next Mary Quaile Club event, 10th March 2018: “Any help possible will be given”: the work of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council 1895-1919

“Any help possible will be given”: the work of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council 1895-1919

Event location: Working Class Movement Library, 51 Crescent Salford M5 4WX.

Date: 10th March  2018, 2pm to 5pm

This event will celebrate the deposit  by the Mary Quaile Club at the Working Class Movement  Library of the  two volumes of the original handwritten minutes of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council (MSWTUC) . We came  across them during research for a pamphlet  Dare To Be Free  about  the life of Mary Quaile, an organiser for the Council 1911-1919.   Mary had obviously taken them  when the Council office closed in 1919 and fortunately her family had kept them after her death and kindly gave them to us.

Bernadette Hyland from the Mary Quaile Club  has transcribed the entire set of minutes (130,000 words) for a Web site on the MSWTUC which was launched earlier this year.

The minutes  are an invaluable record of the work done by  the  MSWTUC  to organise low-paid women into trade unions in Manchester and will  add greatly to knowledge of women’s trade unionism in this period.

Manchester women n 1905

The MSWTUC employed organisers to carry out the work of the Council: Sarah Dickenson, Frances Ashwell, Eva Gore-Booth, Mary Quaile, Olive Aldridge and Kate Wallwork. The Minutes reveal the very hard work  done by these women to encourage and support women  to set up or   join trade unions,  and the issues that arose, particularly pay and working conditions. They also reveal the sharp divisions that arose on the Council  over the issue of Votes for Women, culminating in a split in the autumn of 1904 and the establishment of a rival Women’s  Trades Council.

The speakers will be   Maggie Cohen, chair of the WCML Trustees;  Bernadette Hyland from the Mary Quaile Club:  and Lauren McCourt (BFAWU). Joan McGee will perform a short extract from a play about Mary Quaile written by Jane McNulty.


The event is free and has been organised jointly by the Mary Quaile Club and the WCML.   There will be refreshments  after the  speeches.

Advance booking is advised – please email

This event is part of Wonder Women 2018. Explore the full programme running throughout March at

Wonder Women logo

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Posted in trade unions, 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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Posted in Mary Quaile club meeting, working class history

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


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

Mary Quaile Event on Grunwick Strike 1976-1978, 3rd December 2016 at the Working Class Movement Library



Our final event for 2016 looked back at the Grunwick Strike of 1976-1978, one of the most important industrial disputes of the 1970s when a group of mainly Asian women  struck for union recognition at the Grunwick film processing plant in Willesden in the hot summer of 1976. At its height in 1977  the dispute brought thousands of trade unionists on to the streets around the factory. There were frequent  violent attacks by the police on the pickets. In the end  the strike was lost.

We also highlighted the current struggle by 2,700  Teaching Assistants in Durham against  a 23% pay cut in their wages, being imposed by Labour-controlled Durham County Council.


On the day our  venue, the  Annexe at the Working Class  Movement Library,  was full.  On behalf of the Mary Quaile Club Bernadette Hyland welcomed  the audience,  and explained  that the Club was set up to promote working class history and the links with today’s struggles.

We then screened The Great Grunwick Strike, a film made by Chris Thomas  in 2007 for Brent Trades Council which  combines contemporary  footage and photographs with interviews 30 years later with some of the key figures in the strike and supporting organisations.









After this Annette Wright from Manchester Trades Union  Council chaired a session with our two guest speakers. Sujata Aurora from the Grunwick 40 Committee, and Lisa Turnbull from the Durham Teaching Assistants campaign.

Sujata talked about some of the issues not covered in the film, including the fact that prior to Grunwick, migrant workers had staged a number of disputes,  eg Imperial Typewriters of 1974,   which had not been supported  by the wider labour movment, indeed had been opposed.  She also noted that some  of current  celebrations of  the strike by unions had glossed over the fact that the strike had been lost.

Lisa, in an inspirational speech, spoke  about how devastated they had been by the threatened massive cut to their  wages,  and how  their campaign had been built from scratch by themselves  using social media, meetings,  marching in the Durham Miners’ Gala, and much else. They had gone on strike for 2 days:  another strike had just been called off after the local authority appeared to be offering to talk about the issue. They were determined to fight on for victory.

Ian Allinson from Ugrunwick-ian-allisonNITE at Fijutsu in Manchester  spoke from the audience about their dispute : they were going on strike again on Monday.

We then enjoyed tea and cakes, over which  much informal discussion took place. We took  a collection for  the Durham dispute which raised over £100

This event was organised in conjunction with Manchester and Salford NUJ, and Manchester Trades Union  Council, whom we would like to thank for their support.


More information

The Grunwick 40 Committee are holding an exhibition in Brent and organising events to mark the 40th anniversary of the strike. Their Twitter account is here

The County Durham Teaching Assistants “Value Us campaign. Their  official Twitter account is here

Unite at Fujitsu. Their Twitter acount is here

The Working Class Movement  Library has material on the Grunwick strike including photographs and books.








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

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