Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.
Song with its story, dreams with their glory
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and louder it swells,
Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord!
I reproduce the first verse of Ethel Smyth’s “The March of the Women” (1911) in honour of the Women Chainmakers’ Festival 2013 – Saturday 8 June in Bearmore Park, Cradley Heath, B64 4DU.
Mary MacArthur – the pioneering founder of the National Federation of Women Workers – organised and represented the poorly-paid and hitherto unorganised women chainmakers of Cradley Heath winning the right to a fair wage for them and many others on a pittance. The strike/lock-out lasted 10 weeks in 1910.
Mary was also an activist believer in universal suffrage, hence my reference to this contemporaneous song, Ethyl Smyth’s gift to the women’s suffrage movement and its anthem.
So here are some photographs taken on Saturday 8 June 2013, Cradley Heath High Street as the banner procession moved from the Mary MacArthur Memorial to Bearmore Park.
The weather stayed fine. Gogwit was on duty as a TUC steward, closing off the High Street to allow safe passage to the procession, hence the sparse and relatively poor quality pictures from my iPhone.
A brass band – all the way from Durham – headed the parade made up of Trade Unions, Trades Councils, labour organisations and other activists, led by Mary MacArthur – actress, obviously!
I wonder what this dynamo of an organiser would think of the events that unfolded following her death, from cancer, in 1921: Of the great popular gains – she died before her ideal of universal suffrage was realised; Of the ‘Spirit of 1945’ and the Welfare State; Of a population who’d ‘never had it so good’ and the ‘white-heat of technology’ and ‘the-pound-in-your-pocket’ to Saltley Gates, The Three-Day Week, The Winter of Discontent and the conservative backlash – Thatcher to Cameron, Orgreave to the Riots.
Your guess is as good as mine but it is my guess is that she’d have been in the thick of it.