Labour History Review

'A Man Who Won't Back a Woman is No Man at All'. The 1875 Heavy Woollen Dispute and the Narrative of Women's Trade Unionism

Labour History Review (2006), 71, (2), 187–198.

Abstract

Despite the advance of feminist history over the last thirty years, the belief that women were excluded from trade union formation, membership and hierarchies still dominates the discourse surrounding trade union history during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Moreover, it is argued that when women did attempt to challenge male hegemony and make inroads into the representation of labour and combination, this was almost exclusively due to the tenacity of enlightened middle-class reformers, of which Emma Paterson is the most striking example. This article will examine the 1875 West Yorkshire weavers' strike and will argue that this detailed local study challenges many of the generalisations made about women and trade unionism. It will be contended that in this large industrial dispute, the resultant trade union was inspired by working-class women and continued to represent them in varied ways. It will be suggested that women's participation in the emergent trade union was actively encouraged by their male co-workers and this principle of inclusion was in place well before the period of New Unionism.

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Author details

Reynolds, Melanie