Wednesday, 15 May 2013

From "Those obstreperous lassies"

A history of the Irish Women Workers' Union by Mary Jones

P 57 "By 1922 new areas offered great potential for recruitment and the Union welcomed box-makers, clerks, knitters and cleaners (footnote : IWWU executive minutes 8 December 1921)

"Towards the end of 1982, RTÉ radio and the Gay Byrne radio programme had played host to a chorus of traditional handknitters. all had described massive exploitation of their labour by middlemen, capitalising on their skill, and on their isolation from other workers owing to the nature of their home-based employment. in October 1982, in a quite unprecedented response, handknitters and machine knitters from all over Ireland flocked to the Gresham Hotel for a seminar organised by the producer of the programme, John Cadden, to seek some solutions to the problem of supply, markets, and the organisation of a potentially vast, but widespread workforce. Amongst contributions from NIHE's Business Faculty in Dublin, the Irish Productivity Centre, and the Irish Cooperative Society, Padraigín Ní Mhurchú represented the trade union movement and concerned herself with the basics. She saluted the skills of the women, but warned that such recognition and the securing of rights would not be automatic: 'No one will give you recognition merely on the grounds of the justice of your cause'. She pointed out that the reticent of the women in regard to taking organisational responsibility was largely related to their isolation. All had voiced their individual concern over tax liabilities, working hours, differing rates of pay: but the negotiation of separate arrangements for them, as for other contract workers, was advantageous only in the short-term. In the long-term, as the women testified, such arrangements led to the undercutting of prices, loss of quality control and exploitation of their skills. She concluded by calling for one rate for the job, a co-operative spirit in any further organisation, stressing the logic for such workers of combining with the trade union movement. (Footnote: see Mary Jones, 'Homeworking Research Project', Dublin: AnCO 1982, 88)
Ms Ní Mhurchú's own enthusiasms were prompted by the potential for organisation represented by 3,000 Irish women workers - women outside the traditional workplace - but nevertheless receptive to the call to combine. In responding some time later, one handknitter acknowledged the relevance of the trade union movement to workers such as herself.

'I feel that it is through your organisation that our hope lies. I approached the idea of unions with the same scepticism as the other people present, but your generosity and the openness of your contribution and that of your colleagues to our problem has given me restored faith in our community and I feel we can really make this project work. (footnote : Letter, member of the Traditional Handknitters Association to Padraigín Ní Mhurchú, November 1982.)
The IWWU offered information and accommodation; members of the Traditional Handknitters Association used Fleet Street as a meeting place for the period of their existence as an association. Predictably, difficulties arose, but although the prospect of placing further resources in this direction was not promising at this time, the potential for the development of less orthodox organisation projects remained. It marked one of the few areas of optimism when the persistence of the shorter working week at De La Rue increasimgly threatened large-scale redundancies among IWWU members."

and thats it, it paints a slightly different picture of the decline of the piece-workers, and a far less rosy picture than you often get! No wonder women left it and would have probably discouraged children from doing it as work, this also puts a slightly different light on the decline noticed in knitting in the later 80s.