Work In Progress: Episodes From The History Of Irish Women’s Trade Unionism by Theresa Moriarty



Auth: Theresa Moriarty

Pub: ILHS/Unison

The subtitle is Episodes from the History of Women’s Trade Unionism. This is a glossy A3 foldover of 24 (A4) pages, in all. Twenty-one (numbered) pages contain Ms Moriarty’s text. There is also a short, unsigned Introduction. This includes the odd phrase, “… the understated hostility of men towards women workers.” In context, this must mean trade unionist men. It’s odd, because, any woman trade unionist will tell you, the hostility is anything but “understated”. Stella Mahon, (a former President of NIGRA), one of a dozen members of NALGO in NI (as a clerical worker with the Open University) was called “a stupid f**king cow”, and worse, at union conferences. NALGO (the National Association of Local Government Officers) was, allegedly, terminally “PC” – politically correct.

It’s doubly odd, because one William Walker, who levied 3d (1.25p) on members of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, raising “about 2,000” (these highly-skilled workers with a six-year apprenticeship behind them would have earned between 2 and 3 per week – and absolutely nothing in slack periods) to help unionise women workers, especially in the textile industry, is given more space than any individual woman except Mary Galway. She was a major figure in the Irish Textile Operatives Society, and addressed every [Irish Trade union] Congress between 1901 and 1913, except 1906. In 1906 there was a great strike in Belfast’s linen mills.

There is a mass of fascinating information in this mercifully short pamphlet, it has many quotations from contemporary sources printed in the large page-margins in green on white. There is a wonderfully pompous one from the Dundalk Democrat for January 13, 1912, on the unladylike conduct of striking workers. Green, white and purple, the Suffragette colours, prevail in the design, making some of the people in the fine selection of photographs look slightly bilious. This latter is not a criticism, more an aside. This is a beautifully produced and very well written bit of Labour “herstory”.

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