In March 1928 working-class women marched in Scotland and London, organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain. This is a forgotten event. I only know of it because the Working Class Movement Library has a copy of the pamphlet The March of the Women which I came across in the course of research for my course at the library on Radical Women.
In the introduction Beth Turner, the Communist Party’s National Women’s Organiser, writes:
“International Womens Day, 1928, stands out as a landmark in the history of British working women.
For the first time in their lives, many women broke away from the traditions that in the past had chained them in silent submissive slavery to the factory or the drudgery of poverty-stricken homes, and came out in the streets to protest against the infamous conditions inflicted on them and their children by British capitalism.
Three hundred of them travelled from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Notts, Durham and South Wales under conditions of extreme discomfort, and at the cost of tremendous sacrifice in order to register that protest in London – the heart of the Empire and the seat of the capitalist government.
Real working-class unity and a living spirit of comradeship were exhibited by the London women, who had worked for three weeks beforehand, preparing a welcome for women they had never seen before, raising money for food and to assist with fares, opening their homes and their hearts to strange women for the simple reason that they were fellow working women, engaged in the same grim struggle as themselves against the capitalist class.
This was comradeship made real, and unity of the working-class no longer a mere slogan but a living, warm and human thing.
No wonder that the women from the provinces were overcome by the welcome they received. Some of them had been waging a bitter struggle almost alone in stark mining villages among the black hills, or in the hard life of the textile areas. In London they found themselves surrounded by a circle of friends, admired and encouraged, marching with light hearts to the music of bands – no longer individuals battling alone, but honourable members of the great army of workers marching towards the emancipation of the toilers of the earth.
It is fitting that a souvenir of such an event should be in existence, and this is one of the reasons why this little booklet is published. It is also necessary that an event of such historical importance as International Women’s Day, 1928, and the details of its organisation should be placed on record as a guide.
It was a genuine movement of the rank women members of the Labour Party, Co-operative Guilds, and even unorganised women towards class unity under the leadership of the Communist Party. Leaders of the official Labour movement tried to sabotage the demonstration , either by ignoring it, or, as was done by the “Daily Herald,” definitely attempting to prevent knowledge of it reaching the masses of women by refusing paid advertisements of conferences called for the purpose of organising the demonstration.
In spite of sabotage, the demonstration was an enormous success, and this little booklet, with its pictures, will help to fasten in the minds of the women who took part in it, the memory of that wonderful day.
In Scotland, too, although a regular blizzard was blowing and the snow lay a foot deep on the roads, while in Glasgow the magistrates had banned the demonstration, the women turned up in amazing large numbers – marching or coming up by ‘bus from all the outlying villages into Glasgow, Bothwell, Lochgelly, Stirling and Camelon where the meetings were held.
Speakers from every quarter testify to the enthusiasm, determination and fighting spirit which characterised the day’s proceedings both in England and Scotland.
It is a tribute to the sagacity and clear-sightedness of the Communist Party and to its organising ability that it is the first party in Britain to give organised expression to the desire of working women for class-conscious participation in the battles of their class, testifying to its declaration that only under the banner of the Communist Party can working class emancipation be achieved.”
So this Is London
One young woman broke away from the party at Downing Street, and gave a resounding knock on the door of Mr Baldwin at No .10. She didn’t wait for an answer. ‘It was just to let him know we’re here,’ she explained.
Soon all London knew ‘they were here.’ They had been pouring into the grey stations of the metropolis from four and six o’clock in the morning. At six London’s quiet squares were startled by the sound of laughter and singing and the clatter of clogs on the pavement. …Bonny young girls in clogs and shawls…From the factory, from the wash-tub, from the little homes in smoky towns, kept clean only with the most persistent labour, these women invaded London, determined to let Baldwin and the class he represents ‘know they were here’.”
5000 people rallied in Trafalgar Square, despite the bad weather.
“Red, red, red, wherever the eye rested – banners, posters, slogans, kerchiefs, rosettes, streamers, tableaux. Millgirls from Lancashire, chatted with miners’ wives from South Wales; Mansfield women warned Durham representatives what non-political unionism means in practice; Bradford textile workers talked to engineers’ wives from the Midlands.”
The meeting was opened by Kath Duncan in the name of the Communist Party. Other speakers were Mrs. Hargreaves (a textile workers from Burnley), Mrs. Maddox (Co-operative Guild), Mrs. Toombs (a Co-operator from Bradford), Mrs. Lawther (a miner’s wife from Durham), Mrs. Armer (a miner’s wife from Nottingham), Elsie Wright (Young Communist League) Mrs. Campbell (Labour League of Ex-Servicemen), Mr. A J Cook (Miners Federation), Mrs. Nally (a miner’s wife from Nottingham), Marjorie Pollitt, Mr. J R Campbell and Beth Turner.
A tremendous welcome was given to Hanna Ludewig who brought greetings from the women of Germany. The meeting finished by singing the “Internationale.”
Afterwards the women from the north were entertained by the London Committee in Bethnal Green Town Hall with food, and singing from Ruby Boughton.