The National Federation of Women Workers, 1906–1921 by Cathy Hunt

By Cathy Hunt

This e-book is the 1st complete size historical past of the all-female nationwide Federation of ladies employees (1906-21) led through the talented and charismatic Mary Macarthur. Its concentration is at the those that made up this pioneering union - the organisers, activists and participants who outfitted branches and struggled to enhance the lives of Britain's operating ladies.

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98 In this latter role she wrote to the GFTU to request financial help for the purposes of organising women workers. 99 In 1906 the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW) objected to the Federation that its name was too similar to its own and was causing postal confusion. 103 To her the two were entirely separate, and whilst she was happy to accept support offered by other organisations, the distinctiveness of the Federation as a trade union was, to her, beyond dispute. Suffrage The importance of this distinctiveness as a trade union also kept the Federation aloof from the suffrage campaign.

108 In 1895 Beatrice Webb said that it was ‘cruel mockery’ to preach trade unionism to a woman ‘sewing day and night in her garret for a bare subsistence; to the laundrywoman standing at the tub 18 hours at a stretch; or to the woman whose health is undermined with “Wrist-drop”, “Potter’s rot” or “Phossy jaw”’. 109 The following chapters show that women contended not just with belligerent employers but with male co-workers suspicious of their presence in the factories. Many male trade union leaders viewed women as temporary workers and dreadful trade unionists, only worth organising when they posed a danger to men’s wage levels.

Researchers Barbara Hutchins and A. 16 The middle class activists of the WPPL were undoubtedly removed from the world inhabited by those they sought to organise. 17 Over time, the WPPL leadership shifted from its liberal roots towards an outlook influenced by socialism. Its belief that change could come purely from trade union organisation moved towards one that demanded the involvement of the state and recognised the need for protective employment legislation. Vigilant in maintaining a dialogue between organisers and workers to ensure that new legislative changes were not circumvented by employers, it was under no illusions that laws would be carefully upheld.

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