The Cradley women chain makers’ strike of 1910

Cradley Heath is a small town in the area west of Birmingham known as the Black
Country. In the 19 th and first half of the 20 th century it was the centre of the chain
making industry in Britain. Men who made large chains worked in factories, but the
smaller chains were made by women at home, for less pay in dangerous conditions.

In 1906, Mary McArthur formed
The National Federation of Women Workers
to storm
the cynical practice of home working
where pay was even lower than the norm
and conditions more dangerous.

The chain makers of Cradley were an early cause,
women moulding and hammering
hot metal into chains,
by hand with basic tools,
forges flaring in flimsy sheds
behind their dirt yard homes.

In 1910, The Trade Board decreed
at least 2 & a half pence an hour should be paid,
twice what they’d earned before.
The chain barons sneered and refused,
so Mary urged the women to strike,
used cinema and newspapers to highlight their plight,
raised 4 thousand pounds in donations
and widespread popular support.

After 10 weeks, the bosses caved in
and agreed to obey the legislation.
As well as a victory for minimum pay,
Mary’s campaign revealed
that when women stand firm together,
oppressive fists will sometimes yield,
and equality can advance another small step
across the ancient battlefield.

Barbara Lawton

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