Women Chainmakers’ Festival

Last Saturday I was one of the NUJ members carrying the banner alongside thousands of trade union members at the Women Chainmakers’ Festival at the Black Country Museum.

The rally commemorated the centenary of the Chainmakers’ strike for a minimum wage. In 1910 some 800 women chainmakers – aged 10 to 79 years of age – went on strike for ten weeks. They were desperate to earn more than starvation wages. What they achieved was a piece work rate of two and a half old pence an hour. This was the first minimum wage.

As former MP and lifetime Socialist Tony Benn pointed out, the appalling conditions of the women chainmakers’ became internationally known thanks to the power of the press. With the arrival of Pathe News at the cinema, the women’s local struggle began to receive support from national politicians, from nearby industrialists like the Quaker Cadbury family and even from author John Galsworthy who had begun to publish his Forsyte Saga novels.

Tony Benn is an honorary life member of the NUJ and both he and Labour leader contender Diane Abbott agreed to be photographed with the NUJ banner and with Sal McKeown, Barbara Goulden and Mick Archer from the Birmingham and Coventry branch.
Photographs courtesy of Stalingrad O’Neill