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.


Tagged with: , , , ,
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








Tagged with: , ,
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

Tagged with: , ,
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.

Tagged with: , , , ,
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.








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

Mary Quaile Club event: screening of “The House That Jack Built” by Shelagh Delaney, 26th November 2016

Saturday 26th November, 12.30pm to 4.30pm

A complete screening of The House That Jack Built  by Shelagh Delaney

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

We were delighted to screen The House That Jack Built  by Shelagh Delaney as our contribution to Shelagh Delaney Day 2016.

shelagh-delaneyShelagh  Delaney grew up in Pendleton,  Salford  and came to fame in the late 1950s with her play A Taste of Honey, staged by Joan Littlewood, and later filmed by Tony Richardson.  She wrote the scripts for a number of films,  including  Charlie Bubbles (1967),  Dance with a Stranger (1985) and The Railway Station Man (1992)

Her work for television has often been overlooked.  The House That Jack Built  was broadcast by the BBC in the summer of 1977,   although it was filmed in Manchester the previous summer.  The six 30 minute episodes  tell the story of the marriage of  Jack (played by Duggie Brown) and Lou (played by Sharon Duce) over ten years. It has never been repeated on television, and is not available on DVD.









In an interview Shelagh said of the drama,  “Well,  I suppose they lose their innocence. That’s what the play is really about. They learn they’ve got to put up with things they don’t really want to put up with…certain aspects of each other. Jack’s head is full of ideas. He’s a poet. They are building something physical and emotional and sometime something collapses and they build it up again. They are concerned with timeless things like money food and sex. Jack and Lu are both very sexy. They enjoy sex. But there isn’t a bedroom scene in the plays. The audience expects explicit sex,  but it’s more potent when it isn’t explicit.



Sanne Bury introduced the screening, and chaired  the discussion afterwards. Our thanks to Gill and Trevor Griffiths, Maxine Peake and Sheila Hancock  for sponsoring this screening.We were delighted that Sheila and her grand-daughter were  able  to join us for the first half.

We would also like to thank Matthew Harle at the British Film Institute for arranging  the hire of the videos, and David Petty at Home for the loan of the player. Finally our thanks to John and Gina at 3MT for their help and support for this  screening.


Tagged with:
Posted in Drama, Shelagh Delaney, Television, women's history, working class history

We launch our second publication ” Dare to be Free: women in trade unions, past and present” 4 June 2016

DTBF launch 1

On Saturday 4 June,  as part of the Manchester Histories Festival,   we  launched  our  second publication,Dare to Be Free”: women  in trade unions, past and present. This publication has  two parts: a biography of Mary Quaile (1886-1958), written by Michael Herbert, and ten interviews with women of today  active in trade unions at grass roots level, written by Bernadette Hyland. The common thread is the belief of Mary Quaile,  and her modern-day  sisters,   that trade unionism can make a real difference to the lives of working women  and men.

This event took  place  at Three Minute Theatre, in Afflecks Arcade. Bernadette Hyland spoke  first,  outlining  the facts of Mary’s Quaile’s life as a trade unionist  and her role in organising  women into  unions, first  in Manchester and then nationally. She   drew  parallels with  2016 in which we are fighting the same battles for  basic rights at work as Mary and others did 100 years ago. Bernadette  ended her speech by quoting from Jane Stewart from  Unite, one of the women  she interviewed for the publication: “After  thirty  years I  want to encourage other people to get involved in the trade union movement. If we don’t fight we will never succeed. Too often things get worse because people do nothing, so not fighting is not an option.”

Following  Bernadette DTBF launch 2we were delighted to welcome  Sarah Woolley from the Baker’s Union who had travelled over from Yorkshire for the event. She spoke about how she had become  involved in the   union after  experiencing  problems at work.  She was asked by the union to become a shop steward and is now a full-time officer. It had changed her life in so many ways. She  said  that if she could do it “then anyone could.” Sarah  urged people to give support to BFAWU members at Pennine Foods, who were on strike against severe wage cuts.

We then welcomed our final speakers –  Khadija, Robert and Ana from the Hotel Workers branch of Unite – who had come up  from London that morning especially  to speak at our event.  They spoke about  their own experiences at work  and as members of Unite.  It was often difficult to organise workers in hotels or in cafes and restaurants,  but the union was making steady progress,  offering advice and support, as well as educational opportunities such as English classes.  However union activists were often targeted by managers determined to keep unions out of their businesses.

After the speakers had finished there was a question and answer session session with the audience, who were shocked at  some of the workplace  practices described by our speakers.

We finished the book launch  with a  final performance of “Dare to Be Free,” a play commissioned by the Mary Quaile Club and written by Jane McNulty. The play takes place in the past and present.  It’s 1908 and waitresses in a Manchester cafe are  fed up and phto 2ready to strike for proper pay and decent working conditions. It’s 2016 and   workers  in a Manchester  “fast food experience”  are fed up and  ready to strike for proper pay and decent working conditions. Linking the two eras is Mary Quaile, a pioneer of women’s trade unionism in the C20th,  come to help out her modern-day sisters  because the issues she fought on 100 years ago  are back with vengeance. This was very well received by the audience who enthusatically joined in the song at the end,   written by Carol Donaldson and Jane McNulty.

Our thanks to all our speakers, to John and Gina at 3MT and to Steve Speed for taking the photographs on this  post.

Dare to Be Free; women  in trade unions, past and present has 41 pages and costs £3.95. ISBN 978-0-9932247-1-3.  It can be ordered online from News from Nowhere

Bernadette Hyland  would be delighted to speak at meetings and conferences about the issues raised by her research for the pamphlet and can be contacted by email:




Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Book launch, Feminism, Mary Quaile club meeting, Migrant workers, Publication, Uncategorized, women's history, working class history

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow us on Twitter!