Union Learning through Workers’ History - Jammy or what?
In Bermondsey, South London, women factory strikes in August 1911 arose from adverse economic and social conditions. Women were predominantly working in the food processing industries and men were grafting hard in the docks.
Demand for wage increases motivated the spontaneous outbreak of strikes by 15,000 women factory workers with no previous experience of collective organisation or militancy. Mary Macarthur, the influential and active organiser of the day supported the strikers after they launched their protest. Marches and rallies, in which Mary, her supporters and factory workers collaborated to pressurise employers into granting the strikers' wage demands.
The Bermondsey strikers including workers at the Pinks Jam Factory and the women match workers earlier (1888/89) have consequently been viewed as forming the vanguard of the militant unions. Details of the factory workers' action suggest that the strikes represented an independent, local protest, supported by women trade unionists.
Thirty firms in the 1911 disputes were affected by the strike. The National Federation of Women Workers moved all available staff into the area to help organise the women and the Women's Trade Union League launched a financial appeal. Many concessions were obtained and at Pinks' jam factory, the wage rose from 9 to 11 shillings per week.
In the present day and as the cuts get deeper will we soon see workers and trade unions respond in a similar way?