Blue Plaque For Glasgow Equal Pay Campaigner Mary Macarthur

7 March 2017, 05:26

Glasgow Equal Pay Campaigner Mary Macarthur

A champion for the rights of working women in the early 20th century from Glasgow is being honoured with a blue plaque, English Heritage said.

Trade unionist Mary Macarthur fought for equal pay and better rights for women, including those working in ''appalling'' conditions in munitions factories during the First World War.

A blue plaque to her is being unveiled on the eve of International Women's Day at 42 Woodstock Road, a semi-detached house in Golders Green that was her home at the height of her reputation and where she died on New Year's Day 1921.

Mary Macarthur was born in Glasgow and shared her family's Conservative politics until she attended a trade union meeting which inspired her to encourage female employees at her father's drapery shop to join the Shop Assistants' Union.

In 1902 she was elected president of the Scottish National District Council of the union and in 1903 she was the first woman to be elected to its national executive.

Macarthur fought for equal pay for thousands of women in the First World War who worked in munitions factories and other ''male'' jobs when men were conscripted into the armed forces.

In 1918, women workers on London buses and trams were the first to strike for equal pay, a moment she described as ''a landmark for the women's movement and for trade unionism''.

Macarthur also fought to end ''sweated'' labour, which saw women working from dawn until 11pm for less than a living wage, such as chain makers who worked in garden sheds hammering out chain links for as little as five shillings for a 50-hour week.

The trade union leader personally investigated sweated industries, contracting diptheria in the process.

Macarthur's funeral at Golders Green cemetery was attended by politicians and trade unionists, confectionery workers from Bermondsey, munitions workers from Edmonton and chain makers from Cradley Heath, Staffordshire.

Anna Eavis, curatorial director at English Heritage, said: ''Mary Macarthur was a truly remarkable woman.

''She was tireless in her battle for equal pay and better working conditions and was responsible at least in part for the introduction of a minimum wage and the regulation of 'sweated' working.''

She said it was fitting to remember her achievements with a blue plaque during Women's History Month and on the eve of International Women's Day on March 8.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: ''Mary dedicated her life to improving working women's lives, campaigning for minimum rates of pay in the lowest-paid industries.

''During the First World War she fought against the appalling working conditions experienced by women in munitions factories, and fought for equal pay for equal work.

''Thanks to her and others like her there were more than a million women in unions by 1918.''

The blue plaques scheme, taken on by English Heritage in 1986, has been running since 1866 to commemorate the notable people who lived and worked in buildings in London, with the first plaque, to the poet Lord Byron, put up in 1867.

But only one in eight of the more than 900 plaques around the capital are to women, prompting calls for more female nominations.

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