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 we 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 ready 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: email@example.com