Women Chainmakers Festival 2013
Saturday 8th June
11:00 am to 5:00 pm
Every year the trade union movement gathers in the Midlands town of Cradley Heath to remember a great victory won by women workers. This year's festival is on Saturday 8 June
In 1910 women chainmakers in the Black Country struck for 10 weeks against sweatshop labour conditions and low pay. The previous year the Liberal government had acceded to campaigns against 'sweated labour' by creating wage boards to set wage levels in some industries.
The employers and middlemen in the chain making industries combined to ensure that no woman would receive the new higher wage. The middlemen pressured the often illiterate chainmakers to sign opt-out contracts, denying them the wage rise that was their due.
When union organiser Maray Macarthur arrived in Cradley Heath in the Black Country she described the scenes she saw as 'white slaves working in torture chambers'. Women worked for 54 hours a week for a pittance, often taking their children to work. On discovering the duplicity of the employers in cheating the women out of their wage rise she set about organising the workers.
For 10 weeks women chainmakers fought against the employers. They were well organised and knew how to use the new media of the time to spread their message. They printed placards which the oldest women chainmakers were photographed holding and shortly before the strike 10 million people all over the world saw a Pathe news reel film about the conditions the women worked under. The indefateaguable Mary Macarthur raised so much money for the strikers that they didn't lose a penny during the ten week strike, receiving full strike pay throughout.
In honour of the women of Cradley Heath, the annual Chainmakers Festival remembers their victory and reminds us that the struggles won by our ancestors are the basis for much of what we take for granted today. See our leaflet 'What have the unions done for us?' for more info about what unions have won for workers.