I watched a film a while back based upon the efforts of Dagenham women workers to get equal pay with men. It was a good story and it was well told but you would come away from this film believing that this was the first time women had taken industrial action. This was the 1960s but in 1915 the women of McCrquodales at Wolverton were out on strike for better pay and conditions.
This was the period of the Great War of 1914-18 or World War I as it is sometimes known. Many men signed up and many unfortunately did not come back. The war changed Wolverton as many of its railway workshops were diverted to war production. The work load increased at McCorquodales because increased government activity resulted in increased demand for printing services.
These pressures were put upon the work force, which would have been fair enough, except that it was not fair enough. Women had traditionally been paid less than men, the argument being that the man was the breadwinner and his higher pay took account of these responsibilities. But 1914 brought about a huge social change. The traditional bread winner was at the war front risking life and limb and their wives were left at home with the responsibility of making ends meet.
Ends could not meet. Living costs were rapidly rising and wages were – not for the first time – not keeping pace. The first representations by the women were largely ignored but the trigger for the strike came when it was learned that the relatively few men working at McCorquodales were being paid a ‘war bonus”. The women mobilised. Over 500 of them joined the Paper Workers Union.
The Wolverton Express reported:
The work girls and men at Messrs McCorquodale’s works were locked out on Thursday the 20th May, in consequence of a demand for a war bonus which it was alleged had been given to some of the men. Some 800 to 900 workers have been affected.
This photograph from the Living Archive collection shows the strikers on the Stratford Road. they appear to be very orderly and there are women with prams and push chairs and other children in the picture.