Constable who had deployed very large numbers of police who were threatening to the crowd, pushing people off pavements.

In 1894 the authorities refused to allow the use of Alexandra Park and instead the march went to Philips Park in Openshaw. The tradition of May Day marches continued for a century until it ceased in the wake of trade union decline and defeat. In recent years the tradition of a May Day labour procession has been revived,  although the numbers attending  at present are but a fraction of those who attended in the early years.



“ Revolutions are made about little things”: Socialist Women and International Women’s Day, 1909 to 1979

The contribution of socialist women to the instigation of International Women’s Day seems to have been virtually written out of the history of the Day. So here’s my  small effort to put them back into the picture,  and also  recall   a number of  radical and revolutionary women over the past century.

On 5th March 1908, 15,000 women garment workers, including many immigrants, marched through New York City’s Lower East Side to rally at Union Square to demand economic and political rights. In May 1908, the Socialist Party of America declared that the last Sunday in February would be a National Women’s Day.

Leonora O'Reilly

The first National Women’s Day was celebrated on 28 February 1909. In her article on the origins of  International Women’s Day Alicia Williamson writes: “Turning out a few thousand celebrants, meetings around the city featured addresses by prominent suffragists such as the Women Trade Union League’s Leonora O’Reilly and the Political Equality League’s Priscilla Hackstaff in addition to socialists like Anita Block, Meta Stern, Meyer London, and Algernon Lee. Besides chanting the slogan that O’Reilly had recently coined at a protest in Albany (‘We do not want the ballot, we need it’), speakers lambasted elite conservative opponents. London in particular derided the privileged, male politician who would sermonize about the ‘sanctity of the home’ while sending ‘our children to the shop,’ or who would ‘meet a lady in a car, tip his hat, and offer a seat, but refuse to make a law that [would] provide a seat for a woman who works for ten hours a day in a factory.'”

Strikers in 1909In November 1909 Clara Lemlich led thousands of women workers in New York, mostly Jewish, out on strike  after she declared at a meeting: “ I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike”.  After a three months strike they won better working conditions and improved pay.

On 26 and 27 August 1910, the second International Women’s  Socialist Conference took place  in Copenhagen. (The first meeting had taken place in 1907 at the suggestion of German Socialist women). German Socialists Luise Zietz, Kate Duncker, Clara Zetkin and others successfully proposed the following motion:

“In order to forward political enfranchisement of women it is the duty of the Socialist women of all countries to agitate..indefatigably amongst the labouring masses; enlighten them by discourses and literature about the social necessity and importance of the female sex and use therefore every opportunity of doing so…if the women have no vote, or a limited one, the socialist women must unite and guide them into the struggle for their right; …On the occasion of the annual May day demonstration…the request of full political equality of the sexes must be proclaimed and substantiated. In agreement with the class-conscious political and trade union organisations of the proletariat in their country the socialist women of all nationalities have to organise a special Women’s Day which in the first line has to promote Women’s Suffrage propaganda. This demand must be discussed in connection with the whole women’s organisation according to the socialist conception of social things.”

Alexandra Kollontai

Alexandra Kollontai

This is part of  a report on the conference written by the Russian revolutionary, Alexandra Kollontai.  “The conference agenda included, in addition to the organisational question of establishing closer links between organised socialist women from different countries, two major issues: 1) ways and means of achieving in practice universal suffrage for women and 2) social security and protection for mother and child. Despite these seemingly specifically female topics, the conference in Copenhagen was free of that sickly-sweet ‘feminine flavour’ which provokes such irrepressible boredom in the practical politician who is used to the ‘cut and thrust’ of real political battle… The questions discussed at the conference were examined not only from the point of view of the common tasks of proletarian class policy, but were also, and inevitably, supplemented with more general demands. The fate of Finland, a country with an extremely democratic system of popular representation, the question of war, peace and the fight against militarism, the struggle against domestic manufacture and night work, compelled those taking part in the congress to move beyond the narrow framework of feminine issues and, having become more familiar with wide-ranging, urgent issues, to join in the active struggle being waged by the many millions who compose the army of the organised working class…  (International Socialist Conferences of Women Workers )

Clara ZetkinClara Zetkin was the leading campaigner within the German Socialists on the issue of women’s rights. This is a link to a speech she made at the Party Congress of the German Social Democratic Party on 16th October 1896,  “Only in Conjunction With the Proletarian Woman Will Socialism Be Victorious”.  Between 1892 and 1917 she edited Die Gleichheit (Freedom), a bi-montly journal for women workers with a circulation of tens of thousands. Her writings were translated in English and read abroad. In April 1909 she visited London at the invitation of Dora Montefiore, speaking at a number of meetings, including the annual May Day rally in Hyde Park. In December 1913 the British Labour party journal Labour Woman published an article by Clara which you can read here. Clara was a close friend of Rosa Luxembourg who, after moving to Germany from Poland, became  one of the most pro speakers and propagandists in the German Socialist party.

On 19 March 1911, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.  Looking back, Alexandra Kollonta wrote in 1920: “Germany and Austria on Working Women’s Day was one seething, trembling sea of women. Meetings were organized everywhere – in the small towns and even in the villages halls were packed so full that they had to ask male workers to give up their places for the women.This was certainly the first show of militancy by the working woman. Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings. During the largest street demonstrations, in which 30,000 were taking part, the police decided to remove the demonstrators’ banners: the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament.”

In 1913 the Day was fixed on 8 March.  One of the earliest marches in Britain took place in London on 8 March 1914, when there was a march from Bow in the East End to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage. The women were marching to join a meeting organised by the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. The Manchester Guardian reported:

“The first part of the procession, which was headed by boys and young men , dressed in a sort of cowboy dress, had just entered the square when Miss Sylvia Pankhurst got off the bus…her arrest was effected as soon as she stepped into the street . and though she endeavoured to force her way into the procession she was hurried away in a taxicab before the main body of the processionalists realised she had been captured. When the fact became known there was a wild rush in the direction taken by the cab, but the police, after a brief tussle, restored order and the procession joined the meeting in the square. …Miss Patterson exclaimed, ‘We feel that the time has come for action. Follow the flags. See if we can find something to do’ and proceeded towards Whitehall with strong contingent of men, women and boys …The arrest of Miss Patterson was a signal for wild disorder, many of her supporters throwing themselves on her captors. Eventually mounted police dispersed the crowd. Altogether ten persons were arrested”.  Manchester Guardian, 9 March 1914, p.9.

Russian womne revolutionariesRussian women  revolutionaries

At the end of February  1917  Russian women went on strike and  poured  onto the streets of St Petersburg,  calling for “Bread and Peace: they  demanded an  end of World War I, an end to food shortages, and and an end to rule by the Tsar.   Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”

RosaIn January 1919 Rosa Luxembourg was murdered and her body thrown into a canal in Berlin after a failed rising  by the Spartacist League, a Communist  group she had helped found. In her last editorial   before her death, “Order Prevails in Berlin”   in her newspaper Rote Fahne (Red Banner)  she wrote:

“The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this ‘defeat’ they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this ‘defeat.’ ‘Order prevails in Berlin!’ You foolish lackeys! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will ‘rise up again, clashing its weapons,’ and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am,  I shall be!” You can read the whole article here.

front cover Labour Woman July 1925Between the wars International Women’s Day continued to be celebrated in different countries. There was also other  women’s  activity  connected with  the  labour and socialist movement. In June  1925   women  in the Labour  Party held a Women’s  Week  with  meetings and  rallies in many parts of the country at which the speakers included Ellen Wilkinson,  Mary Carlin, Jane Hooper, Margaret Bondfield, Clare Annesley, Helen Crawfurd and many others.  In Kirkmuirhall on 6 June  the Women’s  Section organised a Children’s Gala. Labour Woman reported  that : “Over 500 children met at the ILP Hall and marched to a field, headed by the Coalbrun and District  Pipe Band , which refused a paid engagement  that day in order to lead the children. Tea was served by memener sof the section, and after tea Sports were held at which £8 worth of prizes were given to the children. Every child received something.” In Lincoln, despite the stormy weather the women held a successful  rally.  “A procession headed by bands and banners marched to Boultham Hall Park and included a decorated char-a-banc  and waggons representative of various planks  in albour’s programme. A novel feature was decorated  lorry which represented Englan’s , and especailly Lincolm’s, need of trade with Russia.”

17_year_old_communist_militant_1936_posters-r61b8dc1b5fc647d3800e2e1fb65b3a90_2xapx_8byvr_512In Spain when the Army, led by Franco and other generals,  staged a coup on 17 July 1936 which led to  a three year Civil War,   they were fought and defeated in many towns by local workers’ militia. Many women  joined the militia and fought who  were known as “milicianas.  Once the initial phase of the Civil War  was over, though,  they were sent home. The  photograph to the left   shows 17 year old  Marina Ginestà on the rooftop of the Hotel Colon in Barcelona on 21 July  1936. She was a member of the United Socialist  Party of Catalonia and was reporting on the war, assisting Mikhail Koltsov from Pravda.  Later in the war she was evacuated to France after she was wounded.  She died  in Paris in January 2014 , aged 94. When she was shown the photograph  Marina  said  “It reflects the feeling we had at that moment. Socialism had arrived, the customers of the hotel had left. There was euphoria. We temporarily set ourselves up at the Colón, we ate well, as if the bourgeois life were ours and we had moved up in category very quickly.”

The second wave of feminism began in 1967 in the USA, developing out of the radical and anti-Vietnam movement. The first major Women’s Liberation Movement demonstration took place on 7 September 1968 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, outside the Miss America About 400 women were drawn together from across the United States to a protest outside the event. You can watch a short clip of this here.

The movement crossed the Atlantic and struck a chord amongst women involved in the radical left, many of them Marxists.  In their history of the movement, Sweet Freedom,  Anna Coote and Bea Campbell wrote that: ” Contrary to popular belief, the new feminists were not foot loose and fancy-free; most were married and freshly acquainted with motherhood…Many were members of the left-wing intelligentsia –a staunchly masculine society in which women were active and committed, yet felt themselves confined to the periphery.”

Women’s rights were already in the air after women workers at Fords in Dagenham and Halewood went on strike for three weeks  for equal pay in August 1968. Janet Blackman commented in an article in Trade Union Register that:

“The strike of nearly 400 Ford women machinists at Dagenham and Halewood last summer lifted the old boring subject of the unequal treatment of women on to a different plane. Yes, boring, because of the rut into which the campaign had stuck…The Ford women machinists swung the debate about women’s rights away from the concerns – albeit very real problems – of the middle class and professional women to those of the woman worker, successfully perhaps for the first time since the match girls’ strike of 1888. By September, 1968 the TUC was passing a resolution supporting industrial action as a possible means of obtaining equal pay.”

Black Dwarf Year of the Militant WomanIn  January 1969 the New Left  journal The  Black  Dwarf proclaimed that 1969 would be “The Year of the Militant Women.” Sheila Rowbotham  edited this issue and  in her own contribution, “The Struggle for Freedom,”  she wrote:

Oh so you’ve heard it all before
Ok so you’re bored
But meanwhile
We still get less pay for the same work as you
We are still less likely to get jobs which are at all meaningful
In which we have any responsibility
We are less likely to be educated, less likely to be unionised
The present setup of the family puts great strains on us
Either we are struggling to combine badly paid work with bringing up a family or we are unable to do work for which we’ve been trained

The area of taboo on our sexuality is much more extensive
and the double standard still pervasive
Some women still never experience orgasm.
So what are we complaining about.

All this and something else besides

A much less tangible something – a smouldering , bewildered consciousness with no shape – a muttered dissatisfaction – which suddenly shoots to the surface and EXPLODES.

We want to drive buses, play football, use beer mugs not glasses. We want men to take the pill. We do not want to be brought with bottles or invited as wives. We do not want to be wrapped in cellophane or sent off to make the tea or shuffled onto the social committee
But these are only little things
Revolutions are made about little things
Little things which happen to you all the time, every day
Wherever you go, all your life.

Sheila then wrote a lengthy  pamphlet called Women’s Liberation and the New Politics, published by the May Day Manifesto group in 1969, and went on to write many influential books on feminism and on women’s history.  The first Women’s Liberation newsletter came out in May 1969, produced by the London Women’s Liberation Workshop. It was originally called Harpie’s Bizarre, and after issue 3, Shrew.

In  February 1970 the first Women’s  Liberation conference took place over a weekend at Ruskin College, Oxford, with hundreds of women  attending, whilst the men ran the creche.   Catherine Hall went, who was involved with a women’s group in Birmingham and had come to feminist consciousness after having her first child. She later described  it as a “utopian moment . . . It’s hard to convey now the excitement of discovering what it meant to be a woman, and to have a language to talk about that, and not conceiving of it as an individual issue, but a collective and social issue. ” Michelene Wandor also went and recalled:

“For me the Ruskin weekend was an exhilarating and confusing revelation. It was, I think, the first time I had been away from children and husband, away from my secure home structure. Here I was surrounded by about six hundred women, all far more politically sophisticated than I was, all seemingly articulate and knowledgeable about the role of women in history, the position of women in today’s world: who could formulate profound questions about the relationship between class, gender and race, who could simultaneously quote and criticise Marx (whom I had not read) and who seemed hell-bent on changing the world our self-image as women.”

In November 1970 the movement gained national attention when a group disrupted the Miss World contest at the Albert Hall, hurling flour  and smoke bombs  during Bob Hope’s act. Sarah Wilson  was chosen to start the protest. “When Bob Hope was going on and on with terrible, grotesque stuff, I got up and swung my football rattle. It seemed ages before anybody responded – people were lighting their cigarettes to ignite the smoke bombs – but then I saw stuff beginning to cascade down.” You can watch the protest  here.

WL march 1971

The next key event in spreading the movement was the first Women’s Liberation march which  took place on 6 March 1971 in London. This was planned imaginatively with banners, a twelve foot Old Woman’s Shoe, a  woman  in cage wearing a tiara,  as well as co-ordinated dancing and music.  There were a good few children on the march.   You can watch videos of the march  here and here.   Jill Tweedie  reported  on the march  for The Guardian.   She wrote:

“All demonstrations are fleshed-out polemics, happenings that have more to do with reinforcing solidarity within the ranks than luring spectators from pavement or box – conversions will come later, as fallout comes. And so it was with the Women’s Lib demo on Saturday. I went unreasoningly fearful that me and my friend Ivy would be alone stomping down Regent Street, running the sneering gauntlet of Saturday shoppers. But there they were at Hyde Park Corner, all the lovely sisters, giggling and shivering and bawdy and prim, and I turned and turned again, gloating at the numbers before and behind, my motley frost-defying sex.”

You can read the whole report here.

May HobbsMay Hobbs

This is a short television report on Women’s Liberation from 1971 with a number  of interviews,  including one with May Hobbs,  who was organising women  nightcleaners into a union, with the support of some Women’s  Liberation activists.   May spoke at the march in 1971  mentioned above.  You can watch the report  here.

Red RagThe Socialist-Feminist current within Women’s Liberation was very strong  until the end of the  1970s with  numerous groups and networks, some connected to socialist political organisations, some not. The publications they  produced  included Bristol Women’s CharterIS Women’s  Newsletter,  Red Rag, Scarlet Women, Socialist Woman, Women In Action,  Women’s Struggle Notes and Women’s  Voice.  There were many women involved:  a  national Socialist-Feminist conference in Manchester in  1978 attracting over 1,000 women, for instance. In their first issue the collective producing Red Rag wrote:

“We stand for a revolutionary change  in society, for ending capitalism and establishing socialism. We challenge whatever and whoever denies the right of  women to be free – from economic inequality and from the tyranny of the role forced upon them in our society. Our aim is to help build  an alliance between women liberators and the working class movement.”

At the  end of the 1970s the movement went in many different directions, and this seems a good place therefore  to end this brief survey. My thanks to Alicia Williamson for allowing  me to quote from her article.


Further reading

Anna Coote and Bea Campbell, Sweet Freedom: the struggle for women’s liberation (1982)

Elzbieta Etinger, Rosa Luxembourg: a Life (1986)

Shulamith Firestone, The Women’s Rights Movement in the USA  (1968)

Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is Political” and other writings

Bernadette Hyland, Northern ReSisters; conversations with radical  women  (2015)

Feminist Anthology Collective (editors), No Turning Back: Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement 1975-1980 (1981)

May Hobbs, Born to Struggle (1973)

Sarah Maitland, Very Heaven: Looking Back at the 1960s (1988)

Juliet Mitchell, “Women: The Longest Revolution”, New Left Review, December 1966,

Juliet Mitchell, Woman’s Estate (1971)

Robin Morgan, Sisterhood Is Powerful, an anthology of writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement (1970)

Angela Neustatter, Hyenas in Petticoats, a look at twenty years of feminism (1989)

Redstockings Archive Project

Sheila Rowbotham, Women’s Consciousness, Man’s World (1973)

Shelia Rowbotham, Dream and Dilemmas: collected writings (1983)

Sheila Rowbotham, Promise of a Dream: Remembering the Sixties (2000)

Marsha Rowe (editor), Spare Rib Reader: 100 issues of Women’s Liberation (1982)

See Red Women’s Workshop archive site

Lynne Segal, Making Trouble: Life and Politics (2007)

Sisterhood and After : an Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement. A series of interviews on the British Library website

Michelene Wandor, The Body Politic (1972)

Michelene Wandor, Once a Feminist, Stories of a Generation (1990)

Clara  Zetkin, Selected Writings, edited by Philp S Foner.




Course on Radical Women 1914-1979

IMG_1570Radical Women 1914-1979

This 10 week course will begin on 4 January 2016, 6.30pm-8.30pm, at Aquinas College, Stockport. The course will include women peace campaigners during the First World War,  women councillors in the 1920s, equal rights campaigns, women Hunger Marchers, women volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, women’s role in the Second World War,  the work of Joan Littlewood and Shelagh Delaney, the fight for equal pay and the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s.

As part of the course there will be a walk around Manchester city centre and a visit to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.
The course will be taught by Michael Herbert, author of “Up Then Brave Women; Manchester’s Radical Women 1819-1918
For more information or to book places, please contact Sheila Lahan; Tel: 0161 419 9163