Trade Unions and Women
The Rise And Fall Of Unity
The mid-19th century female pen worker earned money to feed her family or supplement men’s low pay.
As the industry thrived and more women were employed, the began to organise themselves to fight for fairer wages, the abolition of fines, better safety measures and the provision of legal and economic protection.
Three trade groups for women were founded in 1897, including the Pen Workers Union.
Local socialite and Countess of Warwick, Daisy Greville, became president of the Pen Worker’s Society, allowing the campaign for better working conditions to gain momentum.
Campaigning resulted in new rules to govern the excessive deductions and fines.
Restrictions were also put in which controlled the production of the lot which often exceeded 18,000 nibs per worker.
Membership to the union for women pen workers peaked at 900, but by 1906, it had fell to an ineffective five.
Patronage of the Countess of Warwick
Account of a speech given in Central Hall, Birmingham.
Extract from report in Leamington Spa Courier, 15 Feb 1901.
The Countess of Warwick, known as Daisy and immortalised in the song Daisy Daisy was President of the Pen makers unions, friend of King Edward VII w and known for a moving address on the necessity for organisation among the penworkers of Birmingham, at the Central Hall, Birmingham, on Wednesday evening. Too many people, alas! had their sunshine shaded by poverty and by dread of the workhouse
The Countess of Warwick, born Frances Evelyn Maynard, but known as Daisy, was always an unconventional woman.
She said she attended ‘not as a mere dilettante, who had taken up the Penworkers’ Union, but as an advocate of and a believer in trades unionism, and in the great need for organisation among the workers.
As a woman, too, she was anxious to do what little she could among the penworkers of Birmingham to secure such conditions of labour, such remuneration for their work as would enable them to live human lives. (Applause). It was not enough that they should receive the miserable minimum necessary to barely keep body and soul together. She asked anyone who knew the purchasing power of a pound in Birmingham to demonstrate how wages ranging from 6s. to 12s. could be expected to procure decent housing, a moderate sufficiency of food and clothing and such recreation as was necessary for a healthy existence.
If this was impossible, then taking no steps to remedy the evil they were in effect telling these women to eke out their existence as best they could, and what these words meant everybody knew.
Some had argued that the pen workers were like the rest of the poor, unthrifty; but before they were blamed for want of thrift it should be seen that they had something to be thrifty upon. It was far better for employers that work should be done not by people who were merely “hands”, but by people who had heads, and brain power was crushed by poverty and wretched conditions of life.
Too many people, alas! had their sunshine shaded by poverty and by dread of the workhouse.
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