From Emma Paterson in the 1870’s to Mary Macarthur at the beginning of the 20th Century, the role of British female workers has been fundamental in securing better rights for women workers. In order to understand the importance of these pioneers who fought for their rights, there will be an event on July 6th in Cradley Heath.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
Celebrated annually, this commemoration recognises the efforts of these female trade unionists who staged a ten-week hunger strike in 1910 to obtain a better wage, amongst other things.
The movement was headed by Mary Macarthur, who despite coming from a conservative family, started to get involved in the class struggle when she was barely 21 years old after discovering the deplorable living conditions of workers.
Dedicated to change the conservative ideal that enveloped the United Kingdom, she founded the National Federation of Women Workers to fight in favour of the unions and to secure better working rights.
Despite constantly facing objection from men, she never gave up and travelled all over the country to spread her ideas of equality.
In this way, the National Federation of Working Women organised a blockade in Cradley Heath, a ten-week strike in 1910, which forced employers to improve working conditions for their employees.
Little by little, this social movement grew and in 1914, the National Federation for Women Workers had more than 300, 000 members.
Furthermore, as a result of the start of the First World War and the departure of men due to the military conflict, the union acquired even more relevance, now that these women had to occupy many positions left empty in the male dominated sector. In 1916, Mary Macarthur joined the government reconstruction committee and in 1919 the committee recognised that women should have a minimum wage, a 40-hour working week and two weeks annual holiday.
As a member of the labour party, she attempted to enter parliament, but she wasn’t elected and not long after this her husband died of flu, and in 1921 cancer ended her life when she was 40 years old.
The fight continues today
Although many improvements were achieved in the last century, women working part-time still earn 38% less than their male counterparts, according to a TUC survey.
For this reason, as part of the “Women Chainmakers Festival” there will be debates and lectures to analyse the role of women in society and female workers unions.
There will also be street theatre and music, and the group Wara whose members include Latin American and African singers will perform.
This event is being organised by the TUC: an organisation that brings together more than 5.5 million members and 48 trade unionists, it has been in force since a group of pioneers from Manchester fought for their rights back in 1868.
(Translated by Carol M Byrne)