Anita Halpin, Trade Union Officer of the CP spoke recently at an international event to mark International Women's Day, in central London.
"I bring greetings dear sisters and brothers from the Communist Party of Britain.
Can I thank the Coordinating ~Committee of Communist and Workers Parties in Britain for organising the event tonight.
I’m sure you’ve all read today’s Morning Star, at 40 pages the second largest paper ever in over 80 years
It’ editorial starts by telling us that "One hundred years ago, Sylvia Pankhurst was expelled from the Women's Social and Political Union because she insisted on linking the struggle for the emancipation of women with that for the emancipation of the whole working class.”
I’d have thought that would be a very reason to honour a sister, rather than expel them.
"More specifically,” the editorial pointed out, “she had devoted precious time to speaking alongside the great Irish socialist James Connolly at the Albert Hall, London, in solidarity with the workers of the Dublin Lockout."
These lines reminded me of a very special commemoration of the Lockout that I attended last year in Dublin during the congress of the International Federation of Journalists.
The event, under the title of Women in Unions, was put together by Mary Maher, an Irish-American journalist who was one of the founders of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movements, and introduced me James Larkin’s younger sister Delia.
Born in 1878 in Liverpool, Delia was close to her brother throughout her life, and joined him in Dublin in 1911 and was soon writing for the Irish Worker,
the newspaper of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.
Her contribution became a weekly ‘Women Workers’ Column’. Here she recorded the appalling pay women workers received, and the squalor of their working conditions.
Delia opened the column to other women, and the week after her column began the Irish Worker carried an appeal for recruits to the recently founded the IWWU, the Irish Women Workers’ Union. Within days of the advertisement, 300 workers in Jacobs biscuit factory walked out on strike, heralding the new union.
From the start of her participation in the trade union movement, Delia felt ‘there was not enough time and attention given to the social side of Trade Unionism’, and she set about putting this right. Thanks to her efforts, Liberty Hall (the home of the T&G) became a cultural centre, with music, dances, social meetings, elocution and drama classes, and a choir.
When Jim Larkin toured England (and no doubt met Sylvia Pankhurst) to seek support from British workers, Delia took effective charge within Liberty Hall.
She attended rallies, dealt with visiting labour leaders, and ran the Liberty Hall soup kitchen providing breakfasts daily for three thousand children and lunches for hundreds of nursing mothers; very necessary because, in the bleakest period after the Lockout, 20,000 Dublin workers had lost their jobs
In tribute to Delia Larkin’s hard-hitting and humorous journalism, Mary put together a short compilation from Delia’s column, and I have only time to share a very few with you.
Reporting on a meeting she wrote the hall “was filled to its utmost capacity with women workers anxious to join the newly formed Women Workers Union. By 8 o’clock the hall and balcony were full, and those who came after had to be allowed on the stage; even then it was as much as we could do to find room for all. The orderly manner in which the girls entered was astonishing, and might well be copied by the men.”
One of the speakers, Countess Markievicz, she reports “spoke as follows: ‘Friends, I am very glad Mr Larkin asked me to come here and address you. Without organisation you can do nothing, and the purpose of this meeting is to form you into an army of fighters. You will all, I hope, join this union: by doing so you will be doing a good day’s work, not only for yourselves but for Ireland. As you are all aware women have at present no vote, but a union such as has now been formed will not alone help you to obtain better wages, it will also be a great means of helping you to get votes, and thus make men of you all.’ ”
And on women’s work and wages:
“If working women were paid less because they do not work as hard as men then surely this should apply to those men who do not work as hard as women. If wages were determined in this fashion then those who work hardest would be paid highest and those who worked less would be paid lowest.
“The girl who works in the rag stores would be paid more than the typist –the coal porter more than the Cabinet Minister; but the opposite is the case. It seems to be the rule in this world that the harder the work the less the pay. Then why are women paid less than men?”
A question we still ask today and a problem we still battle to win.
So my call to all of you, sisters and brothers, celebrating with us today is become more active in your unions and your workplaces because we know Sylvia was correct to insist on linking the struggle for the emancipation of women with that for the emancipation of the whole working class."