Making our women history

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2019 National Women's Conference
24 October 2018

As we look back over a year of celebrating women’s suffrage and some women gaining the right to vote, it has become all too apparent that our women, working class women are rarely recognised or documented in history. The celebrations we have been part of has been brilliant for raising awareness of the difference women can make, but these weren’t working class women and these weren’t the first changes women made which has gone on to shape our society.

In 1888 working class women- and girls, took industrial action- these were the match workers and they named this action strike action- as we now know it- sadly this knowledge has been lost.

The 1888 match worker strike showed what true collective action can achieve- using various spheres of influence. It wasn’t just the workers alone that were able to achieve their success- it was through the support of other working class women, women such as Annie Bessant- a woman often unheard of- a journalist, recognising the huge profits Bryant and May were making whilst paying their workers terrible wages and disgraceful working conditions- often resulting in illness and death. Annie encouraged the workers to get organised- Annie used the very same techniques we use today in organising.

She gained public support, she used the media and she used MP’s but where is her story?

And 1906 saw the Belfast women’s strike- again- working class women making a real difference- who knows there story?

What about Margaret Bondfield? she became the first female cabinet minister, and the first woman to be a privy counsellor in the UK, when she was appointed Minister of Labour in the Labour government of 1929–31. She had earlier become the first woman to chair the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Why don’t we know about these women?

Thank goodness therefore for the amazing, recently published book by Nan Sloane ‘The women in the room, Labours forgotten history’ a great start to the proper recording and documenting of women’s achievements but this is only the start.

Our union has done amazing work, so much of it by female activists but where are our successes recorded?

We can no longer be our countries forgotten history, now is the time to recognise our achievements for the catalysts of change that we so often are. Women have always been influencers but women are not ones to boast, women have been instrumental in change. Mary McArthur championed for a national minimum wage almost a century before it was introduced- rarely remembered and often forgotten.

Conference we ask the women’s committee to:

• Work with the NEC to identify a plan for recording the achievements of our working class women which can be adopted by regions and branches to ensure we are the future, the present and the history of our union, our communities and our country.

• Encourage branches and regions to campaign locally for female blue plaques to recognise the achievements of local women and submit nominations to English heritage for the recognition and installation of blue plaques.