Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Break the Bias.
It’s the perfect day to celebrate a major event for women in our local area. In August 1911, female employees of factories in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe walked out due to the appalling conditions which had worsened in the summer heat. An incredible 14,000 women went on strike and marched to Southwark Park where suffragettes, including Emmeline Pankhurst and Mary Macarthur (leader of the National Federation of Women Workers), spoke. This became known as the Bermondsey Uprising.
Standing amongst the crowds, it’s reported that a young worker called out “We are striking for more pay, mister, and we won’t go in until we get it”. Indeed, women under 16 would earn a meagre three shillings a week. The manager of Peek Freans noted “I don’t know of a single business that is working in the district… It is what one might call a reign of terror”.
This mass protest, held just after the male dockers went on strike due to their own discontent, did make a difference for the workforce. Reportedly, all of the local factories increased their wages and aimed for improved working conditions. Furthermore, 8,000 workers joined the NFWW to ensure their voices would continue to be heard.