TUC Women Chainmakers’ Festival of Cradley Heath

BACKGROUND: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