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Talking Heads, Women Workers, and what’s coming up! 06/06/2011

Posted by pcsdwpsheffield in Uncategorized.

About ten days ago the branch held our first ‘Talking Heads’ discussion group event. These were designed as a casual chat over a cuppa for members around a particular topic. The idea was based on a discussion that the BEC had last year, around the idea that historically trade unions have been responsible for the wider education and enrichment of their members, and not just the day-to-day.

The event saw around nine attendees, and although some great discussion was had, it would be great to have more next time. The timing was based on preferences from a survey to members of staff, so any feedback on a better time or improvements would be helpful, by email to rosie.huzzard@jobcentreplus.gsi.gov.uk

Because of the interest in womens’ issues of several members of the BEC, and the Centenary of International Women’s day this year, the first session focused on Women in the Labour Movement.

The group discussed the ‘Matchgirl Strikes’ in the 19th Century, where ‘unskilled’ workers in the Bryant and May match factory went on strike after being asked to sign off a statement saying that their factory was a safe place to work (it wasn’t!). This provided a landmark point in the history of women’s struggle, and was also seminal in changing the trade union movement from one which had previously only represented skilled workers’ interests (e.g. carpenters and tradesmen) in Craft Unions (comparable to professional associations today, in many ways), to industrial unions which fought for all workers rights.

We also discussed the Ford Dagenham Strike in 1969, where the women who made the car seat covers for Ford took strike action over the fact that men in the factory were being paid considerably more. This led, eventually, to the Equal Pay act.

We talked about the 1976/77 Grunwick Strike, in which (largely Asian Female) workers in the Grunwick film processing plant in North London went out on strike over terrible working conditions and bullying management. The strike lasted a year, and the women organised the action, despite threats and violent tactics from the police, and demonisation in the media.

International Women’s Day itself – now celebrated as much by the liberal establishment (in Poland, for example, they call it ‘Ladies Day’ and women are bought flowers!), was started through working class womens’ action. It started in 1909 out of the American suffragettes movement, by those women who campaigned for working class women to be given political rights too. The mainstream suffragette movement that we learn about so often (e.g. Emmeline Pankhurst and co) was happy to settle with rights for land-owning women only. The original aim of IWD was to campaign for the improvement of working women’s lives – and it is that sentiment that the branch hopes to echo.

We will continue to hold events throughout the year – through the branch Equality Committee and with other union branches in Sheffield – to celebrate IWD.

The next event which is open to all members, is a free cinema showing of ‘Made In Dagenham’ on Wednesday 29th June at Sheffield HUBS (Sheffield Hallam University Student’s Union – the old National Centre for Popular Music) in Pod A. We are organising this in conjunction with the PCS DWP Sheffield HQ Branch. We will also be holding a discussion and drinks event afterwards.

Talking Heads will also continue, and the next event will likely be centering on ‘Green Issues and the Labour Movement’ with input from our Green Rep, Lauren Dixon. Watch this space! We are also planning on having a session looking at the history of the labour movement in Sheffield, in particular the steel industry, in conjunction with the Union Learning Reps.

Rosie Huzzard

Assistant Secretary



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