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