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.
“Women: the struggle for freedom” by Sheila Rowbotham
Sheila was asked to join the editorial board of Black Dwarf in late 1968. As she recalls in her autobiography Promise of a Dream, she wrote furiously, sitting on her stool by the gas fire in the basement of her house in Hackney.
Our came all the concentrated thoughts and impressions which had been unconsciously accumulating. It was the kind of article I would later recognise as one that builds up inside. In the spirit of ’68, I knew I must write not from received authorities on “women” but from my own observations and feelings..Now all those scattered experiences could take a new shape. As the words splattered out in to pages it felt as if I had reached a clearing.
Surprisingly, for such an important article in the history of British feminism, it has never been been published in full in any collection on the 1960s, So I have typed it up.
Ok so you’ve heard it all before
Ok so you’re bored
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 went 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 all the time, every day
Wherever you go, all your life.
Here the subordinated relates to dominator
Here the discontent focuses and here the experience is felt, expressed and articulated, resisted – through the particular.
The particular pummels you gently into passivity.
So we don’t know how to find each other or ourselves
We are perhaps the most divided of all oppressed groups. Divided in our real situations and in our understanding and consciousness of our condition.
We are all in different classes.
Thus we devour and use one another
Our “emancipation” has often been the struggle of the privileged to improve and consolidate its superiority – The women of the working class remain the exploited , oppressed as workers and oppressed as women.
We are with families and without them.
Hence we distrust one another.
The woman with a home and children is suspicious of the woman with no ties, seeing her as a potential threat to her territorial security.
The single woman feels the married woman is subtly critical because she is not fulfilling her “role” as homemaker,
She feels she is accused of being unable to be a woman.
They tell us what we should be.
As we grow up, especially from puberty, we are under intensive pressure to be “acceptable” – not to put ourselves outside the safety net of marriage.
From small girls we are taught that failure means not being selected by men – the same of being a wallflower. The sign of intelligence and sublety is a contractual bargain as we hand over our virginity for a marriage document, a ring and the obligation of financial support. Orgasm is a matter of merchandise. And remember THEY don’t like us to be too clever. Well might she go to university but men want someone who can cook.
The emphasis in our education tends to be much more on integration, the encouragement of active criticism, of intellectual aggression is rare. The cautious virtues predominate. We are in an intellectual double bind. We are assumed to have nothing to say, find it difficult to assert that we want to say something, are observed to say nothing, are assumed to have nothing to say.
To stray from the definition of what “they “ want is to risk being rejected in a double sense. There is a “moral” force behind this urge to conform. The girl who is critical of the stereotype presented to her can be condemned not simply like a boy as a rebel but as a slut as well. The latter is much more difficult to cope with. There is still the whole dirty, frightened, patronising world behind slut, tart, old slag, nymphomaniac, dolly, bird, chick, bit of stuff, bit of crumpet, old bag, silly cow, blue stocking. These words have no male equivalents.
The girl who for some reason breaks away intellectually is in a peculiarly isolated position. She finds herself straddled across a great gulf, which grows wider, while she is pulled both ways. A most perilous and lonely condition, comparable to that of a black or working class militant. In the process of becoming interested in ideas she finds herself to some extent cut off from other girls and inclines naturally towards boys as friends. They do more interesting things, discuss wider topics. She really defines herself as a boy. Other girls appear curious and rather boring, passive and accepting. She has little to say to most of them. The social contempt in which women are led confirms this. She is constantly being told she is “quite good for a girl”. Femininity becomes synonymous with frivolity, stupidity and narrowness. It seems obviously better to be a man. Doesn’t she feel like a man, do their things, talk their talk. It is natural for her to define her situation in terms of a kind of sub-maness.
They tell us what we are.
The image is constantly reaffirmed. The book she reads and the films she sees are almost invariably by men. The women characters created by them, however sympathetically and with whatever intuit understanding, must of necessity be the projection of their response towards women. One is simply not conscious of men writers or men film makers. They are just writers, just film makers. The reflected image for women they create will be taken straight by women themselves. These characters “are” women.
Throughout this process the educated girl probably takes her “emancipation” as being beyond question, not worth even starting discussing. The suffragettes happened a long time ago. Men will readily accept her as different, an exception, an interesting diversion. She lives in fact as a man. There might be a hint of strain over her virginity, a flicker of doubt, the discovery of a strange duplicity lurking still in men. But no connection is obvious. She cannot see a condition of women.
It is not until she becomes older, grows less decorative, has babies. That the rather deep cracks in the gloss of “emancipation” appears. She has the rest of her life to explore the limits and ambiguities of her “freedom”.
And what a spurious freedom.
We walk and we talk and think as living contradictions. Most of us find the process too painful and not surprisingly settle for limited liberated areas. We give up struggling on every front and ease into a niche of acceptance.
We become the educated housewife desperately searching for dignity and fulfilment through ever more elaborate cooking recipes or constant redecorate schemes, suspicious and defensive about women who are unmarried women or women who work.
Or the occupational variant of this Proopism doing a womanly womaness to a very male style. They are of course simply avoiding the issue in a peculiarly complicit and false way.
Obversely we become the popular (distorted) image of the suffragette. A tweedy sensibly shod battle axe with a severe hair style and a deep voice, advancing aggressively on the male world and the board room. The sexual corollary of this the retreat into lesbianism.
Both share a profound distaste for the male. Emancipation is doing without men.
Our other retreat is into sexuality. Because women have traditionally been deprived of the power to make “free” choice, our bodies have been part of somebody else’s belongings., we prove that we have control, that we are liberated simply by fucking. But if the definition of our constraint is not extended beyond sexuality we are only entrammelled in a greater bondage. We may not be choosing but reacting, ironically under the compulsion of our real subordination. We could be expressing in our sexual life the very essence of our secondariness and the destructive contradictions in our consciousness, through the inability to meet and communicate and love with a man at every level. The same “free” woman could still expect men to pay for her, buy her expensive presents. She must of course be excessively preoccupied with her appearance and regard other women’s men as fair game. After all she needs constantly the reassurance that she is wanted and beautiful because only through these is she capable of defining her freedom. We shelter as well as retreat. We take refuge behind the privilege of class and education, using the manner and accent of the rulers to secure respect and serious consideration, a protected dignity at the expense of the working class, and a protected liberation based on the underpaid labour of an au pair.
Most of us live a particular combination of these or run the whole gamut knowing them for subterfuge – at certain moments struggling through and beyond them all. But it seems that capitalism condemns all people to live deceitfully. How can we be expected to live otherwise?
They have nothing to say to you if you’re earning £8 a week, or if you’re poor and working class and in a VD clinic.If you’re economically exploited and socially despised you exist outside the bounds of these emancipations. They forget that we are oppressed within the class system.
Moreover they never go beyond confirmation or denial of what men say we are. We never tell them what we are. We never take hold of our definitions. We consequently admit our failure to be whole.
Marxists have quite rightly always stressed that the subordination of women is part of the total mutual devouring process called capitalism. No one group can be liberated except through a transformation of the whole structure of social relationships.
But this has been twisted into a rather glib justification for inactivity and quietism.
- Wait until the revolution, we’ll dole out your equality then. (Oh no you won’t, power never concedes remember).
- Of course we know the bourgeois family exercises a conservative constraining force and through its structure subordinates the woman especially. But people won’t give up their families. They like them therefore the whole liberation of women is a dead issue. (What about a bit of praxis comrade to break down the sexual division of labour – washing up floors, scrubbing.)
OK so the revolution will sort everything out. But what about releasing a whole lot of people to work for it? What about showing thousands of women the revolution is something to do with them? True we won’t get far without really radical change. True there is the whole rigidity of job structure, unequal pay, deep cultural, presuppositions – in fact capitalism. Meanwhile what’s wrong with finding out really what people resent, what’s wrong with presenting them with alternatives which spring from an understanding of their discontent. Don’t ask women if they regard themselves as victims of as victims of an exploitative capitalist society, don’t ask them if they think their relations within the family are unauthentic. Ask them how they feel about their pay and being pushed around at work, about being patronised as fluffy little things, about always baby sitting. Why is marriage a matter for dirty jokes or the very mention of the wife enough to get a laugh. Why those strange stag rituals, the psychosomatic illnesses, the mysterious fatigue, the desolateness of so many women.
There are infinite practical possibilities, which could be made to happen under capitalism but would be more feasible under socialism and would help illustrate what it’s about. For example, the campaign for equal pay and economic independence is crucial. As for the family, why simply nursery schools, why not crèches at the workplace of both the father and mother with time off from work to play with the children, who would get to know both parents too. Or numerous street and flat co-operatives for looking after children, for baby sitting and visiting the old. If adolescents, whether young workers or people at school, didn’t want to live at home why couldn’t they go in flats which they ran themselves. These would provide another means of looking after old people.
Certainly these would mean a real liberation for many women. But subordination is not an affair of economics or institutions only. Nor is it only to do with contraception , abortion, orgasm and sexual equality, important as these are.
It is an assumed secondariness which dwells in a whole complex of inarticulate attitudes, in smirks, in offsides, in insecurities, in desperate status differentiation. Secondariness happens in people’s heads and is expressed every time they do not speak, every time they they assume no-one would listen. It is located in a structure in which sexes are tragically trapped. The man as much as the woman, for each time he tries to break through, he meets the hostility of other men or the conflicting demands of those women who prefer the traditional sex game. It is only women who can dissolve the assumption. It is only women who can say what they feel because the experience is unique to them.
Only women can define themselves. To define yourself you have to explore yourself, you have to find yourself as a group before you can say how you regard yourself as a group. It is only by understanding your situation as a group that can relate it to the system through which you are dominated.
This means a certain withdrawal into the group and a realisation on the part of the elite of a common identity. This means that just as the white middle class Cuban found he was a spick and the black PhD that he was nigger, the privileged woman has to extend beyond her elite consciousness to learn the extent of her common condition with the unprivileged woman. Only then can women really challenge the external definition imposed on them, become sufficiently conscious to act and thus be recognised as being there. The enemy is not identified as man. This is as futile as as a black white student conflict. The ally is not the woman who supports and benefits from capitalism. It is all people who are being crushed and twisted, who want space and air and time to sit in the sun.
But the oppressed have to discover their own dignity, their own freedom, they have to make themselves equal. They have to decolonise themselves. Then they can liberate the colonisers.
As a historian of the left it’s always intriguing to come across campaigns that you have never come across before. In this case my interest was sparked by a reference in Black Dwarf to a Sister Patricia Veal speaking at an Equal Pay Rally in London in September 1969. I had never heard of her so I followed up this mention and discovered that she had been leading a campaign for nurses for about a year. I have now found some additional information in the press and thought it would be useful to put this into this post in the hope that it may lead to more information about Patricia and the campaign coming to light.
Sister Patricia Veal worked as an administrative sister at South Western Hospital in Stockwell, London. In July 1968 she had read about nurses lobbying MPs over pay, went along to the House of Commons but found no other nurse there. She decided to organise a march and spent £6 on sending letters to every hospital in the country. According to Patricia, some letters were intercepted by matrons. “I had one letter from a matron saying that she wouldn’t let her nurses read such stuff. We’re going to frame it.” She also said that the whole edifice of nursing was tottering. “Florence Nightingale would have 50 fits if she saw how nursing is now.” Patricia was critical of the Royal College of Nursing which she said was “all talk and no action” and “not for the ordinary nurse.”
Her efforts paid off. On 15 August 1968 Patricia led a march of 1,000 or so nurses from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street where they delivered a letter to the Prime Minister Harold Wilson. They include nurses from nine London teaching hospitals as well hospitals in Sussex, Surrey and Derbyshire.
Some hospitals had tried to stop nurses attending by refusing them time off. In some cases nurses had been forbidden to wear their uniforms, but many marched in the uniforms they used for private cases. Some marched barefoot: one nurse from India marched in her sari.
Patricia told the press: “I’m a new type of sister. I always used to be criticised for the amount of make-up I wore. People say: ‘Look at those false eyelashes and all that hair.’ But I think that a nurse’s private life is no concern of the matron. If a nurse wants to come in at four c’clock in the morning, that’s up to her.”
The nurses marched six a breast down Park Lane under the slogan “Unite and Fight” and carried banners that said, “There’s a curse on the purse of every nurse” and “Wait till you get a hernia – Mr Wilson”. They sang songs about bedpans and bad food to the time of “John Brown’s Body”. Passers-by often applauded as they passed. In Whitehall the march paused while Patricia fixed her hair. Finally, on arrival at Downing Street, the letter was delivered by Patricia, along with two colleagues from the same hospital, Sister Tina Stone and Sister Mary Chundee.
The letter said: “We are dissatisfied not only because of the latest salary increase which was comsumed by the latest increases in board and lodging , National Health contributions, income tax, and superannuation but we are equally concerned over working conditions resulting in the loss of so many nurses. We believe that the National Health Service is wasting money and that many departmnest need rorganising and streamlining.” They called for an immediate increase in the nursing establishment in all hospitals and higher pay.
After the march Patricia said, “Now, there’s going to be no turning back. We’re going to form an association to keep this up!” She and a number of other nurses held a meeting in one of their flats on 22 August and set up the United Nurses’ Association.
They told the press that had received many letters, both from nurses and the mothers of student nurse, s who complained about the treatment of their daughters by hospitals and the nursing hierarchy. Many of the mothers explained that they had been silent previously because of fear of repercussions. The UNA decided to follow-up the march with a “Unite and Fight campaign,” contacting hospitals with literature. Sister Jean Baxter, Secretary of the UNA, said that she had been appalled to hear and see grossly understaffed wards, a situation which led to overworked student nurses leaving before they had finished their training. There were also situations where unqualified auxiliary nurses were left alone at night in charge of wards. Above all, she said, nurses must unite to prevent the vicious circle which caused chronic staff shortages.
The UNA’s grievances included plans to make nurses “pay to eat,” the working conditions of nurses – especially student nurses – who were often ordered to carry out cleaning duties, overwork, poor pay and and the way that pay was negotiated. Their demands included £11 a week for student nurses with free meals and travel warrants. How many nurses actually joined the UNA remains a matter of speculation, but it seems to have attracted particular support from student nurses. Other nursing organisations such as the Royal College of Nurses, dominated by qualified nurses, were far from enthusiastic about the actions of the younger women, particularly when the UNA called for matrons to be sacked.
The UNA was angered by an article which appeared in Nursing Mirror headed, “Let’s put our student nurses on the pill”. Jean Baxter told the press, “We are going to make an official complaint about the editor of the Nursing Mirror. We communicated with the Nursing Mirror about our march. The editor wrote to Patricia Veal…refusing to print anything about it as she disapproved of the march. This has been printed the day after our march and is obviously trying to do as much as damage as possible, both within the nursing fraternity and with the general public.We are angry, disgusted and disturbed about this.”
In response Yvone Cross, editor of Nursing Mirror, defended herself, “I did not print anything about this march because the nurses could not be specific enough about their reasons for marching at this time, or what they expected to get out of the march.” She went onto say that the article was the opinion of a reader. “The article was scheduled long before the march took place, but even had it not been, there is no reason I can see that I should have withdrawn it at that time.”
On 13 December 1968 Patricia and 14 other nurses went to to the House of Commons. It seems very likely that this action was deliberately timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the General Election held on 14 December 1918 when some women voted for the first time. They arrived at 9.45am and, to begin with, confined themselves to giving out leaflets which described small hospitals as being full of “antiques” like furniture, matrons, ward sisters; senior administrators who lacked the courage to face reality; and unions who were trying to lower nursing standards; and unsatisfactory working conditions. Patricia told the press it was too cold to chain themselves to the railing so they were going to go and tell MPs a few home truths instead.”
The women went inside to sit in the public gallery from where they heard Jo Grimond deliver a speech about Shetland ponies. After he had finished Patricia jumped up and addressed the Chamber for 30 seconds on their demands, very reminscent of Muriel Matters, who in October 1908 also made a speech to the Chamber after chaining herself to a grille in the Ladies’ Gallery. Patricia shouted. “I want to talk on behalf of the nurses. The nurses want support. Listen to the nurses. The nurses want to fight for the patients of this country. Will MPs listen instead of talking about ponies?”
The nurses also somewhat half-heartedly tried to emulate the suffragettes by tying themselves together with bits of string. The Serjeant-at-Arms, Rear Admiral A H C Gordon-Lennox, took them into custody and they were detained “at the Speaker’s pleasure” in a small, cold room. They were eventually let out at 1.30 pm on condition they did not cause a disturbance within a mile of Westminster. Patricia told the press that the MPs had been talking “a load of drivel about Shetland ponies” so when she had spoken “all the MPs woke up”.
Christine Doyle interviewed Patricia for The Observer in April 1969, visiting her in her small flat above a jewellers in Tooting Bec. Patricia was 34. She was from Cornwall with an Irish grandmother and agreed that she was “a dangerous Celt.” “But I like cosmetics and beauty culture, I like perfume especially. I’ve got Tigress by Faberge. Quite appropriate”. Since her campaign had hotted up she admitted that she was living mainly on scrambled eggs and toast. Patricia named her outside interests as “Men. Church activities”.
The UNA staged another protest on 22 April 1969 outside the Department of Health and Social Security with 150 nurses singing “Why Are We Waiting.” Patrica told the press, “We want this system abolished. These girls are hungry.” After five minutes the Secretary of State himself , Richard Crossman, came out to speak to them. He said that nurses had their own representatives who were negotiating on their behalf.He suggested that rather than stand in the cold wind, they send in a delegation. This was done, with a small delegation going in to speak to Lady Serota, a Minister, for an hour. Patricia told the Minister that some student nurses were struggling to eat. Most of the nurses present were from London, Surry and Kent, but they were joined by a coachload of 50 from South Wales who had set out at 6am.
On 15 May 1969 the UNA staged a series of protests against what they termed “an insulting offer” by the Whitley Council of 2s 6d “tea money” to student courses. In the rain Patricia and a small number of nurses began outside the Royal College of Nursing whom they accused of “sweeping so much dirt under the carpets” and wielded a broom and a carpet before the cameras of the press. The RCN responded tartly that, “Cheap publicity stunts such as the demonstration by the United Nurses Association today are doing a great disservice to the nursing profession.” The nurses then moved onto the General Nursing Council where they were admitted for what Patricia called “a sympathetic but sugary hearing.” She said that the registrar and education officer “just passed the buck and blamed the troubles on the state of the country. I think it was clear that they are not doing anything.”
You can see a picture of this here
At the end of May a new meals allowance for student nurses of £48 was agreed. Although this was initially welcomed by Patricia, who had been protesting outside the meeting with other nurses, she became angry when she realised that it would be taxed. Speaking to the press she waved a copy of Minister Martin Ennal’s statement and said, “Why doesn’t he put it down here if it’s going to be taxed? That means it is not going to be a £1 a week How much is that going to leave us?”
In July 1969 Patricia issued a writ for libel against the Sunday Mirror for an article published on 1 June entitled “Me and my clients – by Sister Veal”.
On 27 August 1969 the UNA supported a demonstration by striking ambulancemen at County Hall, London.
On 12 September 1969 there was a rally in Conway Hall, London organised by the National Joint Action Committee for Women’s Equal Rights. Established in the wake of the Ford Machinists’ strike for equal pay. it had had held a march in London on 18 May 1969. Although 12 September had originally billed as a national Equal Pay Day with 40 rallies around the country, it dwindled down to a single event, the London rally. Patricia spoke about the conditions under which nurses worked. Student nurses earned £5.15 a week, a staff nurse £12.10.0 a week. “Nurses are their own worst enemy, they don’t realise how much they are being exploited.”
The UNA was mentioned in a Times editorial no lesson 3 November 1969 headed “Justice for Nurses.” It said, “Nothing has happened yet, but Sister Patricia Veal’s United Nurses’ Association has demonstrated that calls for militant action do not go unheeded. Nurses’ problems are sufficiently serious to guarantee a ready response from a growing number.”
In January 1970 it was reported that Patricia was leaving South Western Hospital to set up a nursing agency She said “I feel that in the National Health Service I am wasting my time. We shall be concentrating on higher quality nursing. It will be a modern efficnet organisation run on old fashioned principles. I shall be in a better position to fight with the association to give student nurses status. We are not so much concerned with status now.” At the end of January. the UNA again picketed the Whitley Council meeting which was discussing a 22 per cent offer. It ended with no agreement,
In March 1970 the UNA urged nurses to leave the NHS and work instead for nursing agencies. This call came shortly after a fifth round of talks on nurses pay between the Whitley Council and nurses’ represenatatives broke up with no agreement. The chair of the Whitley Council, Mr W R Griffiths, said that there had been “fundamental” disagreements on grading. The lack of agreement meant that nurses would not get their promised 20% pay increase on 1 April.
After this date I have not been able to find any other references to Patricia Veal or the United Nurses’ Association.
This was not the first public protest by nurses. In April 1962 10,000 nurses, (about 50:50 male and female) protested over pay in Trafalgar Square, for instance.
However the actions of the UNA was the first organised protest by nurses over the conditions of work of nurses and they were treated by those in auuthotity above them . The profession was highly hierarchical and often very conservative with managers feeling entitled to pry into nurses’ private lives, for instance. In this sense the UNA was akin to many of the protests taking place across Europe and in the USA in the course of 1968 . Whilst they had different targets – the war in Vietnam, race, male authority, etc – they were united by a rejection of power, hierarchy and tradition and a seeking out of alternative structures and ways of living.
They also use dthe tactics of their contemporaries, designed to attract publicity. Although it was shortlived , the UNA was regualrly in the headlines and Patrica Veal was frequently quoted by the press, much to the anger I suspect of the traditional nursing organisations.
It pointed the way to the future. In the 1970s and 1980s nurses became increasingly militant , joined protest sin increasing numbers and even went on strike.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone with more information about Patricia and the UNA. Please email; firstname.lastname@example.org
A course on the history of radical women 1914 – 1979 at the Working Class Movement Library, Salford, starting on 27 February 2018
This is a 10 week course which will begin on Tuesday 27 February 2018 and run from 11am to 1pm. It will introduce course members to some of the key movements and events which shaped and changed women’s lives in the twentieth century.
The course will include the following:
- Women’s anti-war movements in the First World War
- Women Councillors in Manchester in the 1920s eg Hannah Mitchell
- The first women MPs such as Ellen Wilkinson who was born in Manchester
- Women’s unemployed marches in the 1930s
- Women volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
- The Women’s Parliaments held during the Second World War
- The work of Joan Littlewood and Shelagh Delaney, writer of A Taste of Honey
- The emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s
No prior knowledge is necessary to enrol on the course which costs £60 (free to people on JSA or Universal Credit).
I have been researching and writing about radical women for many years. I have an MA in the History of the Manchester Region, and am the author of a number of books, including “Up Then Brave Women”: Manchester’s Radical Women 1819-1918.
Update: I am sorry but this course is now full. If you would like to go on my mailing list for future events and courses please contact me, Michael Herbert : email@example.com
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.
In 1941 and 1942 a number of Women’s Parliaments were held in different parts of the country to discuss the issues arising from women working in industry. This was an initiative stemming from the Communist Party, but which drew in wider support than just their own membership, a sign that the changed position of women in society created by the war, was leading to a thoughtful discussion of wider issues.
The first Women’s Parliament was held in London on 13 July 1941, just a few weeks after Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union, and was attended by 346 women who were dubbed “MPs”. The conference was opened by Beatrix Lehmann, a well-known actress and author. She said:
We welcome you to this first session of the Women’s Parliament, which meets at a time of crisis unparalleled in world history. We women, more than any, are sensible of the sufferings which have been brought upon this generation. We know what a terrible cost would be exacted by the victory of Fascist reaction and we know that the utter annihilation of Fascism must precede all hope of a just and lasting peace. Yet any who think that the role of a woman at this time is to sit down and weep beneath the load of her sufferings and take no part in the shaping of events, is mistaking all the lessons of history. The war, it is true, has broken up the settled course of social life. But it also faces us with new responsibilities and immense opportunities.
The Women’s Parliament passed an emergency resolution of support for the USSR. The report of the event said the gathering was “confident of its strength and resolute in its purpose. They were not there to air grievances or bewail their fate, but to put forward concrete proposals”. At later sessions the Parliament put forward draft Bills on Wages and Part-Time Work which, it said, were needed in order “to utilise the whole resources of the nation in the war against German Nazism and to ensure an early victory, it is necessary to bring about the most effective and fullest mobilisation of man power and woman power”.
The Lancashire Women’s Parliament took place on 12 April 1942, organised by Manchester and District Anglo-Soviet Women’s Unity Committee. It was held in the Co-operative Hall, Downing Street, and attended by 300 women from political parties, trade unions, Anglo-Soviet committees, munition factories, and many other bodies. Also present were two representatives from the Ministry of Information, as well as a large number of other visitors.
Miss Clara Bamber, President of the Manchester and District Women’s Anglo-Soviet Unity Committee, presided over the conference. She had been active in the Co-operative Movement, and was also Chair of the Manchester, Salford and District Maternal Mortality Committee.
In her opening address Clara said that about half the delegates represented women in industry and about half represented housewives or organisations interested in women’s work, thereby representing a very good cross section of Lancashire women. She said that the Parliament had come about after a number of Manchester women had met the previous August and decided to form an Anglo-Russian Women’s Friendship Committee. This had been very successful and a deputation had been sent to Madame Maisky (wife of the Soviet Ambassador) with donations of money and supplies to the Soviet Union. They had also affiliated to the Anglo-Russian Friendship Committee, started by the Lord Mayor of Manchester. She recalled that when the Soviet trade union delegation had visited Manchester, Madame Nikolayeva, Secretary of the All-Union Council of Trade Unions, had pointed out that she was disappointed at seeing so many women in Lancashire who were not working in industry. (The delegation had visited Manchester in January 1942, attending a conference and visiting bombed areas and factories).
They had called the Parliament, Clara continued, to give women the opportunity of discussing why more of them were not working in industry and what the difficulties were which kept them out. In conclusion she spoke about the international situation:
At the moment the only country which is holding the enemy is Russia and Russia must be helped if we are to help ourselves. Their magnificent stand this winter has given us quiet nights; it has saved us from possible invasion and has filled us with admiration and courage. We love our land, too, and we will sacrifice for it, but we want the burden to fall equally on all people. Our deliberations today are to that end.
The first item discussed by the delegates was the draft Women’s Power Bill which set out the following demands in order to allow women to go into industry:
- Factory canteens and British restaurants
- Nursery schools and residential nurseries
- Full time education, dinners for all school children, breakfasts and teas for children of war-workers
- Play Centres for children of school age with voluntary supervision
- Full use of local part-time labour to made by all factory management
- All women who registered for National Service should be drawn into work without delay or class distinction
- An immediate examination of Lancashire industry should be undertaken by the Ministry of Labour, the employers and the trade unions with a view to making the fullest use of the available woman labour
Mrs Holt, representing the BRD Aircraft Factory, Warrington, moved the Bill. She said that she had wasted 12 years of her life as an unpaid housewife, but for the past five months she had been in industry helping the war effort. “The splendid and dauntless courage of the Soviet women drew me to the factory,” she declared. “The Soviet women are an example to us, and we can play our part just as they are doing…every woman must play her part as more and more men are taken out of industry and drafted into the Forces”. She went on to say that her factory was now 100 per cent trade union, and that as a senior shop steward she knew the problems confronting the women in industry such as the lack of nursery schools and shopping facilities. She asked the women of the Parliament to give this draft bill their utmost support.
Bessie Wild of the Longsight Anglo-Soviet Committee said that there could be no future for her two children unless she herself played her part in the war effort. Her children attended a nursery and she was extremely satisfied with the manner in which her children were being looked after. Bessie had heard that a munitions factory quite near to her home was being opened, but when she presented herself she was told that there could be no question of part-time work. She thought that Labour Exchanges should adopt a more friendly and helpful attitude.
Margaret Hyndman, who was described as a shop steward in a “a large aircraft industry” (clearly the Avro factory in Chadderton, ) said that the firm employed 11,000 workers, 2,000 of whom were women. They were not organised at first, but now they had a woman convenor as well as a male convenor. They had good conditions, and surprised the management by turning out the new bomber in three months under schedule. “The shop stewards,” she continued, “took up the question of the canteen and secured substantial improvements, such as weekly dinners at six shillings per week, table-cloths, flowers on the tables, waitresses, good service, food well cooked and served. Since the women had started working at the factory, production had doubled. Get the women organised, and then we can end the war this year”.25
Florence Mitton was a delegate from the Stretford branch of the TGWU at Metro-Vickers. She said that she represented 2,000 members, and their worst problem was shopping which had led to much absenteeism. “We feel,” that in Manchester and Lancashire we should get busy on solving this problem – show the traders the difficulties experienced by the workers and get their co-operation in the settlement of the problem”. Florence also said it was essential to get crèches.26
There was concern in the higher echelons of the trade union movement at the success of the Women’s Parliaments, and the fact that it might enhance the standing of the Communist Party. Consequently Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the TUC, sent out a letter which was read at the monthly meeting of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council on 17 January 1943. It was clear, he wrote, that the Women’s Parliaments were attempting to deal with many matters that were the subject of “negotiation by individual trade unions or the trade unions generally” and had intervened in matters that were essentially the responsibility of trade unions. If the Women’s Parliaments were to receive support from trade union branches, district committee, or trades councils it would inevitably lead to” conflicting policies or misunderstandings”. In all circumstances, the letter concluded, the General Council of the TUC strongly advised affiliated organisations and Trades Councils not to support the Women’s Parliaments.
The letter was in some sense unnecessary, since the Lancashire Women’s Parliament was the last such meeting to be held. The Communist Party was increasingly directing its efforts towards factory production committees, and also a campaign for a Second Front, calling for an Allied invasion of Western Europe in order to assist the Red Army in its fight against the German armies in the East.
The Women’s Peacemakers Pilgrimage, summer 1926
In the summer of 1926 the Women’s International League, part of an international organisation which campaigned to prevent another Great War, co-ordinated with other organisations a Peacemakers’ Pilgrimage from many parts of the country to London, very much modelled on the 1913 suffragist Pilgrimage.
The aim was to raise the question of peace and international arbitration which, the organisers felt, was not being addressed with enough urgency, even by the League of Nations. They said that they wanted to show the government that “this country wants law not war”, and, in particular, they wished the British government to accept compulsory arbitration in international disputes by the League of Nations, something 17 other countries, including Germany and Russia, had already agreed to.
The Chair of the organising committee was Mrs Eleanor Acland, a leading member of the Women’s National Liberal Federation, while the Treasurer was Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, the former WSPU suffragette. In March Emmeline addressed a conference of 50 societies in Manchester, which included the Society of Friends, the League of Nations Union, the St Joan’s Social and Political Alliance and the Women’s Co-operative Guild, all of which agreed to support the Pilgrimage.
The Women’s Citizen Association organised a further meeting on 12 April at the Ancoats Settlement, Manchester to rally support for the Pilgrimage. Mrs Muter Wilson, a former suffragist, reviewed the history of attempts to bring about international arbitration of disputes between countries from William Penn to the League of Nations. She said that there was no greater mistake than to suppose that the mere existence of the League would in itself secure peace. She thought that the Locarno Pact might have made peace, had it been followed by a disarmament conference. Although seventeen countries had signed the arbitration clause, Britain had not yet done so. She believed that the Pilgrimage was “a force to be reckoned with”.24
Seven Peacemakers’ Pilgrimage marches set out in May (coinciding with the General Strike, incidentally), holding hundreds of meetings along the way. On 17 June there was a procession in Manchester in support of the Pilgrimage, which gathered in Stevenson Square at 5pm, and then marched with pennons and banners to the Cathedral, which was packed to the doors. After being addressed by the Dean the procession went to Platt Fields where a crowd of 2,500 heard speeches from Councillor Mary Welch, Cecile Matheson and finally Kate Courtney, who said that the Pilgrimage was an expression of “an aspiration to permanent peace,” an aspiration which she believed filled the mind of almost every man and woman in the country.
The 3,000 marchers on the Pilgrimage reached London in mid-June. They held a final mass procession on 19 June ending in Hyde Park where there were 22 platforms for the speakers, which included Dame Millicent Fawcett, Margaret Bondfield, Ellen Wilkinson, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Evelyn Sharp. At the end of the meeting bugles were sounded, and a resolution was put urging the government to agree to submit all international disputes to arbitration or conciliation.
On 16 July a delegation from the Pilgrimage went to the Foreign Office, where they met Sir Austen Chamberlain. Mrs Acland presented him with report from the Pilgrimage, and emphasised that the object of the Pilgrimage was not merely to speak of the desirability of world peace, but to put before their countrymen the need for England to “throw the full weight of its immense prestige” on the side of international law “as against international anarchy.” Chamberlain replied to the women with emollient diplomatic speak, assuring them that the government was reviewing “the whole question of arbitration in international affairs.”
The Pilgrimage inspired the Manchester branch of the WIL to arrange a number of meetings in the theme of peace in July 1927 in number of villages and towns in Lancashire and Cheshire, including Bollington, Newton-le-Willows, Stockport Whaley Bridge, Wilmslow. The speakers included Councillor Mary Welsh, Mrs Muter Wilson and Dr Vipont Brown.
You can watch a short British Pathe silent news reel about the marches here