This International Women’s Day, our branch would like to draw attention to the historical successes women have achieved within the union movement.
In the past, as now, women within the workforce have struggled with low, sometimes poverty wages and insecure terms and conditions.
Cradley Heath chainmakers’ fight for a fair wage
In 1910 the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath won a battle to establish the right to a fair wage following a 10-week strike. This landmark victory changed the lives of thousands of workers who were earning little more than ‘starvation wages’.
Mary Macarthur, an union activist from Ayr, raised the profile of the women chain makers in their fight for better pay, to global recognition. In reference to female earnings, Macarthur commented that
women are unorganised because they are badly paid, and poorly paid because they are unorganised.
The dispute ended on the 22 October 1910 when the last of the employers agreed to pay the minimum wage.
Clydeside Singer factory strike
The following year a work squad of fifteen women cabinet polishers, at the Clydeside Singer factory, was reduced to twelve resulting in an intensification of their workload with no commensurate increase in pay. These women resisted the blatant attempt by management at work intensification and stopped work, and they were quickly joined by 380 out of the 400 workers in the department. It was reported that initial support for the polishers came from around 2,000 female workers who left work “in feminine sympathy”. The following day, the strike spread rapidly, with 2,000 on strike by 8.00 a.m., growing to 10,000 by noon. By the Friday, the strike had been joined by a majority of the craftsmen, even though they had been instructed by their unions to stay at work.
Dagenham Ford factory strike
These early fights for better terms and conditions continued with the now famous Dagenham Ford factory strike of 1968, where the women objected to their jobs being graded as less skilled as the men’s jobs, as an excuse to pay them 15% less. Their actions brought production at Europe’s biggest car plant to a halt and paved the way for the Equal Pay Act 1970.
The fight today in Edinburgh
Your branch recognises that injustices still exist within many employment roles which attract predominantly female workforce. Your trade union representatives are arguing for different ways of grading jobs, which recognise the social contribution of these roles and seeking pay and conditions which recognise this.
Your branch also recognises that we need to engage more women reps and members, the councils workforce is almost 70% women and we recognise that our branch does not currently reflect that in our membership. As part of our action plan to remedy this situation, we want to know why women do join trade unions.
We are launching a survey, aiming to find out more about Edinburgh councils women’s workforces opinions and experiences of trade union membership. We hope this will help us better demonstrate the benefits that can be realised by worker solidarity.
Jimmy Reid Foundation—Women in trade unions
Watch the discussion on women in unions with
- Lilian Mace (UNISON Scotland)
- Shavanah Taj (Wales TUC)
- Roz Foyer (STUC).
The event is chaired by Lynn Henderson, former STUC and current Senior National Officer of PCS, who is behind the Step Aside Brother campaign to increase the number of women in roles in trade unions.
Hear more about the Step Aside Brother campaign below.