Celebrating the chainmakers of Cradley Heath
Have you checked the loose change in your pocket or purse today? Got a 50 pence piece? How would you feel if you had to work a fifty-hour week for that one coin?
Well, in 1910 the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath won an industrial dispute which gave them a weekly income of 50p – ten shillings in those days – for working long hours in poor conditions as their means of earning a living. This level of income was only achieved through one of the most important labour disputes of the last century which took place in the Black Country.
The employers locked out the women chainmakers for having the temerity to demand ten shillings a week rather than be paid by the weight of chain they produced. The importance of the ten-week dispute, apart from winning better pay for a terribly oppressed group of workers, was that it laid the foundations for the campaign for a national minimum wage.
The women chainmakers were supported by trade unions in the region but also nationally and internationally, as their plight received unprecedented coverage for those days. Such was the support that at the end of the dispute the strike fund had enough reserves to build the Workers Institute at Cradley Heath, deep in the heart of the community where the women worked and lived.
This Saturday will see the celebration of the achievements made by those women, with the annual Women Chainmakers’ Festival at Bearmore Park in Cradley Heath. The festival has been bought back to the heart of the community it celebrates. Come and join us for what promises to be a great event, with musical acts including Stacy Blythe (pictured) and Radio2 folk singer of the year Chris Wood (download the flyer pdf).
The sacrifices made by the Cradley Heath women chainmakers should never be forgotten. So next time you spend 50 pence, remember what your wife, daughter or sister would have had to endure, should she have been a woman chainmaker one hundred years ago.