In this article I will be examining in detail the argument and acrimony over the question of votes for women on Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council (MSWTUC) in the autumn of 1904 which led to the two Organising Secretaries – Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth – resigning their posts, and then immediately establishing a new body, the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades and Labour Council.
Whilst the spilt has been previously discussed by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris in their book One Hand Tied behind Us (1978), more detail can now be added since the discovery of the complete minutes of the Council which have now been placed on this dedicated website.
The Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Union Council
The Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Union Council (MSWTUC) was set up in 1895 to organise women workers into trade unions. At this time trade unions were (with a few exceptions, particularly the Lancashire weaving trade) organisations of men, who were either indifferent to or opposed to women workers joining trade unions. True the Women’s Trade Union League had been set up in 1874 by Emma Paterson to organise women into trade unions and had won the right of women to attend the Trades Union Congress, but its success was quite limited, with its membership in the hundreds rather than thousands.
The first meeting of the MSWTUC took place on 5 February 1895 in Manchester Town Hall. Most of those who attended – such as Julia Gaskell and C P Scott – were not trade unionists but part of the progressive Manchester middle-class, often linked to the Liberal party. It was agreed that the objects of the Council should be-
1) To promote new and encourage existing organisations amongst women workers.
2) To collect and publish information as to the conditions under which women work with a view to influencing public opinion and promoting legislation for the improvement of their conditions of labour.
3) To endeavour by all legitimate means to improve such conditions by obtaining for women workers fair and uniform wages, shorter hours, and sanitary workrooms.
It was also agreed to appoint two Organising Secretaries to carry out the day to day work of organising among working women. These were Sarah Welsh (later Dickenson) (1869-1954) and Frances Ashwell (later Ashwell-Cooke) (1852-1926). They started work in the third week of April at salaries of £50 and £70, respectively.
The MSWTUC took offices in Room 3, 9 Albert Square, opposite Manchester Town Hall, at an annual rent of £20 (the building is long since demolished). The first work done by Sarah and Frances was to look into pay and conditions in the umbrella-covering, shirt-making,& corset-making trades. Over the next five years they helped establish or support unions for Cap Makers, Cigar Makers, Fancy Box Makers, Folders and Sewers, Shirt makers, Shop Assistants, Tailoresses, Upholsteresses, and Women in the Bookbinding and Printing Trades.
In the Annual Report for 1900 the Council noted:
In the work of organising women, it must be remembered that special difficulties have to be encountered, besides the ordinary difficulty of convincing the workers of the force and essential morality of combination. The tradition of women’s dependence dies hard and still goes far to shut their eyes to the possibility of self-reliance enterprise, whilst a narrow education works directly against the spirit of trade-unionism.
In spite of these and other drawbacks the situation presents some very encouraging features, notably the growing enthusiams of a few very able women, who in some cases have come forward as union officials, and in whose enlightened effort and influence among their fellow workers lies the great hope of progress in the future.
In 1900 Frances left to get married and was replaced by Eva Gore-Booth.
The key personalities involved in the split
1. Amy Bulley
Amy Bulley was born on 20 April 1852. She attended Newnham College 1873-1874, joining her two sisters. She and Mary Paley were the first women to sit for the moral science tripos. Although Amy passed, she was not awarded a degree because she was a woman. In 1876 Amy became as assistant mistress at Manchester High School for Girls. From 1877 to 1883 she was Secretary of the Manchester and Salford College for Women in Brunswick Street. In 1894 she co-authored a book with Dorothy Whitley, Women’s Work. She became a member of the MSWTUC in September 1895 , and was chair from 1897 to 1906.
2. Sarah Dickenson (nee Welsh)
Sarah was born on 28 March 1868 in Hulme, Manchester. She left school aged 11 to work in a mill and in time became an active trade unionist. In February 1895 she became the Secretary of the Manchester and Salford Federation of Women Workers which had been formed in January 1893 by an amalgamation of the Shirt and Jacket Makers’ Association (formed in 1889) and other trades. Sarah was then living at 52 Hereford Street, Ordsall Lane, Salford.
3. Eva Gore-Bo0th
Eva was born in Lissadell, County Sligo on 22 May 1870 into a prominent Anglo-Irish family, the Gore-Booths. She enjoyed a conventional upper-class upbringing, but from an early age was entranced both by nature and by the delights of novels and poetry. The poet William Yeats was an occasional visitor to the great house who, after the deaths of both Eva and her sister Constance, wrote a bitter-sweet poem in their memory, whose opening lines recalled those long-ago visits:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
The turning point in Eva’s life came in 1896 when she was on holiday in Bordighera, Italy. Here she met Esther Roper from Manchester, sent there to rest by friends who feared for her health through overwork.
Esther came from a working-class family which had risen socially when her father, Edward Roper, a factory worker, who was active in St Jude’s Sunday Schoool had become a missionary. Esther was born in 1868 in Chorley. Her parents returned to Nigeria, leaving Esther in the care of her Irish grandparents, and later a school for the children of missionaries. Her aunts were weavers in Manchester and her uncle a glass blower. Her parents returned in 1874 and her father died in 1877, aged just 39. After his death she lived with her younger brother, Reginald, and her mother in Broughton. Her mother died in 1889, aged 43.
Assisted by the Missionary Society, Esther attended Owens College where women were only admitted for the first time in 1883. She enrolled in 1886, graduating with a BA in 1891 in the second division. She was given a prize for English Literature, and also studied Latin and Political Economy.
Women were then taught separately in premises on Brunswick Street. With a number of other women, Esther founded Iris, a newsletter for women at Owens, named after the messenger of the Gods. After graduating she maintained connection with the College, particularly the Women’s Debating Society. She was also involved with the University Settlement , a charitable organisation set up in 1895 and based in the Roundhouse on Every Street and also Ancoats Hall. (It’s still going in Beswick, by the way, now renamed “Manchester Settlement.”)
In 1893 she went to work for the Manchester Suffage Society (from 1897 the North of England Society) and revitalised it, taking it out of the genteel drawing rooms of the enlightened middle-class and on to the smoky, cobbled back streets of Lancashire mill towns. She drew in seasoned campaigners such as Sarah Reddish, Selina Cooper and Sarah Dickenson, who had years of experience in the trade union and Co-operative movement, and who, like Esther, believed in the absolute necessity of linking the fight for women’s right to vote with the struggle for better working and social conditions.
This working class suffragist campaign had been forgotten, until Jill Liddington and Jill Norris brought it back into public view in 1978 in their inspiring book One Hand Tied Behind Us. They named them the “radical suffragists” to distinguish from the more conservative middle class women who formed the majority on the North of England Society. Bertha Mason, in her history of the suffrage movement, writes:
It was the appearance on the scene of action of this new and important force, the organising of which was carried out by Miss Esther Roper, Miss Gore Booth, and Miss Reddish, herself at one time a textile worker, which was chiefly responsible for the wonderful revival of interest in the question of the enfranchisement of women which marked the early years of 1900. There can be no doubt that this active and enthusiastic demand on the part of a great army of women who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow,” and not merely their own bread, but in many cases the bread of relatives dependent on them, made a deep impression on Parliament and caused many who had hitherto treated the agitation as an “ impracticable fad” and ” the fantastic crochet ” of a few rich and well-to-do women, to enquire seriously into the why and wherefore of the movement.
In 1894, in order to boost support for another Bill in the Commons, the National Society decided to launch “a Special Appeal” to be signed just by women and from all classes. In Manchester the Society directed its appeal to the factory women of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Esther took on two working-class women to assist with the work; Hannah Winbolt from Stockport, who had worked as a handloom weaver in the silk industry for many years, and had been converted to the cause of suffrage by Lydia Becker; and Annie Heaton, a mill worker from Burnley, who had worked with Annie Marland the year before on trade union organising for the Women’s Trade Union League. Esther wrote that “the women were visited in their homes as well as factory gates and a large quantity of women’s suffrage was given away.” They held both public meetings and open air meetings in different parts of Manchester.
On 25 June 1894 a crowded meeting in support of the campaign in the Free Trade Hall, organised by the Manchester Society, and supported by a number of other organisations, including the Lancashire and Cheshire Union of Women’s Liberal Associations, Manchester and Pendleton Cooperative Guilds, Manchester Women’s Christian Association and Manchester and Salford Federation of Women Workers. It was provided over by Lady Lyttleton, with a formidable array of women on the platform including Lady Somerset, Millicent Fawcett, Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, Mrs Pankhurst, Enid Stacy and Alice Scatcherd. Antoinette Stirling sang two songs. while there was also an organ recital and songs, by Mr Burgin, the Australian tenor. Mrs Lyttelton said that what women did with the vote when they got it was no business of theirs, they were there simply to demand that women should no longer be debarred from the rights and duties of citizenship.
Esther told Eva of her work in campaigning for votes for women. Eva decided to leave her comfortable home and way of life in Ireland and move to Manchester to work with Esther, sharing a house at 83 Heald Place, Rusholme. Eva wrote a poem in 1904 about their meeting called “The Travellers”.
Was it no strange that by the tideless sea
The jar and hurry of our lives.should cease?
That under olive boughs we found our peace,
And all the world’s great song in Italy?
Is it not strange though Peace herself has wings
And long ago has gone her separate ways,
On through the tumult of our fretful days
From Life to Death the great song chimes and rings?
In that sad day shall then the singing fail,
Shall life go down in silence at the end
And in the darkness friend be lost to friend
And all our love and dreams of no avail?
You whose Love’s melody makes glad the gloom
Of a long labour and a patient strife.
Is not that music greater than our life?
Shall not a little song outlast that doom?
Within months of her move to Manchester Eva was addressing branches of the local Independent Labour Party and Women’s Co-operative Guild on the necessity of women’s suffrage and was soon recognised as an activist in her own right. She went on to the Executive of the North of England Society, became a regular speaker at the Manchester Women’s Student Debating Society, and was also involved in the University Settlement in Ancoats. The Settlement had been founded in 1895, inspired by the work of Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, with the aim of bringing culture into the industrial district of Ancoats. She ran a drama class with Alice Cooke and Elizabeth MacGowan, which staged their first performance of The Merchant of Venice on 28 June 1899. Louisa Smith (who became an active trade unionist) later lovingly recalled those classes:
We were a class of about sixteen girls. I think we were all machinists and we were rough….We called ourselves the Elizabethan Society because we had no scenery: as we said among ourselves, we had no assets, but we enjoyed every minute of the rehearsals. We were very raw material but keen on acting; she showed such patience and love that we would do anything to please her and she got the best out of us. After rehearsals we would give a show of our own, an imitation of what we had seen or imagined. If any of us were feeling seedy or worried about business or home she could always see, and showed such an understanding sympathy that we came away feeling we had a real friend. I remember one of the girls was very delicate and truly not really fit to fight the battles of life, and Miss Gore-Booth cared for her and sent her little delicacies, and took her to her own doctor, and in a hundred and one ways she cared for us We thought she was a being from another world. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say we worshipped her, but she never knew it, she was so utterly selfless… She took us on picnics, and they seemed to be different picnics from any I had ever been to, so jolly and free, no restraint about them. She was also very keen on women’s rights and trade unions. She persuaded me to join… She was always sympathetic with the downtrodden, and worked and lectured might and main, interviewing Members of Parliament, etc., on their behalf till conditions were mended. She was very frail and delicate herself, but full of pluck and determination, and would stand up for people she knew to be unjustly treated, even though the world was against them, and with all so sweet and gentle that one could not help loving her.
Sylvia Pankhurst described Eva as “tall and excessively slender, intensely shortsighted, with a mass of golden hair worn like a great ball at the nape of her long neck, bespectacled, bending forward, short of breath with high-pitched voice and gasping speech, she was nevertheless a personality of great charm”.
Eva started for work for the MSWTUC in June 1900. The Council noted that Eva “brings to her task considerable acquaints with the condition of working women’s lives.” and that the function of the Council “was to bring trade-unionism within the reach of scattered individuals working in unorganized trades, and to draft them off into their own unions.”
Sarah Dickenson later remembered Eva thus in a letter to Esther:
I met her first at your office when she came to Manchester, and my first impression of her was her charming and interesting personality. When I knew her better I found how very genuine she was in all her dealings and discovered all the beautiful traits in her character. The friendly way that she treated all the women trade unionists endeared her to them. If she was approached for advice or help she never failed. She is remembered by thousands of working women in Manchester for her untiring efforts to improve their industrial conditions, for awakening and educating their sense of political freedom, and for social intercourse.
Over the next few years Eva and Sarah worked very hard to encourage women to set up and join unions. It was rarely an easy task. A section in the 1903 Annual Report report described the problems:
For however severely trade grievances may be felt, the first steps in organisation are always difficult. The timidity of inexperience is hard to overcome, and people naturally fear to jeopardise their week’s earnings. Innumerable meetings are held by the Council, sometimes so small that they are not in themselves worth recording and much personal canvassing and persuasion has to be used before a sufficient number of workers can be gathered together and enough enthusiasm aroused to induce an adequate number of more progressive to take up the responsible positions of officers, committee and collectors.
One of the difficulties they encountered in getting women to go to meetings was solved by starting a Tea Fund in 1902 to buy tea, sugar, milk and cake:
It was found that the tea was a great convenience, as many of the women live in outlying districts, they are naturally anxious to hurry home to tea when their work is over and it is both inconvenient and expensive for them to come back to meetings in the evening. We are glad to say that the tea had good results in introducing a social element that promoted good fellowship and a friendly spirit among the members, and the attendance has largely increased.
The most successful women’s union established by Eva and Sarah was the Salford and District Association of Power Loom Weavers, set up in April 1902 which soon had 800 members As well as trade unionism the women workers were also interested in politics and the suffrage campaign, sending a resolution just weeks after their establishment to a meeting at the Free Trade Hall called to protest against the imposition of a corn tax. The women’s resolution not only protested against the tax and the fact that it would fall most heavily on women “the worst paid workers in the country, ” but also objected to the fact that their exclusion from the franchise prevented them “from making an effective protest at the Ballot Box.” Nellie Keenan was the first Treasurer of the union and later became its Secretary.
Eva was in demand as a speaker, addressing the May Day demonstration in Gorton Park in May 1902 and a meeting in the Secular Hall, Rusholme later that same month on “The Industrial Position of Women”. In 1903 Eva became the MSWTUC representative on the Education Committee of the City Council and was later appointed onto the Technical Instruction Committee.
4. Christabel Pankhurst
Christabel Pankhurst was born on 22 September 1880, daughter of Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst. She attended Manchester High School for Girls with her two sisters. After the death of her husband Emmeline took a job as registrar of births and death with Christabel acting as her deputy. Emmeline also started an arts and crafts shop at 30 King Street called Emerson’s. Christabel worked in the shop but did not enjoy it, as her sister Sylvia recalled:
…she detested Emerson’s. She arrived there as late as she could each morning, took a couple of hours off for lunch, and got away as early as possible in the afternoon, stifling her thoughts by a constant succession of novels. As the registrarship necessitated attendance only during a couple of hours in the morning and evening, Mrs Pankhurst was able to give the greater part of the day to her shop. Whilst Christabel was still in Switzerland she had engaged assistants, and had arranged for her brother Walter to keep the books, which he did as labour of love, having retired from business for ill-health. There was no obvious place for Christabel to fill and Christabel had no desire to make one. Mrs Pankhurst was satisfied to have her daughter beside her, and if she had any regret that Christabel sat in the dark little office all day with her head in a novel, she did not say so.
Christabel became friends with Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth and Esther in 1901 after meeting Esther at a meeting of the Women’s Debating Society. She was swiftly drawn into their activities, joining Eva’s poetry circle at the University Settlement, going on to the Women’s Trade Union Council, speaking at a number of meetings on the suffrage question, and accompanying the two women on holiday to Venice. Her sister Sylvia recalled that at this time Christabel adored Eva “and when Eva suffered from neuralgia, as often happened, she would sit with her for hours, massaging her head. To all of us at home, this seemed remarkable indeed, for Christabel had never been willing to act as the nurse to any other human being.” At Esther’s suggestion Christabel began studying law at the University of Manchester, graduating in 1906 with first class honours. According to Sylvia, Mrs Pankhurst was quite jealous of the time that Christabel spent with Esther and Eva.
In October 1903 Christabel and her mother established the Women’s Social and Political Union to campaign for votes for women. In 1905 this turned into the militant suffragette movment.
The radical suffragist campaign
Esther continued the North of England Society’s suffrage campaign amongst working women. Heartened by the success of the Special Appeal, the suffragists resolved to launch a petition to be signed only by women working in the cotton mills of Lancashire in order to demonstrate the support for the vote amongst women workers. In 1900 there were 96,820 women members in the textile unions and 69, 669 men. The petition said that “the continued denial of the franchise to women is unjust and inexpedient. In the home, their position is lowered by such an exclusion from the responsibilities of national life. In the factory, their unrepresented condition places the regulation of their work in the hands of men who are often their rivals as well fellow workers…”
The petition was launched on 1 May 1900 at the annual May Day meeting in Blackburn, which was attended by thousands of working women. It was such a success that they had to organise further meetings on 2 and 3 May.
Esther followed this up by appointing five organisers – Mrs Hogson Bayfield, who was active in the Women’s Co-operative Guild; Sarah Reddish, also active in the Women’s Co-operative Guild; Mrs Ramsbottom, Katherine Rowton, a Poor Law Guardian; and Mrs Green, also active in the Women’s Co-operative Guild. The women fanned out across Lancashire by tram and train, visiting every group of women textile workers they could find. The Englishwoman’s Review reported that the method of canvassing has been “chiefly that of going to the homes of the workers in the evening, after factory hours…some employers allowed petition sheets in the mills, and others allowed canvassers to stand in the mill yards with sheets spread on tables so that the signatures could be got as the women were leaving or returning to work.” They also spoke at meetings of the Weavers’ union and Cardroom Association and also addressed several dozen open-air meetings
On 19 March 1901 a deputation of 15 women cotton workers, led by Sarah Reddish, went to London to present the petition to Parliament and meet with a small number of sympathetic MPs, including C E Schwann from Manchester and Herbert Whiteley from Ashton-under-Lyne. Sarah Reddish said that though she was no longer a factory worker she had been one for a period of over twenty years and now she was an official of working women’s organisation. She said that the petition had been signed by 29,359 women “all of whom were factory workers.” “Some of them had children to keep and some were sole supporters of their families, and all expressed themselves strongly on the continued refusal to grant of Parliament to grant the franchise to women. Women shared the burden of the nation, and they felt they ought to have a voice in the making of the laws.” Sarah Dickenson said that “women were engaged in making the wealth of the country and ought to have a voice in its management. Many Lancashire women were keeping homes, and even worthless husbands, and yet the latter when it became a matter of voting had the only voice in the affairs of the nation. It lowered the status of the women greatly to be so treated in the matter of the franchise…The working women of Lancashire were determined to try and try again until they succeeded in securing justice.“
On 18 February 1902 the suffragists presented another petition to Parliament signed by 33,184 women wool workers from Yorkshire and 4,292 silk workers from Cheshire. In the Commons the eighteen members of the deputation met a dozen MPs. Miss Agnes Close from Leeds said the deputation and those they represented had worked very hard, and she hoped the members would do all they could to move forward the object they desired – which was the removal of the disability under which women now laboured in Parliamentary and municipal matters. They thought it only right that women should have a vote in parliamentary and municipal affairs on the same basis as men.
Mrs Winbolt (Stockport) said that she was born, reared and had lived all her life in Cheshire; and as one who had helped with the petition she appealed for the direct vote for women. What they wanted was that the womanly mind of the country should be brought in. They did not want to pull down the men but pull them up. She had been in the textile trade for forty years and she could tell them that they had suffered both in the silk trade and the cotton trade through women not having the Parliamentary vote. If she had time she could enumerate many cases where women were placed at a disadvantage because they had not a direct vote as to who should represent them in the House of Commons. (applause). All they asked for was fair play; they did not want more, and certainly they did not feel that they would like to take any less.
Esther Roper wrote a leaflet The Cotton Trade Unions and the Enfranchisement of Women
If it’s necessary, as the men say it is, for men to be directly represented in Parliament, how much more necessary must it be to women, the only entirely unrepresented workers, to have the protection and power of a vote. The women’s best chance of winning their own enfranchisement is through the Cotton Trade Unions of the North. Here they have the power because they are more numerous than the men…Therefore, let all women having the great power of the Cotton Unions in their hands, help themselves, and the millions of women workers who are poorer and less able to help themselves than they, by making women’s suffrage a Trade Union Question. The Cotton Trade Unions can and must secure the enfranchisement of the women workers.
In the spring 1903 Selina Cooper, Sarah Reddish, Katherine Rowton, Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth fanned out across the Lancashire cotton town speaking to branches of the weavers’ unions and asking them to ballot their members on the issue of making suffrage a trade union issue. The tactic was successful with branches in Bolton, Clitheroe, Colne, Nelson, Hyde and Haslingden all voting “yes”.
The support being gathered by the radical suffragists amongst the cotton trade unions was not being echoed in the nascent Labour Party, the Labour Representation Committee. It seems also that they were facing some disquiet from within the North of England Society about their campaign amongst working class women and felt that a separate organisation would enable them to more open about their links with the trade union movement. Accordingly in the summer of 1903 they set up the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile Workers’ Representation Committee (TWC) with an office at 5 John Dalton Street.
The Secretaries were Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper, the Treasurer was Sarah Reddish from Bolton. The Committee comprised:
Mrs Aldersley, Nelson
Mrs Clara Staton, Bolton
Miss Foley, Bolton
Mrs Mary Atkindon, Brierfield
Mrs Sarah Thomas, Nelson
Mrs Harriet A Mills, Member of Education Committee, Accrington
Mrs Sara Whittaker, Accrington
Miss Louise Smith, Manchester
Miss Mary Carr, Hyde
Mrs Sarah Dickenson, Manchester
Miss Katherine Rowton, Manchester
Mrs Ruth Dewhurst, Oldham
Mrs Alice Hibbert, Roggersham
Miss Nellie Keenan, Secretary of the Weavers’ Union, Salford
Mrs Violet Grundy, Secretary of the Winders’ Union, Ancoats
Miss Isabel Forsyth, Secretary, Bookbinders’ Union
The TWC therefore brought suffragists together with women with experience of organising in the trade union and co-operative movement.
In their first pamphlet Women Workers and Parliamentary Representation, Eva wrote that “amongst those who have for their present idea, in industrial matters, a fair day’s wage for a fair’s day work, the low payment of women remains one of the great problem’s of our modern civilisation.” After describing “the wretched houses, insanitary and over-crowded, that disfigure our great towns, the children going hungry to school, the old people left penniless, and uncared for, the numbers that sleep out every night of the year, these and many other evils are the direct result of poverty, she concluded that, “Trade unionists must agree that there is something radically wrong with the present position of women in the labour market.”
In February 1904 the TWC issued a circular calling for the immediate enfranchisement of women workers.
The relatively low wages of women workers …are a matter of common knowledge and in many cases they sink almost to vanishing point. The women chainmakers of Cradley Heath (skilled workers and intelligent citizens) are – hundreds of them – earning at tbe rate of 5s a week, sometimes even 2s 6d for the difficult and hard labour. Thousands of women in the Staffordshire Potteries receive a wage of 8s to 12s a week. In many ases womne do the same workas men for much less money. A striking example of this occured lately in an engineering firm in Manchester. Women were put on work at a process which had been done by men at at the rateof £1 a week.; these women are being paid from 8s to 12 s a week for the work.
Among national school teachers all over the country the men teachers are being paid nearly double,simply for being men, without any regard for their merits or qualifications as teachers.
The TWC manifesto, published in July 1904, explicitly linked class and suffrage, noting that the labour movement had formed the Labour Rrepresentation Committee (from 1906 the Labour party) to campaign for its demands.
…the position of the disenfranchised working women, who are by their voteless condition shut out from all political influence, is becoming daily more precarious. They cannot hope to hold their own in industrial matters, where their interests may clash with those of their enfranchised fellow-workers or employers. The conclusion has been forced on those of the textile workers who have been working unceasingly in past years to secure the vote for women, that what is urgently needed is that they should send their own nominee to the House of Commons, pledged to…secure the enfranchisement of the women workers of the country…What Lancashire and Cheshire women think today England will do to-morrow.
A public row over suffrage
It was the establishment of the TWC and its public campaigning for votes for working women which I believe led to the crisis on the MSWTUC in the autumn of 1904 . The fact that both Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth were members of the TWC led some of the public perhaps understandably to confuse it with the MSWTUC. This did not go down at all well with Amy Bulley.
Her position on women’s suffrage was made plain in a flurry of letters between her and local suffragists in the Manchester Guardian in the spring of 1904. The first letter, published on 15 March, came from Manchester suffrage pioneer Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, who had been campaigning for votes for women since 1866. She urged support for a motion on women’s suffage being moved by Sir Charles McLaren, and ended her letter by stating that, “Not until justice is done to the mother-half of the human race can humanity truly show to what dignity and nobility it can truly attain, and whoever denies and delays this justice is an eneny to the progress of the race.”
Amy Bulley replied at some length on 23 March, noting that while there has been a majority of 114 for McLaren’s motion and there seemed to be increased good will shown to the movement:
…the women’s forces require to be set in order, and in drastic fashion if a solid victory is to be achieved. I venture to assert that the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement have never gone to the root of the question or placed their demand on the right basis. Instead of establishing it on a broad democratic basis they have clung to a property basis which is in reality obsolete, and which even it were a living force, would not fit the case for women. There is no enthusiasm today for limited franchises, and no party is willing to make sacrifices on their behalf. Practical politicians of all shades are opposed to increasing the complexities of the present situation. Represenation is still based nomianlly on property, but the lodger and service franchises have destroyed its character, and public opinion has virtually outgrown the conception. The mind of the country moves faster than its enactments, and it is not too much to say that the theory is now tacitly accepted that a man is fit to exercise the franchise, unless he belongs to the migratory, the pauper or the criminal class. To the public mind thus attuned comes the women’s demand that certain of her sex who happen to possess technical property qualifications should be admitted to the franchise. But the conditions fit women so ill, not having been devised for them, that a franchise on this basis would be little less than a mockery and in consequence no political party will have anything to do with it.
It is playing with words to ask, as recent Bills have done, that the franchise may be granted to women “on the same terms as those on which it is or may be granted to men” (I quote from memory), for these terms applied to women would work quite differently. So long as property qualifications, however diluted, form the basis of enfranchisement the wives and mother sof the working classes and the majority of those of the middle-classes would be excluded. We should have a “widow and spinster” franchise, with a sprinkling of property owners, and those who would employ devices, such as buying a cottage, to secure the vote. ..
Take the notable gathering of women in the Free Trade Hall last November, some 4,000 strong. The majority were members of the co-operative movement, shrewd, sturdy, common sense women, mother of families, and with an interest in public affairs and a wholesomeness of mind and character which hardly any other class in the country could equal. Yet most of these women would be shut from any scheme of enfranchisement which women have yet publicly advocated. they have no “property” qualification, neithe rhave the factory women of Lancashire to whom the North of England Suffrage Society, wisely forsaking drawing rooms, have directed their efforts. Men will trust women more broadly or not at all, they will not enfranchise a small limited class, for they realise that the womnen who need it most are precisely those who have no property or social influence.
Perhaps stung by this lofty dismissal of their efforts amongst working women in Lancashire and Cheshire Esther Roper responded to Amy Bulley in a letter published on 26 March:
Stating the case for adult suffrage as against the present voting quailification, Miss Bulley, has, I venture to think, confused two issues (1) the abolition of sex equality and (2) the widening of the existing basis of representation. The first of these two is the present object of all women’s suffrage organisations, labour or otherwise. The second will only be gained by men and women together, after their positions have been equalised by the removal of the distinctive and wholesale sex disability under which all women suffer at present.
We see no symptoms at present of a strong movement for manhood suffrage amongst men of any party. ..The present state of women’s labour and their crying economic need will not allow of our waiting for the settlement of this question until men are educated on a practical agitation for universal suffrage. In speaking of working women’s position in this matter, I think Miss Bulley has overlooked the great importance to them of the lodger qualification. Many thousands of textile workers in this district alone at present fulfil the neccessary qualification by paying at the rate of 4s a week for rooms (exclusive of rent for furnuture). Thousands also of teachers, journalists, clerks, typewriters, and secretaries would benefit by this franchise.
Amy swiftly put pen to paper, and her reply was published on 29 March:
I recognise clearly as Miss Roper that “the abolition of sex disability” and “the widening of the existing basis of repressentation” are two different issues. My contention is that the first can only be obtained through the second… the ultimate aim must of course be adult suffrage, and Miss Roper rightly points out that there is no “strong agitation” for it at present. The reason however is not far to seek. The present franchise almost amounts to manhood suffrage, but is iuncertain and irregular in its operation. Any man may qualify for a vote, and almost any man may lose it at any time through an accident or a technical objection. Working men feel these hindrances keenly, and their demand will probably be for a simplification of registartion which will enable them to keep a vote when they have got it. This can hardly be put ino practice except through a measure of manhood suffrage and where will the women be then with a request for limited franchise…
On one point Miss Roper misunderstands me. I said nothing about “the vital importance of the franchise to women wage-earners.” The study of labour questions has led me to attribute womem’s industrial to economic rathe rthan political questions, but the question is too large for discussion. Still the possession of the franchise would probably prove a lever in the hands of working women and I should be glad to see it in use.
A final letter from Amy appeared in the Manchester Guardian on 6 April which was nothing less than a condescending public put down of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy:
The Women’s Suffrage Bill for which Mrs Elmy worked so hard in 1870 was not out of place at a time when a series of limited franchises for men were being conceded one at a time. The impulse which led to these partial enactments has long been spent, the tide has ebbed for good. The next tide to rise will be towards manhood suffrage, so much I think nobody denies. Would it not be wise for the Women’s Suffrage Party to set their sails to ride on the flowing tide? I do not propose to trespass further on your space with regard to this subject.
It’s clear that Amy Bulley regarded the suffrage campaign as misguided and a waste of time and energy.
The Events of the Split
The events which led to the split were sent in motion when Amy wrote a letter to the Manchester Guardian, published on 11 July 1904, disclaiming any connection between the MSWTUC and the growing campaign for votes for women:
There seems to be some misunderstanding with regards to the aims and obectives of the Manchester Womne’s Trades Council It has been erroneously stated that the Council is concerned with the movement for the enfranchisement of women, and leaflets written on behalf of a women’s suffrage society in the textile districts have been attributed to our initiative.
Allow me to state decisively that the Women’s Trade Union Council does not concern itself in any way with women’s suffrage or any other political question. Our object is solely to organise women their trades for the improvement of their industrial condition, giving them the weapon with which working men improved their long befor ethe acquisition of the vote. The opinion of individual members of the Council on the suffrage question is not even known to me. Miss Eva Gore-Booth, one of our organising secretaries, has taken some share in propaganda connected with women’s suffrage but her action in this regards is entirely unconnected with the work of the Council. I should regret exceedingly if the industrial organisation of women in this district, which is urgently needed, were confused with an agitation of qute adifferent aim.
Amy signed her letter as chair of the MSWTUC, but it seems she wrote the letter off her own bat as there is no discussion recorded in the minutes of the MSWTUC on 7 June. We do not know whether she spoke to Eva prior to sending the letter to the newspaper, but it was a very public repudiation of her own employee.
It led to Christabel Pankhurst to respond in a letter to the Manchester Guardian (which I have not been able to trace) and then bring forward a resolution on suffrage which was initially discussed at a Special Meeting of the MSWTUC on 26 July. Those present were Amy Bulley (chair), Margaret Ashton, Emily Cox, Christabel Pankhurst, Mr. Johnston and Mr. Herford
Amy Bulley explained that the meeting had been called in consequence of a difficulty that had arisen through Miss Gore Booth’s women’s suffrage work. The Daily News had published a paragraph confusing leaflets written by her and published by the Textile Workers Committee with the Council’s propaganda. Miss Bulley then wrote a letter to the Manchester Guardian disclaiming any connection with the movement for the enfranchisement of women on behalf of the Council. Miss Pankhurst, as a member of the Council, had written to the Manchester Guardian to disassociate herself from this position. After some discussion it was decided that the matter was too important to be decided at such a small meeting. Christabel therefore agreed to postpone her resolution till next Council meeting, when all the members could have good notice to attend.
This adjourned meeting took place on 26th September . Those present were Amy Bulley (chair), Miss Crompton, Emily Cox, Miss Pankhurst, Katherine Rowton and Mr. Marr.
Christabel Pankhurst moved the following resolution, ” That it is now time that the Council should bring their policy into line with that of the Unions with which they are connected by taking active part in the effort to gain political power for the women workers.” She based her case on the growth of the Labour party supported by trade inionists , and the widefelt need of the franchise for the protection of the women workers’ interests. She pointed out that the Manchester women trade unionists had taken up this question strongly and appealed to the Council ” to bring their policy into harmony with that of the unions”. The resolution was seconded by Miss Rowton.
Amy Bulley read letters opposing any change of policy from Miss Ashton, Mrs. Schwann, Mr. Herford, Mr. Johnston. She said that that she thought that such a change would be disastrous and that it would alienate subscribers and friends. Miss Cox explained that the title of the Council was somewhat misleading, as they were not a body like the Trades Council and did not claim to represent the Women’s Trade Unions. Miss Crompton suggested that it was time that the women had a regular Trade Council of their own to deal with such matters which were outside the Council’s sphere. Miss Rowton drew attention to the need that the women workers had for the protection of the franchise and said that it would be a great help to the Council in the attainment of better wages. Miss Bulley said that did not think that the workers would gain any benefit from the measure in question. Mr. Marr said he was strongly opposed to any such change. After some discussion the resolution was put to the meeting and defeated by a majority of three.
For the Resolution : Christabel Pankhurst and Miss Rowton.
Against : Amy Bulley, Emily Cox, Mr. Marr and Miss Crompton.
Following this meeting both Eva Gore-Booth and Sarah Dickenson decided to resign their posts.
In her letter of resignation, dated 28 September, Eva wrote;
Dear Miss Bulley
In view of the Resolution thrown out at the last Council meeting (“that it is now time that the Council should bring their policy into line with the policy of the Unions with which they are connected, by taking active part in the effort to gain political power for the women workers”) and after my strong protest at the time, I am sure you will understand that I find myself reluctantly obliged to give up my work for the Council. The Council has finally decided to adopt a course, which, in my opinion, cuts them off from all the broader, more progressive & more hopeful side of the modern labour movement, & separates their policy from the policy of the organised women themselves whose interests & opinions seem to me all important. It is a profound conviction of the absolute importance of political power to the workers, especially the women workers, that forces me to take this step. I have therefore put my resignation on the Agenda for the next meeting & hope you will be kind enough to read this letter to the Council
Sarah Dickenson’s letter was dated the same day.
Dear Miss Bulley
Since the last Council meeting I have been thinking a good deal about the attitude of the Council in regards to working women & the franchise. As a Trade Unionist I should always wish to identify myself with the women in any effort they might make to improve their position, politically and industrially, & I have come to the conclusion that it would be best for me to sever my connection with the Council, seeing that they are not prepared to fall into line with the Women’s Unions.
The MSWTUC met again on 4 October by which time they had received the letters from Eva and Sarah. There was a larger attendance than the previous meeting. Those present were Amy Bulley (Chair), Emily Cox, Margaret Ashton, Frances Ashwell Cooke, Mr. Herford, Miss Crompton, Miss Rowton, Miss Pankhurst, Julia Gaskell, Mr. Marr and Mr. Johnston.
Rather than moving straight a discussion on the resignations Amy Bulley began the meeting by trying to raise an issue concerning a letter written to the Labour MP Mr Shackleton in February 1903 which had been given to her by the MP.
The minutes state: “It appeared that in Feb 1903 Mr Shackleton, MP, was asked by the persons representing themselves to be the Manchester Women’s Trades Union Council to introduce a deputation to the Home Secretary on labour laws.The Home Secretary (Mr A Akers-Douglas) found that the object was to complain of the men’s unions and to advocate women’s suffrage, and stated that that one of the signatories was Miss Gore Booth, Organising Secretary of the Manchester WTUC. Mr Shackleton and the Home Secretary both declined to go further in the matter. Miss Bulley had informed the Home Secretary that the Council had never asked for an interview, or even discussed the subject indicated. Miss Gore Booth admited having signed the application as Organising Secretary of this Council and expressed her regret.
The minutes continue: “Miss Bulley was prepared to go further with the matter. Mr Herford proposed, Miss Crompton seconded, that the subject be dropped. Carried. The Secretaries then went away.” It is unclear from the minutes whether this letter had only recently come to light or had been held back by Amy Bulley since 1903 for time when it might prove useful against Eva.
Amy Bulley reported that letters had been received from the Secretaries of the Unions of Shirtmakers, Powerloom Weavers, Patent Cop-Winders, Bookbinders, Tailoresses, Clay Pipe-Finishers and the Women’s Federation, “stating their desire to withdraw from representation on the Council on the ground that the unions wished to take independent action on trade matters.”
She then read the resignation letters from Eva and Sarah and it was agreed to accept these and to advertise for a new Secretary at £100 a year.
Finally it was also agreed the City Council be requested to co-opt Miss Bulley as representative of the MSWTUC on the Council’s Education Committee, a position that Eve Gore-Booth had been fulfilling up until this meeting.
It appears that the Council of the MSWTUC expected Eva and Sarah to work their notice but this did not happen as was made plain at the on 11 October when a further Special Meeting took place. Those present were Amy Bulley (chair), Mrs. Schwann, Margaret Ashton, Katherine Rowton, Christabel Pankhurst, Mrs. Crompton, Miss Simpson, Mrs. Cooke, Julia Gaskell, Emily Cox, Mr. Herford, Mr. Johnston, Mr. Marr and Mr. Harker.
Amy Bulley started the meeting by reading another letter she had received from Eva-Gore-Both dated that day. The letter makes it plain that some members of the Council had been abusive towards Eva because of what had happened:
11 October 1904
Dear Miss Bulley
You will find all the information about the different unions very carefully recorded in the diary, also there is a record of every meeting. I think you will understand that it will be pleasanter for us all for me not to be present at the Council tomorrow considering the repeated discourtesies of several of the members of the Council and the extraordinary language they have allowed themselves to use to me. I cannot go on listening to repetitions of such things. Mrs. Dickenson agrees with me in this matter.
Eva Gore Booth
ps in case you find the information in the Diary not full enough I enclose some rough notes , & Mrs. Dickenson will let you have a list of meetings. As this a special meeting Mrs. Dickenson is holding the accounts over to finish them up for Mr. Herford to go over.
Mrs. Schwann reported that she had arrived at the office shortly after 2pm (the office hours) and had had to wait in the passage till one of the members of the Council, Miss Pankhurst, arrived with the key. Mr. Herford said that apart from the more serious questions involved in the absence of the Secretaries, it was an inconvenience not to be able to make up the accounts. Miss Rowton expressed her opinion that the position was less painful in the absence of the Secretaries.
Mr. Johnston moved with Miss Ashton seconded, that the Secretaries of the WTUC, Mrs. Dickenson and Miss Gore Booth, be informed that as they absented themselves from their office duties and the meeting of the Council to-day, without permission,”their appointments are cancelled from this date”.
Amy read the letters from the unions again, which gave as the reason for withdrawal the wish of the union to take a line of independent action. Mrs. Schwann asked if the Council had ever wished to control the action of the unions in the management of their own affairs, and was assured that the policy of the Council had been in later times as in the beginning to give complete independence to the unions formed.
It was reported that all the seceding unions which had been invited to confer with the Council had refused the invitation. At this point someone drew the attention of the meeting to the formation of a new body, the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades and Labour Council by the seceding unions, which had been announced in the advertisement in the Manchester Guardian of 8th October. At this point the minutes reveal that the meeting seems to have become quite bad tempered with aspersions being made about Eva and Sarah’s conduct while Katherine Rowton defending them. If Christabel said anything, it was not recorded. The minutes read:
“It was pointed out that in all probability steps must have been taken to form such a society before the Council meeting on October 4th, when the resignations of the Secretaries were received. Miss Rowton reminded the Council that in the previous meeting a strong opinion had been expressed as to the desirability of forming such a Trades Council drawn from the workers themelves, now or in the future. Miss Cox said on of the most inexplicable points in the conduct of the Secretaries was that in view of this expression of opinion, the new scheme should have been kept a secret from the Council. Miss Rowton thought the Council took an unjustifiably severe view of the action of the Secretaries. Mrs Schwann considered they had been dealt with most leniently. Mr Johnston was of the opinion that their conduct was entirely unpardonable & urged that the Council could not continue to allow them to remain in its offices & undo its work. After further discussion the resolution was part to the vote, & was carried; 11 members voting for the motion, & one against, two members not voting.”
At this point in the meeting Katherine Rowton and Christabel Pankhurst announced that they wished to resign their membership of the Council and walked out.
Amy Bulley expressed her regret that she was unable to undertake the duties of the Educational Committee for which the Council desired to nominate her for co-optio. It was agreed that Emily Cox’s name be submitted to the City Council.
Mrs. Schwann wished to consider how it would be possible to find out the strength of the Council formed by the seceding unions. ” It was agreed that it was better to leave the unions to themselves for the present strong hope being expressed that amicable relations could be established in the future.”
At the meeting on 1st November a letter was read from Miss Rowlette was read resigning from the the MSWTUC as in her opinion,”industrial equality for women was unattainable without political enfranchisement”. Another union resigned from the Council, namely the Cigar Makers.
After the Split
In the immediate aftermath of the split there was a bitter public row over the nomination to Manchester Education Committee which revealed the gulf between the two sides. On 11 November 1904 the Manchester Guardian published a letter from Nellie Keenan, Sarah Dickenson, Evelyn Tonkin, Isabel Forsyth, Nellie Kay, and Violet Whalley on behalf of the unions which constituted the new Council. They stated that as a result of a radical difference of opnion between the Trades Council and the trade unions, they had decided to withdraw:
They were convinced that the time had come when it was essential for the unions’ progress and future development that they should stand on an independent and self-reliant basis and formulate their own policy. A representative Women’s Trades and Labour Council was therefore constituted. It will be seen that this Council is not in the real sense a new and untried body, as it is formed from the representative sof the most important and long-established unions.The Women’s Trades and Labour Council wish to protest most strongly against the nomination of a working women’s represenative by the Manchester and Salford and Distrci Womne’s Trades Council.
Miss Gore-Booth was chosen by the women trade-unionists to be their representative, and they are quite satisfied with her, and do not want wish for a change. Miss Emily Cox, who is now supposed to represent them, was nominated without any woman trade-unionist in the city being consulted. With all due respect to Miss Emily Cox, who, we have no doubt, is a most worthy lady, she has no claim whatever to represent the women’s trade unions of this district.
The Manchester and Salford Women Trades and Labour Council strongly deprecates that this nomination should be in the hands of any philanthropic body, no matter how well intentioned.
Amy Bulley, clearly still very angry at what she clearly regarded as a betrayal by Sarah and Eva, responded immediately in a letter published on 12th November:
We wish to say that throughout the ten years during which this Council has been at work no word of disssatisfaction with its aims or methods has been expressed, so far as we know, by any of the unions it has formed. The only difficulty experienced has been with our secretaries, who, in consequence of our decision to take no part as a Council in the women’s suffrage movement, resigned their posts on 4 October. Before their resignations were received they took the appointment as secretaries to a new “Women Trades and Labour Council” formed with their assistance on 29 September.
As the officials of the seceding unions refused to meet our Council to explain their position or express their desires it was impossible to consult them as to the selection of a nominee for the Education Committee, as we did last year, and without a formal alteration of the education scheme a nomination cannot be transferred from one body to another. I may add that Miss Emily Cox, our present representative, is specially qualified in educational matters, and has been working in the women’s trade union movement for over ten years.
Sarah Dickenson responded immediately to Amy Bulley’s accusations with a letter published on 14 November:
In reply to Miss Bulley’s criticism of the wording of the Women’s Trade Unionists’ letter in the “Manchester Guardian”, may I claim some knowledge of the feeling among the women trade unionists, having been Secretary of the Federation of Women Workers, since before the Council was formed, ten years ago.
With regard to the date of the secretaries’ resignation and the forming by the women of their own Council, the resignations were sent to the chairman, Miss Bulley, on 28th September, and acknowledged by her. A meeting of the joint committee of the trade unions was held on 29 September to discuss the situation which had reached a crisis since the Council’s refusal early in September to bring their policy into line with that of their constituent societies on the matter of the enfranchisement of women workers – a matter the importance of which must always appear more evident to the women workers thatn to those who are more comfortably situated. The resignation of the secretaries was reported to this meeting, and the advisability of forming an independent Council was discussed. Both these matters were then discussed for the first time. The Council was formed and the honorary secretaries (Miss Eva Gore-Booth and Mrs Dickenson) were elected at once, as it was neccessary for the carrying on of routine trade-union business. The later refusal of the women to discuss the matter with the Manchester, Salford and District Women’s Trade Union Council was due in part to their indignation at the manner in which their representative for the Education Commitee had been superceded.
I have answered Miss Bulley’s criticism of our methods, but in our opinion all this is beside the mark. The question remains where it was. Is it right that the representation intended for the organised working women shall remain in the hands of the Women’s Trades Council, at present an unrepresentative body of self-elected people. We contend that this was not the class of representation intended by the education scheme. The working women are very much in earnest about this matter, and trust that the authorities will see the justice of their claim.
Amy Bulley responded in another letter published on 15 November, which was the final letter in the exchange
Mrs Dickenson’s admission that the question of forming a new council for women’s trade unions was discussed on 29th September for the first time comfirms our impression that the individual members of the unions were not consulted at all in the step which was taken.
We have no quarrel with those unions that have left us. Like the rest, they have always been free to shape their own policy, form their own organisation, and take up any social or political question (such as women’s suffrage) that they might choose. If they consider that their interests can now be adequately served without our aid, the decision sets free our energies for the formation of new unions in the many women’s trades which are still unorganised. Our complaint is that Miss Gore-Booth and Mrs Dickenson, while still in our paid employ as organising secretaries, and before their resignations had been received by the Council, assisted in the withdrawal of a number of unions, to the extent of even signing two of the letters of resignation themselves. No report had been previously furnished by them of dissatisfaction among the unions, nor have we any assurance that it existed.
The facts are now before your readers, and I do not think any good purpose can be served by further discussion. During the past past ten years our work has been carried on steadily and quietly, without stirring up industrial life and we propose to continue it on the same lines. Women’s suffrage has many sympathisers upon the Council, but we not contemplate adding it to our objects.
Mrs Aldridge, who has had previous experience in the work, has been appointed organising secretary, and we hope to establish in the future women’s trade unions as well able to hold their own as those now in question.
The newly formed Manchester and Salford Women Trades and Labour Council took offices at 5 John Dalton, the same building as the TWC. The Secretaries were Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth, the Treasurer was Nellie Keenan. By 1907 the affiliated union were:
Society of Women in the Bookbinding and Printing Trades (Secretary, Miss Forsyth)
Electric and Machine Workers’ Union (Secretary, Mrs. Dickenson)
Power Loom Weavers’ Association (Salford, Manchester and District) (Secretary, Miss Keenan)
Amalgamated Shirt and Jacket Maker’s Society (Women’s branch) (Secretary, Miss Tonkin)
Tailoresses’ Union (Secretary, Miss Preston)
Cigar Makers’ Union (Secretary, Miss Brereton)
Clay Pipe Finishers’ Society (Secretary, Mrs. Bagulay)
Ring Spinners’ Union (Secretary, Miss Nellie Fysh)
Union of Patent Cop Winders, Hank and Bobbin Winders Gassers, Doublers, Reelers (Secretary, Mrs. Violet Grundy)
Cap Makers’ Union (Secretary, Miss Hulme)
Cut off from the rich Liberal supporters who funded the MSWTUC, the new Council relied instead on donations from the affilated unions, other unions, Socialist organisations such as the Clarion Vocal Union, Clarion Cycling Club and Nelson LRC, Suffrage Societies, and donations from individuals such Eva’s brother Josslyn Gore-Booth.
The MSWTLC continued its work to organise women into unions, but also campaigned on the suffrage question holding public meetings, going on processions, and supporting pro-suffrage candidates in by-elections in Wigan and in Rossendale. In 1907 they started their own newspaper Women’s Labour News, no copies of which have survived sadly. Eva played a leading role in defending women’s right to work, eg defeating a proposal to ban barmaids from public houses.
Amy Bulley stepped down as chair of the Council in 1907. Her departure may well have assisted in the moves made in 1909 to establish a cordial working relationship between the two Women’s Trades Councils.
On 21 April the Council discussed a letter from from Councillor Fox Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council inviting the Council to send three representatives to a joint meeting at Caxton Hall on 27 April for the purpose of “discussing ways and means of furthering trade organisation amongst women.” The meeting was to consist of three members of the Executive of the Manchester Trades and Labour Council, three representatives of the Women’s Trades and Labour Council and three representatives from the Women’s Trades Union Council. Miss Ashton moved, Mr. Herford seconded that Miss Cox, Mrs. Cooke and Mrs. Aldridge be appointed to attend the meeting.
At the meeting on 12 May a positive report was made about the Caxton Hall meeting at which Alf Purcell had urged the need for joint action in extending trade organisation in the district. All present felt it would be useful if a permanent joint committee could be formed but before taking this step it was felt that the matter should be brought before the respective Councils and therefore another meeting was arranged for 18 May. Mr. Herford moved and Mrs. Cooke seconded: “That the Council approves of the formation of a permanent joint committee consisting of an equal number of representatives from the Men’s Trades and Labour Council, the Women’s Trades and Labour Council and the Women’s Trade Union Council, if the joint conference at their next meeting decide on its formation.”
At the meeting on 9th June it was reported that the Joint Committee consisting of representatives from the three Manchester Trades Councils was formed on 18 May at a meeting held at the Caxton Hall. The Committee decided to increase the representation from three to four members from each of the Councils. A Sub Committee of one represenative from each Council – Councillor Alf Purcell, Mrs. Dickenson and Mrs Aldridge – was appointed to draft and issue a circular to all the trade organisations in the Manchester District. The Circular asked unions whether they enrolled women members and if so what assistance the Joint Commitee could be. If they did not enrol women members, would the union be willing to assist if they commenced the work? “We desire that it should be clearly understood that it is notour intention to create organisations in any trade in addition to those already existing. Put briefly, we desire to help, build up and strengthen the TU forces, and it is with this object that we ask your replies to the questions submitted.”
The two Women’s Trades Councils were brought closer together during the First World War when they worked together on the Manchester Women’s War Interest Committee.
Finally in April 1919 the two Women’s Trades Councils merged with the Manchester and Salford Trades Council to form a single body. This included a Women’s Group with Mary Quaile as the Secretary.
I will be teaching part one of a course on the history of Radical Women, starting on Tuesday 10 October. The course will last 10 weeks and the venue will be the Working Class Movement Library, 51 Crescent, Salford M5 4WX. The cost of the course will be £60. It will normally run 11am to 1pm.
The course will include the following
Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the few women who came to prominence in the English radical movement of the 790s. Her treatise, Vindication of the Right of Woman, a follow up to her lesser known work, Vindication of the Rights of Man, made her a well-known figure in English society, though it did not lead to the creation of a feminist movement.
Luddism was an organised workers movement which attacked the machinery taking away their jobs in Nottingham, Yorkshire and Lancashire between 1811 and 1813. Whilst women did not generally play a role in the attacks on mills, they did play a prominent role in the food rioting in Manchester in the spring of 1812.
As the radical movement grew into a mass movement in the course of 1819, women stepped onto the political stage organising Female Reform Societies which issued addresses to the public. Women were present at Peterloo, and were among the dead and injured.
Manchester Female Republicans
In the 1820s women were active in the Republican societies inspired by the ideas and writing of Richard Carlile.
Organised groups of workers set up co-operative societies from the late 1820s onwards, inspired by the ideas of Robert Owen. Owen also attacked religion and traditional marriage, leading to a number of women such as Emma Martin preaching his principles around Britain in public lectures.
Chartism was mass worker’s movement at its height between 1839 and 1848 which called for whole sale political reform. Women were not among the leaders, but were active at grassroots level.
Lancashire had the highest number of women workers in England, mostly working in the textile industry as weavers. The Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Council was set up in 1895 to organise women in lowest paid industries into unions.
The struggle for Votes for Women lasted from 1866 to 1928. Manchester played an important role in all phases of the movement, both militant and non-militant. This session will include the role of working class women in the suffarghe campaign.
I have been studying and teaching Manchester’s radical history for many years. my published work includes “Up Then Brave Women,” Manchester’s radical women 1819-1918.
For information or to book a place on the course, please contact me; email@example.com
On 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.
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.