Northern Launch of play collection “Workers Play Time” 19th May, 6pm at Three Minute Theatre

The next Mary Quaile Club event  will be on 19th May 2018, 6pm, the Northern Launch of Workers Play Time, published by New Internationalist and the General Federation of Trade Unions.

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the GFTU,  will introduce this new collection of political plays:

“The plays are genuinely in the Shakespearean tradition. They cover the whole of a historical epoch that witnessed the growth of industrial capitalism and the emergence from within it of a vision of a new socialist society. They are about the world created by the modern capitalism and imperialism that was only just beginning to take shape in Shakespeare’s day. And, most importantly of all, they are concerned with a force that did not exist in Shakespeare’s Britain – an organized working class.”

John Topliff of Three Minute Theatre and his actors will perform excerpts from  a number of the plays which will include

Dare To Be Free (2016) by Jane McNulty is  about Manchester Irish Trade Unionist Mary Quaile and links her story with the low paid zero hour workers today.

 The Chambermaids by Kathleen McCreery (1987) recounts the story of a group of Grosvenor House Hotel chambermaids who in 1979 took on Trust House Forte when their Jarrow-born shop steward was unfairly suspended, and were sacked and evicted.

 Out on the Costa del Trico, (1977) was created by the Women’s Theatre Group about a group of female window screen wipers who won their strike for equal pay after 21 weeks on strike in the summer of 1976.

You can read a review of the book here

Venue; Three Minute Theatre, Afflecks Arcade, 35-39, Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JG

Start time; 6pm. Refreshments and bar available.

Entrance is  free but donations welcome.

Advance booking is strongly recommended, please email:.  maryquaileclub@gmail.com

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Mary Quaile Club event on 10th March 2018: Presentation of the Minutes of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Union Council to the Working Class Movement Library

Ciara

At this event we were delighted to formally present the minutes of the Manchester and Salford  and District  Women’s Trades Union Council   to the Working Class Movement Library.  These two handwritten volumes are the complete record of the meetings of the MSWTUC from 1895 to 1919. They came to light several years ago  during research for a pamphlet on Mary Quaile, who worked as an organiser for the Council from 1911-1919. It appears that she took the volumes with her when the MSWTUC merged with the Manchester and Salford Trades Council in April 1919, and the office was closed. Fortunately her family had  preserved them after Mary’s  death in 1958 and were kind enough  to give them to the Mary Quaile Club, who decided that their natural home was  the WCML.

The event took place in the WCML’s Annexe and was chaired by Ciara O’Sullivan from the  Mary Quaile Club, who welcomed the audience to the event. She introduced Maggie Cohen, chair of the Trustees of the  WCML, who spoke about how delighted the library was to receive the minutes,   and the importance of the stories contained in their pages, which  she illustrated with a number of examples.

She was followed by Bernadette Hyland from the Mary Quaile Club,  who has transcribed the whole  of the minutes (130,00 words) for a website on the MSWTUC. She began by stating that,  “The history of the MSWTUC is a reminder of how a small group of determined working and middle  class women and men working together could make a real difference to the lives of working women.” She went on to give a short account  of  the history  of the Council, which had been set up in February 1895 by middle-class philanthropists such as C P Scott and Julia Gaskell.   The stated  aim  of the MSWTUC, she explained,   was “to bring trade unionism within the reach of scattered individuals working in unorganised trades and to draft them off into their own trade unions.”

The work of the MSWTUC was carried out by a number of organisers, who,  during the life-time of the Council,  included Olive Aldridge  Frances Ashwell, Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth.  The offices were at 9 Albert Square: for most of the life of the Council they did not have a telephone or even a typewriter. Bernadette  noted that, “These women worked extremely hard. They had to travel on public transport everywhere; they worked long hours, they were often not allowed on the premises of workplaces to talk to women and had to meet with them at their homes or in the evenings in the office.” Some of the unions they organised included Cigar-makers, Fancy Box Makers,  Tailoresses and Upholsteresses. In 1902 they helped set a Weavers’ Union in Salford which soon had 800 members.

Joan and Bernadette

In the autumn of 1904 the Council split acrimoniously over the issue of adopting “Votes for Women” as an aim, a proposal put forward by Christabel Pankhurst. When this  was rejected at a Council  meeting by 4 votes to 2, Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth resigned their posts with the MSWTUC and were joined by seven unions. They set up a a new body: the Manchester and Salford  Women’s Trades and Labour Council. For this part of her talk Bernadette was joined by actress Joan McGee,  who read out some of the letters and minutes relating to the split. Bernadette  explained that with the passage of time the two Women’s  Trades Councils began working together, particularly during the First World War.

 

She ended  her talk optimistically,  noting that groups of  women workers  eg the LSE cleaners in London, the Durham TAs,  the St. Barts hospital workers  in London,  and McDonalds workers had been fighting back,  using social media to meet up and organise as well as taking part in strikes and demos. “They are the inheritors of the MSWTUC,” she concluded, “they are the modern day Mary Quailes who believe that trade unions are as  important for women as women are for the trade union movement.”

Lauren

Bernadette  was followed by Lauren McCourt, an activist in BFAWU,  who has been organising in McDonalds. Lauren  noted the similarities between  the situation for workers described by Bernadette – and the situation in 2018. She explained that many young people had little or no idea of what a trade union was,  but were responsive  to initiatives to address low wages, zero hours contracts, poor working conditions and bullying. Despite the difficulties she was  positive that things could change for the better, if people got organised.

 

Dorothy, Bernadette, Maggie, Lauren and Ciara

After a short discussion  the audience adjourned to the main building for refreshments and to look at the minutes and letters which  had been placed on display in the foyer.

Our thanks to Joan McGee and Lauren,  and to Maggie, Eleanor, Chris  and Elaine from the WCML.  We must also thank  Lindsey and Jane, two members of staff at the WCML,   who created a wonderful display of the minutes,  letters, photos and other items.

The MSWTUC  minutes  may be read in their entirety here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Mary Quaile club meeting, trdae union history, women's history, working class history

Mary Quaile Club event: A Celebration of Thomas Paine’s birthday, 27 January 2018

“The world is my country”: a celebration of the life and writings of Thomas Paine, “the most valuable Englishman ever”

Thomas  Paine (1737 to 1809), the author of  Commonsense, The Rights of Man, etc  was perhaps the most influential radical writer these islands have ever produced. He took part in the American and French Revolutions and almost started a British Revolution.  Forced to flee his native country in 1792 he never returned and died in the USA.

In the 1820s the  followers of Richard Carlile (who called themselves Republicans)  began celebrating Thomas Paine’s birthday at the end of January.  We decided to revive the custom and organised a joint event with the Working Class Movement Library which  took place in the Annexe at the library.

The event was chaired by  Bernadette Hyland from the Mary Quaile Club who welcomed the audience to the event. She was followed  by three  speakers:

Michael Herbert, a historian and organiser of Red Flag Walks,  spoke about the celebrations of  Thomas Paine’s birthday by radicals in Manchester,  London  and elsewhere, who held dinners with numerous toasts.

 

Mandy Vere from Liverpool’s News from Nowhere bookshop,  spoke about the history of the shop, founded in the 1970s, how it had faced and  survived many  challenges,  and its contribution to the radical culture of the city which continues to-day.

 

Trevor Griffiths, author of a play about Thomas Paine, These are the Times. Trevor was born in Manchester and has written extensively for televison, film and the theatre from the 1970s onwards. His other work includes OccupationsAll Good MenThrough the Night, Comedians, Reds (1981) (directed by Warren Beatty), Food for Ravens and the series Bill Brand (1976) in which Jack Shepherd starred as a left-wing Labour MP.

Trevor  spoke about the importance of Paine’s work and thought and read some extracts from his play.

The speakers were followed by a discussion  with contributions from the audience.

Geoff Brown proposing a toast to workers on strike.

We then adjourned to the main building where we enjoyed  tea and cakes. David Ward from the Thomas Paine Society  then  proposed a toast to Thomas Paine and this was followed by a number of others.

Our thanks to Royston Futter, Trustee of the WCML,   for  opening up the library and his  assistance in making the event success,  and to Gill Griffiths,   and  to Suzanne Bury for her homemade biscuits.

 

The WCML has a very good Thomas Paine collection which is open to readers by prior appointment.

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Mary Quaile Club event: 30th September 2017

Our event on 30 September 2017 –  Fighting Unemployment, Poverty  and Austerity –  took place against the background of the introduction of the horrendous change to the social security system ie. Universal Credit and the annual Tory Conference which was taking  place down the road in Manchester. It was held in the Annexe at the Working Class Movement Library.

The WCML was founded by Ruth and Eddie Frow, communists who believed that the world could be turned upside down to  favour the masses and not the millionaires.  Eddie’s politics were shaped by his experiences as a victimised engineer who played a key role in the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. Just across the road from the WCML in 1931 took place the Battle of Bexley Square where police attacked protestors,  including Eddie,  who was framed and sent down for 4 months for his political activity.

Our first speaker was Sean Mitchell, activist in People Before Profit, and author of Struggle or Starve, Working Class Unity in Belfast in  1932, published by Haymarket Books.  He brought to life the story of how Protestant s and Catholics  united to demand equality and justice in the Poor Law system. Through first hand accounts and original research Sean told the story of charismatic leader Tommy Geehan who led and help win the demands for a fairer poor law system.

Charlotte Hughes from Tameside against the Cuts,  then reminded us of how the social security system is going backwards in its treatment of poor people. She spoke about individual cases  she has encountered and how her group works to support individuals as well as publicising their activities through her blog,  The Poor Side of Life.

Our final speaker was Chris Rea, chair of  Manchester and Salford branch of the National Union of Journalists,  who  spoke about how his union was challenging media stereotyping of poor people through its initiative of the Reporting Poverty Guidelines. Crucially the guidelines were developed in partnership with the Church Action on Poverty and have now become part of the national NUJ guidelines for all media workers.

We then had a discussion on the issues raised by our speakers,  and the meeting finished with a collection towards Charlotte’s blog. Charlotte does not get paid for  writing this,  so please read it, and   make a contribution if you can afford to.

 

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Posted in Austerity, Book launch, Fighting austerity, Mary Quaile club meeting, Unemployment

launch of our website on the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Union Council 1895-1919

On Saturday 29th April  2017 the Mary Quaile Club  launched the website of the Minutes of the Manchester and Salford Women’s  Trades Union Council  1895-1919 as part of Manchester Trades Council  May Day Festival.

This event was the culmination of a year-long project to transcribe the Minutes of the Council and place them on a  website for all to read and make use of.

We were given the two volumes of hand-written Minutes (comprising 760 pages) by Mary Quaile’s descendants  in 2016 who  made contact  with us in the course of our research for our pamphlet “Dare To Be Free” women  in trade unions:past and present.

It seems  that Mary took the volumes with her when the Trades Council dissolved in April 1919, and  fortunately  both she and  her family kept them  in very good condition.

The M&SWTUC was formed in February 1895 specifically to organise women workers, often in low paid jobs, into trade unions.  Its early supporters included C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, who personally wrote by hand  the minutes of the first two meetings in a beautiful script, and Julia Gaskell, daughter of  the writer and novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. The Council fostered trade unions among sewing machinists, upholsteresses, tailoresseses, cigar makers,  power loom weavers,  and many other trades.

Christabel Pankhurst was a member of the M&SWTUC for a time, as were other prominent Manchester  women  such as  Margaret Ashton ( the first woman councillor on Manchester City Council)  Amy Berry and  Lady  Schwann. The Council’s paid organisers included Sarah Dickenson, Frances Ashwell,  Eva Gore Booth, Olive Aldridge and Mary Quaile.

It was plain that these unique records were of national significance, providing fascinating detail on the early days of  trade union organisation amongst women  workers.  We canvassed support among trade unions around the country who responded generously,  and we were therefore able to finance both the transcription of the Minutes and the creation of a website containing  both  the transcription and  pictures of the original minutes.

At the launch Bernadette Hyland spoke about her work on the Minutes and the insights it had given  her into the methods the organisers used  to unionise women.  She drew parallels  with the current  sitauation of low pay and zero hours contracts for many workers  Lisa Turnbull from the Durham Teaching Assistants spoke about their fight against a 23% pay cut threatened by their employers, Labour-controlled Durham County Council, a fight which had been built up  by grassroots activism. Lisa then officially  launched the website.

The website can be found  at   http://mswtuc.co.uk

 

Durham TAs with Mary Quaile Club members Bernadette Hyland and Dorothy Winard (right)

    Lisa launches the website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Events, Feminism, Mary Quaile club meeting, trade unions, women's history, working class history

Mary Quaile Club event on Saturday 8 April. Not “business as usual”: the issue of sexual harassment at work

Audrey White, Bernadette Hyland and Sophie Shaw

Our first event for 2017 took up the issue of sexual harassment at work,  an issue that was put on the agenda in the 1980s by the influx of many new women trade unionists into the movement. The campaign at the Lady at Lord John shop in Liverpool in 1983 stands out as a landmark event that pushed the issue into the public media,  as well as highlighting the repressive trade union laws and the use and abuse of strip searching.  The  shop manager Audrey White  was sacked after objecting to the area  manager’s sexual harassement  of  young female staff. She won her job with the support of her union, TGWU, after the shop was picketed  every day for five weeks.

We wanted to talk about this campaign because – like other disputes  concerning and involving women in the trade union movement – it has been largely forgotten eg  over the last two years two books published  about the politics of Liverpool in the 1980s gave only a token reference to the dispute.

Glenda Jackson , Sam and Audrey

In 1987 a film was made, Business as Usual, based on the Lady at Lord John dispute,  which  starred  Glenda Jackson,  John Thaw and Cathy Tyson. Like a number  other recent films about radical history such as  Made in Dagenham and Suffragette, it failed to show the reality of the dispute, concentrating instead on unfair distortions of the personal relationships between the main characters as well as in the meetings between the trade union and the employer.

We were delighted be able to welcome Audrey to our event, who after the screening told   the audience the true story of the dispute. She showed how important it was to have a trade union that would take the issues concerned seriously,  and also a support group that was ready to  picket the shop every day  and pressurise the management to resolve the dispute. The success of the Lady at Lord John dispute is a classic example of how trade unionists win disputes,  one that is just as relevant today as in 1983.

To bring the issue up-to-date our second speaker was Sophie Shaw, Equalities representative of London Unite Hotel Workers Branch. She has a number of  years experience in the hotel industry,  and spoke about the working lives of hospitality workers in the zero hours economy. Sophie showed how sexual harassment is rampant in an industry where women are dependent on getting enough hours to make up their wages,  and also the vulnerability of the many foreign workers who may not understand the employment laws.  She explained how her union is challenging the unfair treatment and exploitation of women workers and how we, when we book hotels or pay for meals,  can make a difference when we decide where to eat or sleep.

After the speakers had finished  Bernadette Hyland chaired a  lively discussion on the issues raised with many  contributions from the audience.

Gina in her realm…

Our thanks to Audrey  and Sophie, and to Gina  and John (and Mandy the wonder dog)  at Three Minute Theatre where  we have held many Mary Quaile Club events in the past. Gina’s vegan cakes went down very well with the audience!

Further information on the Hotel workers branch of Unite go here

You can watch Business as Usual  here

To read more about women in the trade union movement see Sarah Boston’s excellent book Women Workers and the Trade Unions buy it here

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Posted in Mary Quaile club meeting, trade unions, Uncategorized, women's history, working class history

Mary Quaile, the TUC and Easton Lodge, 1926

In 1924 Mary Quaile was elected onto the General Council of the TUC, and  with Julia Varley  attended the National Conference of Labour Women, a conference of International Women Trade Unionists in Vienna and the Third International Trade Union Congress.

At home she now took part in delegations to lobby government ministers on issues including the Labour Government’s unemployment policy. In 1925 Mary was again elected onto the General Council. In  1926 Mary did not stand again for the General Council,  but she continued to attend Congress as a delegate from the TGWU until 1931.

Recently we have come across pictures of Mary at the official handover of Easton Lodge to the trade union movement as a working class college. Ironically, a house maybe not that different from where she got her first job as a domestic.

Easton Lodge was owned by Countess  Warwick (1861-1938) who, by 1926, had been a member of the socialist movement for over 25 years. It was an era in which  a Countess standing as a prospective Labour candidate was not seen as bizarre!

In 1926 Countess Warwick  handed  over the  historic building and sumptuous park and grounds to the  General Council of the TUC who paid a visit. It was dubbed “Labour’s Chequers.”

Margaret Bondfield, Countes of Warwick and Mary Quaile in grounds of Easton Lodge

Margaret Bondfield, Countess of Warwick and Mary Quaile in grounds of Easton Lodge

Plans were made to develop Easton Lodge into a college and university  for workers but, after the General Strike in May  1926 in  which the TUC’s funds were severely depleted, the plan was abandoned. The Countess of  Warwick continued to live at Easton Lodge until her death in 1938. Today what remains of the  building and grounds are part of a trust. (For more information about this  go here. )

TUC General Council with Mary Quaile on the left at the end

TUC General Council with Mary Quaile on the right  at the end

Thanks to

Sylvia Ayling for the tipoff about Mary and Easton Lodge.

Jeff Howarth at the TUC Library at London Metropolitan University for the images.

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Posted in Mary Quaile biography

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