Tired of working day and night for starvation wages, the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath in the Black Country in 1910, downed their hammers and stood up for their right to earn a living wage.
Led by the founder of the National Federation of Women Workers, Mary Macarthur, their ten week strike successfully established the right to a minimum wage.
The annual Midlands TUC Chainmakers Festival, is held in Cradley Heath High Street on first Saturday of July, is the largest celebration in Britain of women's political history.
It re-enacts the struggle and celebrates the achievements and strugle of the trade union movement both then and now.
A family friendly street festival involving market stalls, fun fair rides, speeches, street theatre, music and debate.
How to get to Cradley Heath from Wolverhampton by train:
off-peak Day Return
leave Wolverhampton Rail Station, taking London Midland train towards Walsall
change at Smethwick Galton Bridge Rail Station
take London Midland train towards Kidderminster
arrive at Cradley Heath Rail Station see the journey planner here....
and the Relevance of the chainmakers today
THE world now is vastly different from the world of 1910. Nevertheless, the struggles of 1910 offer useful insights into the challenges that we face today.
- Women bearing the brunt
Women have suffered tremendously as a result of the recession and austerity. For example, women working part-time earn nearly 38 per cent less than men and women make up the majority of those paid less than the living wage.
The TUC publication The Impact on Women of Recession and Austerity is a timely reminder of why it is absolutely right that we focus upon securing greater equality for women in the workplace and society.
Pay was the root cause of the chainmakers’ dispute and it could not be a more important topic today.
The statistics are simply stunning. The average full-time employee wage has fallen in real terms by £2,430 since 2010.
Moreover, just under a quarter of all workers in the West Midlands earn less than the living wage, rising to over 30 per cent for women.
In 1910 it was said that the chain-making industry was too difficult to organise because it was so fragmented.
They said that the workforce was too apathetic. Sound familiar?
Many of these challenges present themselves today with the increasing casualisation of large parts of our economy.
But Macarthur was a “smart campaigner.” She built broad alliances and drove a wedge between employers.
She used the media imaginatively and organised mass meetings as a way of bringing women workers together.
As she said: “Women are unorganised because they are badly paid, and poorly paid because they are unorganised.”
Therefore, the Chainmakers’ Festival is rightly an important date in the movement’s calendar. A great family fun day out with music, theatre, comedy, kids’ activities as well as speeches and stalls.
And in the struggles we face today, the lessons of the chainmakers have never been more relevant as we organise and campaign to secure fairness, dignity and security for workers today.
by Lee Barron, Midlands TUC Secretary - reprinted from Morning Star article
The 2015 Women Chainmakers' festival
2015 official Chainmakers' festival FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/events/850056408364386/
Cradley Heath High street was closed off on Sunday 12th July for the Chainmakers festival involving the Cradley Heath community and as part of the Black Country festival.
The festival celebrates the achievements of 800 women Chainmakers who fought to establish a minimum wage for their labour in 1910, following a 10 week strike. The local employers sought to deny them their rights but were met with forceful opposition. The strike was led by trade unionist Mary Macarthur, who founded the National Federation of Women Workers and later stood for Parliament as a Labour candidate.
The dramatic course of events as the women workers of Cradley Heath battled for a decent wage - full article here...
The event costs around £14,000 and the Midlands TUC is currently seeking donations for the 2015 event.
The TUC-organised event backed by Sandwell Council has live music, stalls, speeches.
All meetings to be held at 5.30pm at Old Hill Primary School, Lawrence Lane
Tired of working day and night for starvation wages, the Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath in the Black Country downed their hammers and stood up for their right to earn a living wage.
This event, which took place in 1910, when the women, led by the founder of the National Federation of Women Workers-Mary Macarthur, and their ten week strike successfully established the right to a minimum wage.
Supported internationally, the strike fund received so many contributions that a building was constructed with the surplus. The Workers' Institute, as it was called, became a centre for women to meet and organise, a place to learn and to socialise. The Workers Institute was under threat of demolition until the Black Country Living Museum saved it, and so it was taken down and reconstructed at their site in Tipton in the West Midlands.
A HALESOWEN trade unionist has penned a book on the historical significance of the Cradley Heath Chainmakers Strike 100 years ago.
Tony Barnsley, a 42-year-old father of three, wrote Breaking their Chains, Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers strike of 1910 because so little has been recorded about the historical strike.
Tony, who works for UNISON in Sandwell, said: “I really wanted to write the definitive account of the strike and really put the event in its historical context.
“Anyone who is on low pay at the moment can identify with the strike which was the first to really tackle low pay in Britain.”
And the author hopes to raise the national profile of Mary Macarthur, the battling chainmaker at the centre of the strike who secured better conditions and higher wages for thousands of women in the Black Country.
Tony said: “Though a national figure at the time Mary has not really received the recognition that she deserved. She was a very able organiser who didn’t flinch and she got results.”
He added: “She was the first woman to contest a seat for Parliament and I’m sure if she would have won the Stourbridge seat she would have been as famous as the Pankhursts.”
Tony will be signing copies of his book at the Chainmakers Strike 100th Anniversary at the Black Country Living Museum on Saturday, September 18.
Speaking at the event will be legendary Parliamentarian Tony Benn who has backed the book describing it as ‘an excellent history of the strike’.
Mr Benn said: “The Chainmaker’s strike which took place 100 years ago is important for many reasons.
“First because it tells the story of a historic struggle by low-paid women workers for decent pay and recognition as workers who need representation.
He added: “Today this generation has to fight those same battles again and the story of Mary Macarthur will help to inspire us to follow her lead.”
For more information about the book and the 100th anniversary event visit http://chainmakersstrike.co.uk/ or read the Morning Star's review
Click HERE to see Warwick University Chainmakers' archive
Despite decades of attempts to foreground working-class and black and ethnic historiographies, we seem to be back to endless kings and queens and the heritage agenda, in which rosy-cheeked rustics are jolly happy with their lot, the aristocracy is kindly, everyone knows their place and there's no need for any of that nasty politics - for "politics," read anything vaguely left-wing or working-class.
Consider the fate of the Women Chainmakers' Festival.
Louise Raw is the author of Striking A Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen (Continuum Press). Louise Raw, a Unite member and the author of Striking A Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen And Their Place In History (Continuum Books) spoke in the Left-field tent
2014 event: Hundreds turn out for Chainmakers' Festival despite downpour on Friday 6th June Friday night at the Chainmakers @ Leftfield Marquee in Bearmore Park
Saturday 7th June 2014 tenth Midlands TUC Cradley Women's Chainmakers' festival Bearmore Mound Playing Fields, Cradley Heath, B64 6DU
We congratulate Midlands TUC employees and those involved with the organisation of the 2013 Chainmakers’ Festival in Cradley Heath.
The increased turnout, particularly of local people , was testament to their good work and confirms the correct decision to bring the festival back to Cradely Heath, the home of chain making. To improve on this year’s efforts we suggest for 2014 for example:
(i) A local organising committee to assist the current work done. To involve local community groups, schools and Sandwell Council as well as trade unions and trade union councils.
(ii) Increased involvement with Sandwell Council in advance to utilise their publicity systems.
(iii) Co-ordination with national TUC to send out publicity along the lines of their Tolpuddle festival publicity for South West TUC, reminding affiliates and members that this is a flagship celebration of women’s magnificent contribution to trade union struggles. Publicity should be along the lines of the only women’s national festival.
11am @ Chainmakers Monument, to right of Cradley Heath railway station in Mary Macarthur Gardens people gathered for a commemeration at Mary Macarthur's statue, followed by banner procession up Cradley High Street led by local children, to Bearmore Park for the Chainmakers festival which then continued until 5pm.
Trade union speakers included Lesley Mercer the President of the TUC and Gloria Mills & Eleanor Smith from UNISON
The event this year coincided with the unveiling of a Chainmaker statue in the nearby Mary Macarthur Memorial Gardens. The statue unveiling took place at 11.30am with a banner procession from the Memorial Park to the festival site following on the centenary of the opening of the Workers Institute.
Line-up in Bearmore Park:
Midlands TUC Regional Secretary Rob Johnston said: “We are delighted to bring the Chainmakers back to Cradley Heath.
Sandwell Council Leader Councillor Darren Cooper said: “We are very pleased the TUC is again prepared to organise the festival in conjunction with the council.
The Midlands TUC aims to maintain this event as the largest celebration of womens' history in Britain.
Festival organiser Alan Weaver said, “Bringing the Chainmakers’ festival back to the heart of the community where the women fought for their rights is a great achievement and we are indebted to Sandwell Council for their support in helping us do so. We are looking to make this festival an integral part of Cradley Heath for the foreseeable future and look forward to a long and successful partnership with the council to make this happen.”
Sandwell Council Leader Councillor Darren Cooper said: "Mary Macarthur is one of the giants of Sandwell's past. Her role as leader of the Cradley Heath chainmakers' strike last century has rightly earned her a place in the history of the borough and trade unionism.
The TUC has asked us to help with this year's celebrations of her life and we are delighted to be able to bring them back home to Cradley Heath by making Bearmore Mound available. We very much hope this year's festival will continue the success of the past few years."
The festival celebrates the achievements of 800 or so women Chainmakers who fought to establish a minimum wage for their labour. The local employers sought to deny them their rights but were met with forceful opposition, led by Mary Macarthur, who founded the National Federation of Women Workers and later Parliament as a Labour candidate.
video photography by Brian Sheridan; music: The Chainmakers Song by Stacey Blythe
Hear Eric Faulkner's (formerly Bay City Rollers) Cradley Chainmakers' song here
Midlands TUC and Black Country Living Museum's Chainmakers' Festival 2010...
Tony Benn presents TUC Silver badge of Merit at Chainmakers festival 2010 to John Grant for 21 years continued service as Wolverhampton, Bilston and District Trades Union Council Treasurer with speech by Cheryl Pidgeon Midlands TUC Secretary
Saturday 18th September 2010 commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1910 strike.
Leftfield debates in the Workers' Institute, children’s area, music on the stage, Trade Union banner procession, stage speeches - events this year went on until 8pm
Speakers included: Tony Benn,
Mary Turner (President GMB), Sylvia Heal (former Deputy speaker House of Commons) and Eleanor Smith (Vice President UNISON)
The Chainmakers' strike ended on 22nd October 1910. There was a day of celebration for the anniversary on 23rd October.
several hundred packed out the hall to see the day’s events
1pm Tony Barnsley, author of Breaking Their Chains, Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ Strike of 1910
Film clips of interviews with women who struck
Former MP Sylvia Heal on Mary Macarthur
2:30pm Performance by Making Links
3pm Start of procession to Mary Macarthur memorial gardens
3:30pm Memorial plaque unveiled by Sandwell Mayor – Pauline Hinton, plus Brass Band
4:30pm refreshments in Labour Club, Graingers Lane
2009 festival, keynote Speaker: Christine Blower NUT General Secretary
Headline Act: Robb and the Irregulars
Museum Director Ian Walden said, 'This festival is one of the highlights of the Museum's year, and gives us the opportunity to celebrate one of the most significant events in the history of the Black Country. Our newest building on site, The Workers Institute, was built from the surplus in the Women Chainmakers strike fund and gives a new focus for our interpretation of Black Country history and culture'
Click HERE to view 3 short films of the festival and Black Country museum taken by one of our supporters at 2009 festival.
The 2008 festival started at 10am and ran throughout the day with speeches commencing at 1pm, followed by the now traditional procession of trade union banners around the Museum site. Speakers were: Mary Davis, TUC & Margaret Prosser, Deputy Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Chumbawamba, who recently celebrated twenty-five years of playing radical, political folk music, headlined.
WolverhamptonTUC again joined the procession with our much photographed banner. We distributed hundreds of postcards urging onlookers to join a trade union themselves.
Mr McKenzie continued, 'This is the premier trade union festival in the Midlands and we are proud to hold it in conjunction with our friends at the Black Country Living Museum.'
The festival is supported and funded by the TUC, the Midlands Trade Union movement, and legal firms involved with local trade unions.