Women Chainmakers Festival 2014


The Women Chainmakers Festival will return this week in Bearmore Park, Cradley Heath, on Saturday 7th June 2014 for the tenth successive celebration of the historic dispute.

Chainmakers Festival 2014

During the 19th century the Black Country, in particular the Cradley Heath area, became the centre for chain making in Britain. Heavy to medium chains were produced by men in factories, however the smaller chains (often known as 'hand-hammered' or 'country-work' chains) were often hand-worked by women or children in small, cramped forges. The work was hot, physically demanding and poorly paid. Chainmaking was an example of a "sweated" trade, where workers (often women) were paid a pittance to produce cheap goods at home.

At the start of the 20th century, the campaign to end the exploitation of "sweated" labour gained increasing popular support. In 1909 the Liberal government passed the Trade Boards Act to set up regulatory boards to establish and enforce minimum rates of pay for workers in four of the most exploited industries, including chain-making, box-making, lace-making and the production of ready-made clothing.

In March 1910, the Chain Trade Board announced a minimum wage for hand-hammered chain-workers of two and a half pence an hour - for many women this was nearly double the existing rate, giving them 10 to 11 shillings for a 55 hour week.

However, many companies did not adhere to the raises made, instead duping workers to sign away their rights to consent to contract out of the agreement. Many of these women were unable to read and write.

Tired of working day and night for starvation wages, the women downed their tools and stood up for their right to earn a living wage, beginning a strike which lasted for 10 weeks, culminating in them successfully establishing the right to a minimum wage for their trade.

The festival begins at 11:00 on Saturday and is free to attend.

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