Monday, 3 August 2015

Mary Macarthur statue and plaque, Cradley Heath

Mary Macarthur, Cradley Heath

Taken from Rebel Road project of Unite education at

The successful strike by women chainmakers at Cradley Heath in the Black Country in 1910 is commemorated by a statue of Mary Macarthur, who led the strike, and a monument to the strikers in a park named after Macarthur.

It took artist Luke Perry more than two years to create the statue which stands at 10ft and weighs nearly three-and-a-half tonnes. It was unveiled in 2012.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland next to the
Mary Macarthur statue in the Mary Macarthur Park.

The strike is celebrated at an annual Chainmakers Festival that is organised by the Midlands Trades Union Congress. There is live music, comedy, stalls, speeches, street theatre re-enactments and fun fair rides along Cradley Heath High Street where many of the women lived and worked over a century ago.

Cradley Heath High Street during the 2015 Chainmakers Festival

Chainmakers were highly skilled and badly paid. Writer Robert H Sheard described their lives in his ‘The White Slaves of England’ book.  'At Anvil Yard...I could see nothing but sorrow and hunger and grime, rags, foul food, open sores and movements incessant and laborious.'

Non-union women workers, who earned less than the unionised men doing the same jobs, were especially poorly paid, earning well under 10 shillings (50 pence) a week. 

Trade union organiser Mary Macarthur started the fightback by establishing in 1906 the Hammered Chain Branch of the National Federation of Women Workers. 

There was further progress when the Chain Trade Board - established by the Trade Boards Act 1909, which created the first boards legally able to set a minimum wage - agreed a 100 percent pay rise.  Many smaller companies though sought to avoid paying up and exploited their female employees illiteracy by tricking them into signing contracts that started the new rates six months later. 

Realising they had been duped around a thousand women, inspired by Mary Macarthur, began strike action to force their employers to pay the newly agreed minimum hourly wage of 2.5d (1 p). 

Strike funds were collected and when MacArthur, aware of the media's power, encouraged Pathe News to cover the strike this produced worldwide public sympathy and donations. The £4,000 collected maintained the struggle for 10 weeks at the end of which a famous victory was achieved when all the employers agreed to pay the minimum rate.

Actor Lynn Morris 

At the 2015 Chainmakers Festival, Macarthur’s victory speech was wonderfully recaptured by actor Lynn Morris. ”You no longer need a Mary Macarthur. You will find your own leaders and voices, but a word of warning on this glorious day, take heed for that which has been so hard won can be so easily lost. So keep the unity, keep the union and keep together.” Morris said today’s young women should use Macarthur as inspiration.

The Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland told the crowd the women Chainmakers are being replicated today by “women workers in hotels, who after decades of campaigning are beginning to make gains because they are getting organised through Unite.

“The Cradley Heath women Chainmakers show that if you are organised and in a union you can win in the most difficult of circumstances. They also by helping found the national minimum wage showed unions are not going to allow a race to the bottom. 

“It is important that we keep alive the memory of those brave women of over a century ago and this Festival is a marvellous way of doing so.” 

For more information on the strike go to
See also The Cradley Heath Women Chain-makers’ Strike of 1910 by Margaret Bradley 

Monument to the women chainmakers  in the Mary Macarthur Park.

All photographs are copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 photography, Sheffield. 

1 comment: