Chair of Bridgwater & District Branch Labour Party, Cllr Irena Hubble (Fairfax West) said “In 1995 the United Nations declared ‘Women’s rights are human rights’ These include the right to live free from violence and discrimination; to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; to be educated;to own property. to vote and earn an equal wage. Let that sink in and let’s see where we are now in the UK. Our human rights and our rights as women are being eroded year on year. In 2023 the Republic of Ireland has chosen to announce today that it is holding a gender equality referendum to remove from their constitution the sentence ‘ women’s place is in the home’. In Afghanistan women have no rights at all and have been ordered to ‘stay at home’. Meanwhile our government announced draconian plans to ‘stop small boats’. 3 short words with such awful import. The United Nations Refugee Agency has said’ it is very concerned about the UK’s illegal migration crackdown. Wherever we look there is injustice and harassment, as socialists it is up to us to call it out and stand up for all our rights. Happy International Women’s Day 2023!”
Equity v Equality
Bridgwater Branch Vice Chair Cllr Liz Marsh (Bridgwater Victoria) said “The 8th March is International Women’s day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. International Women’s Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people and yet here we are over 100 years on still needing a day to celebrate the truly phenomenal achievements of women worldwide because the stark truth is women are still not on an equal footing with men.
Each year the organisers of the event announce a different theme and the concept for 2023 is: “Embrace Equity”. The campaign website explains: “The aim of the IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme is to get the world talking about why equal opportunities aren’t enough.”
So what does equity actually mean and how does it differ from the concept of equality? Equity is similar to the concept of equality, however, there is one significant difference. Where equality makes sure that everyone is given exactly the same treatment and opportunities, equity ensures that people are given specific support to suit their individual needs. The reasoning behind this is so that everyone has the chance to reach the same end goal. That is we don’t all need the same support and opportunities but rather tailored support and opportunities.
The organisers of IWD explain that “inequity affects many people, but most commonly historically it has marginalised communities such as women, people of colour, disabled people, the economically disadvantaged, and those from the LGBTQ+ community. The goal of equity is to change systemic and structural barriers that get in the way of people’s ability to thrive.”
Quite simply without equity there can be no equality.”
Remembering Jesse Eden
“You wouldn’t understand…After all, I am a millennial AND I am an influencer.” Fervently declares Karen from Gateshead, after an extensive rant in the comment section of a Facebook group about 2000’s make-up coming back into fashion.
I too ‘am a millennial’. Not a label I am particularly proud to have acquired and not one receiving a huge amount of positive press these days. I am NOT, however, a self-declared influencer. A social media influencer is a user on social media who has an established credibility in a specific area or industry. People watch their every move to try and replicate their image or purchase the goods they endorse.
As a conscious confession, I have recently found myself to be a sort of ‘keyboard warrior’; fighting battles from behind my computer screen, furiously typing and re- typing comments and messages on Social media. Social media platforms and cybernetic networks have become the new factory floor or speakers corner; an opportunity to express views and opinions with very little repercussion, an opportunity to rally troops and likeminded folks, an opportunity to spread information quickly and effectively. Or as Karen from Gateshead would suggest, a place to endorse overly expensive make up.
Fight for a female voice
The focal point of many battles seems to be a fight for a female voice on all levels of social and political engagement. I meet a great many brilliant, passionate women who are engaged socially within their communities but suffer from a lack of confidence, time or support when it comes to making the transition into political involvement. Until recently, I suffered from the same doubts and searched for an entry-level inspiration into this new world. This hasn’t been a quick or easy process but a simple google search a few years ago led me down a rabbit hole of inspiration.…‘Influential women’…It was a broad search but I had to start somewhere. …’Politically influential women’…now we’re getting somewhere. I scrolled, glazed eyes through pages of familiar stories, inspired but not moved to action until my eyes met a black and white image of a petite, gentle looking woman. Her shoulders held high and her eyes firmly fixed upon a document resting gently in her hand.Underneath the picture, in bold newspaper print: JESSIE EDEN.
Born in Birmingham in 1902, to a mother who was entranced in the suffragette movement (and a Father who later came to passionately support her cause), Jessie Eden was raised in a family unit all too familiar with the necessity to fight for social and political justice. Jessie was a champion of women and social issues her entire life but more notably gained recognition for her efforts to move working class women to strike during the 1920s and 30’s in Birmingham. By the age of 23, Eden herself was a worker at Joseph Lucas motor components factory and had gained herself the position of shop steward for the Transport and General workers Union. In 1926, Eden organised the movement of her entire section to join the general workers strike– a bold move considering the opposing number of non-unionised women in the factory.
Empowered to take a stand
The governing forces of the factory watched Eden with a careful and calculated eye. She was known for precision and speed in her work and as such became aware of a constant presence of senior officials around her. It became apparent that they were timing the speed of Eden’s production. Management set out to use Eden’s high working standards as a baseline to manipulate the female workers into unrealistic pay-based, time pressures. Outraged by the mere suggestion of such practises which would force women into a state of ill-health, Eden led 10,000 women out of the Lucas factory on a week-long strike. Once Eden’s rallying cry was heard in the hearts of women, they felt empowered to take a stand socially and politically. They set forth to fight a difficult battle which would see them struggle; ‘Sacrifices had to be made. We had practically no meat during the strike. We lived on bread, Jam and marg’’ she recalled during a later interview. Eventually, in realisation that Eden’s passion had ignited the hearts of a community in a way none thought possible, the working practices were dropped and a victory for working class people adorned Eden’s shoulders.
Vocal about her Allegiances
Eden set out to Join the Communist Party of Great Britain, naturally and proudly becoming very vocal about her allegiances. She was made redundant from her post at the Lucas factory under the guise of huge and devastating cut-backs in the factory and she became victimised for her out-spoken views, finding it difficult to gain new employment.
After a brief period of time in Moscow, rallying women working on the metro system, Eden returned to her first love: Birmingham. In 1939, Eden became part of a wider fight to end the increasing plight of housing tenants in Central Birmingham. The rising cost housing was beginning to cripple an entire generation. The Birmingham rent strike of 1939 saw nearly 50,000 tenants join the strike which led to the people winning control of rent from the council and the private sector.
Drawing her inspiration from the strength and power that can be gained from putting on a united front, Jessie understood that people must be at the heart of politics. Politics wasn’t a game of words for Jessie; it was food on the table, affordable accommodation and achievable job prospects. Those who met her, recall her small stature and petite features which were complemented beautifully by a fiery passion, fervent beliefs and a desire for action. She was eloquent, but spoke in an infectious way for the people, igniting hearts and fuelling change. “One policeman put his hands on my arm. They were telling me to go home, but the crowd howled, ‘Hey, leave her alone’ and then some men came and pushed the policemen away. They didn’t do anything after that. I think they could see that there would have been a riot. I was never frightened of the police or the troops because I had the people with me.”
Jessie’s depiction in the popular, hit Television series ‘Peaky Blinders’ was met with mixed reviews. Praised for spotlighting a seemingly over-shadowed historical, female activist, the forth series of the BBC drama series based on the antics and exploits of the infamous Shelby family, focuses on Jessie’s communist party roots and her instrumental role in the women’s strikes from the Lucas factory in central Birmingham. However, in an escalating move to advance his own political careerism, Thomas Shelby (the finely chiselled, suited and booted antagonist played by Cillian Murphy) soon made Jessie his target love interest, thus sexualising the role and skewing Jessie’s intentions. I cannot help but feel if the real Jessie Eden had come face to face with such a character, she would have sent him on his way with a fist full of words and given him a lesson in the true meaning of ‘For the people’.
As the 24 th February 2022 marks Eden’s 120th Birthday, I can’t help but wonder what Jessie Eden would have made of the ‘fuss’ surrounding her name today? More so, I wonder what she would have thought of Social media and how she would have engaged with it – the factory floor of the 21 st century, would Jessie have become the new type of influencer we need for today? But most of all I ask myself; ‘How can I be a little bit more Jessie?’