British working class women’s history

This video is called Match Girls’ Strike – The Salvation Army.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Activists reclaim women’s struggle

Friday 15 April 2011

by Louise Nousratpour

Women academics and campaigners gathered in London on Thursday for the launch of an inspiring book highlighting working-class women’s role in the labour movement throughout history.

They said the aim was to “reclaim” labour history for working-class women, who had been “airbrushed” out of standard history books.

The launch at the Women’s Library in London’s East End brought together some of Britain’s brightest women labour historians who had contributed to the book, titled Class and Gender in British Labour History – Renewing the Debate (or starting it?).

Veteran communist and feminist Mary Davis, who edited the book, said that the aim was to tacke women’s issues in the context of class struggle.

“We wanted to write history from a feminist perspective, where women are active participants of history rather than as victims,” she said.

“We saw the need for reclaiming labour history for working-class women and, in doing so, we will reclaim it for Britain’s working-class as a whole. That is relevant to today when half the trade union membership is women.”

The 200-page anthology of essays covers women’s impact on society as workers, trade unionists and political activists, going back to the early 19th century.

Bryant & May matchgirlsKatrina Honeyman’s chapter focuses on women labourers in the Leeds tailoring industry.

She said that, although they made up 80 per cent of union members at the factory, the union was led by men and that women’s heroic show of solidarity with their male workers often went unrewarded and unnoticed.

“The women always joined in the strikes and supported the male workers,” Ms Honeyman said.

Gerry Holloway said histories of women’s struggle had always focused on the middle class, who often felt they needed to help their “weaker” sisters and tried to impose their feminist ideas on working-class women without paying attention to their actual needs.

And Louise Raw, who presents a novel interpretation of the Bryant & May matchgirls’ dispute in her chapter, demolished standard history claims that the famous strike in 1888 was led by socialist icon Annie Besant – a middle-class woman.

“I discovered that these women had always walked out because they had so little to lose and no rights – strike was their only weapon.”

See also here.

Gendered marketing for toys makes girls ‘passive princesses’: here.

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