Women Workers & The Trade Unions

Author: Sarah Boston



SKU: 9781910448038 Categories: , ,


Publication date: May 1, 2015

Page extent: 466

17 in stock

In this highly-praised history of women’s battles in the workplace, Sarah Boston explores how women workers have often had to challenge their male co-workers and union organisers, as well as managers.

Sarah Boston recounts the story of women workers from the early nineteenth century to the present day: the struggles and strikes, successes and failures in their strenuous efforts to organise and win recognition from employers and male trade unionists. Women Workers and the Trade Unions – now republished with the addition of two new chapters covering the period from 1987 to 2010 – is the only comprehensive account of this neglected overlap of women’s history and labour history.

Sarah Boston argues that male trade unionists’ exclusionary treatment of women workers contradicted not only the socialist aims of most trade unions but also the very logic of trade unionism itself. The account is essential reading for anyone concerned with the history of industrial relations, but also with the history of feminism and of women in the workplace.

Includes a new preface by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

Preface – Frances O’Grady – FREE CHAPTER
1. ‘Their proper sphere at home’ 1874
2. ‘…and Women’ 1874-1906
3. ‘The wage that never rises’ 1906-1914
4. ‘Don’t blackleg your man in Flanders’ 1914-1918
5. ‘Women must go’ 1918-1923
6. ‘Asking for bread and getting a stone’ 1923-1939
7. ‘Woman power’ 1939-1945
8. ‘Liberty on your lips’ 1945-1950
9. ‘Be true to us on budget day’ 1950-1960
10. ‘Little indication of progress’ 1960-1968
11. ‘You’ll have to do it yourselves’ 1968-1975
12. ‘Charters are no Aladdin’s lamp’ 1976-1986
13. New chapter ‘Become feminine or we will become fringe’ 1987-1997
14. New chapter ‘Our daughters and our granddaughters’ 1997-2010
Selected bibliography

‘Sarah Boston’s classic study of women workers and trade unions from the 1830s to the present is an exhilarating and essential history for those who want to understand the economic conditions in which we live today. The book is peopled with pioneer factory and homeworkers, shop assistants and clerical workers who led shopfloor struggles, negotiated with employers and – when necessary – their fellow trade unionists to raise women’s status at work. Through the lens of women workers, we learn how the capitalist economy works. Indispensable.’

Sally Alexander, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Goldsmiths, University of London


‘It is very good news for anyone interested in British trade unionism that Sarah Boston has updated in depth her excellent history of women workers and the British trade unions. Well-researched, shrewd and lucid, it fills a major gap in the history of modern British trade unionism providing a detailed and reliable account.’

Chris Wrigley, Emeritus Professor of History, Nottingham University

‘This scholarly classic that informed so many when it was first published in the 1980s has been thoroughly updated for the 21st century. It covers the whole history of women workers and British trade unions from the 19th century to today, and is one of the few of its kind that covers such an important topic as the current status of women in employment.’

‘The preface by Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, is an eloquent testimony to how the original text shaped her thinking and her future.’

Patricia d’Ardenne, Chartist

‘Boston is extremely detailed in recounting the history of women workers’ influence (or lack of it) within the labour movement.’

‘Overall, the book is invaluable in its delated research of the history of women’s struggles in the British labour movement and gives voice to the many forgotten women who fought to get us to where we are today. In Boston’s work there is a message to us all that it is only through self-organisation and unity across our class that we will win.’

Marianne Owens, Socialist Review

‘This is a thoroughly researched, and immensely readable, history of the struggle for equal rights from “their proper sphere at home” in the 1870s through the Equal Pay Act in 1970 to the post-feminist arguments of “our daughters and our granddaughters” in the 21st century.’

Keith Richmond, The Aslef Journal

‘this [is a] highly readable, informative book’

Mark Metcalfe, Unite the Union

‘Boston’s text is a valuable history of the struggles that women have faced in the labour movement, managing to address a broad period of time without ever losing sight of the minutiae of workplace organizing.’

‘There are many interesting specifics to be found in Women Workers and the Trades Unions (the account of the strike at Murrays Confectionary factory in 1911 stands out in my mind; during the strike, the workers – dubbed Murrays White Mice because they left work each day covered in white dust – managed to intercept a convoy of food being taken to blacklegs, before scoffing the lot and writing a jaunty strike song about their exploits!).’

Helen Hester, FWSA Blog

“Boston’s book is a useful reminder that although women’s voice is strong within the labour movement it remains under-valued.”

Susan Milner, Work, employment and society