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The women's strike that won paid holidays

category national | history and heritage | opinion/analysis author Monday July 09, 2007 01:57author by Aoife Kavanagh - Workers' Solidarity Movement Report this post to the editors

In 1941 a bill was brought before the Dail which would make trade unions pay for licences to negotiate on behalf of their members. Without a licence workers and their unions could be sued by employers for loss of profits if they went on strike.

In 1941 a bill was brought before the Dail which would make trade unions pay for licences to negotiate on behalf of their members. Without a licence workers and their unions could be sued by employers for loss of profits if they went on strike.

This blatant attempt at extorting money from unions was not taken well. The Dublin Trades’ Council, representing 60,000 workers, called the bill ‘a partisan attack on the working classes'. The Irish Women Workers Union urged opposition to the bill and on June 4th 100 shop stewards endorsed their union's stand.

In August the Bill was passed. A prominent barrister, Seán MacBride was approached by the IWWU to voice opinion to the President that the bill be referred to the Supreme Court to ‘test its constitutionality‘. This was rejected by the President, who had then signed the bill, bringing it into law. The bill was now part of history, carved into the statute books. That law is still in force today.

By October it looked as if the battle was lost. Union after trade union gave in and paid for licenses to negotiate on behalf of their members. The IWWU paid out £4,200, around two-thirds of its annual income. They paid greatly for the right to represent the needs of poorly paid women workers.

f the government thought they had knocked the fight out of the unions they were in for a surprise. By 1943, the IWWU served notice that every firm employing members of the union would have to agree to a minimum standard for wages, holidays and working conditions. A demand for paid holiday leave was particularly opposed by the employers.

In 1945, the laundry workers, worn out by all the overtime done during the war, voted for strike action to be taken. The Federated Union of Employers (known as IBEC today) dug their heels in. The women took to the picket line and made their voices heard. More importantly, they hit the bosses where it hurts most - in their pockets. Working class organisations lined up on the side of the strikers, the ruling class backed their own side. Not only government and employers came to the aid of the laundry owners, the Catholic bishops rowed in as well.

The striking women were horrified to learn that institution laundries (those run by Catholic nuns) were taking on contracts previously held by commercial laundries. There was a fear that the strike would lead nowhere if this scabbing continued and the work was still being done. However they stuck with their union and stayed on strike.

With solidarity from many other unions and vast support from the general public, the scent of victory was in the air by October. The FUE backed down and indicated a willingness to reconsider their position. Letters of praise and of thanks poured in to the IWWU head office.
On October 30th, an agreement was enacted between the FUE and the IWWU. It laid down that ‘all women workers employed in laundries operated by members of the Federation shall receive a fortnight’s holidays, with pay, in the year 1946’.

Another step was taken for women's’ rights, through solidarity, direct action and a refusal to back down. The laundresses won a historic struggle, and we all enjoy the benefits of that struggle today.

Related Link: http://wsm.ie/history
author by Marypublication date Mon Jul 09, 2007 10:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The laundries run by nuns were peopled by women who had got pregnant and were essentially
slave Labour, their off-spring were adopted (often without legal certification) and the nuns veered
off into attempting to win contracts. There is a commerorative stone to the women workers in
Harold's Cross Park beside a 'Hankerchief tree'. I hope that any commerorations or photos
in solidarity include the wrongs done to women without union and family support. The strikes
were highly important in bringing the issues of exploitation into the heart of union struggle.
This is an excellent report, thanks!
Contact Dublin Park's Authorities or Mary Frehill (labour) regarding the Park's History and the
commeroration of the strike. Information on the Magdalene Laundries is available through
google and wiki. The laundries persisted up until the nineties in some places and many women
who were incarcerated there are buried in the grounds of the former laundry premises.

author by Diarmuid Apublication date Mon Jul 09, 2007 15:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks Aoife. It's good to be reminded that much of what we 'enjoy' today is the product of class struggle. Paid holidays, the eight hour day, equal pay, and much more were not given to us as some sort of birthday gift. In years past ordinary people like ourselves went out and fought for a better life. Sometimes they lost, sometimes they won, but if they had never fought we would not have the benefit of their victories.

author by D_D - Dublin Council of Trade Unionspublication date Mon Jul 09, 2007 15:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Historian and SIPTU activist, Mary Muldowney, author of the recently published oral history of working women in Dublin and Belfast, 'The Second World War and Irish Women', (Irish Academic Press), will give an illustrated talk at the monthly delegate meeting of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions at 8.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 10th July in Liberty Hall, Dublin.

Delegates will find this a very interesting talk. All interested in labour history are welcome to attend the talk.

author by Mike - Judean Peoples Popular Frontpublication date Sun Jul 22, 2007 12:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"The striking women were horrified to learn that institution laundries (those run by Catholic nuns) were taking on contracts previously held by commercial laundries. "

Hardly a suprise given that these institutions were based literally on slave labour .

 
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