Posts Tagged ‘Edward Royle’

Chartist Woman Demand the Working Class Vote

May 14, 2016

Chartism Royle pic

I found this piece from the ‘Address of the Female Political Union of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to their Fellow-Countrywomen’, in the Chartist newspaper, Northern Star, of 9th February 1839 in Edward Royle’s Chartism 2nd Edtion (Harlow: Longman 1986). Chartism was the early 19th century movement campaigning for the vote for working men. Royle says in his introduction to the piece that

Chartism involved women as well as men as active participants, and there were many local women’s groups, like this one from Newcastle. But women’s Chartism was hardly a movement for women’s liberation. Chartism was seen as a movement for the emancipation of the poor, and was thought o fit traditional patriarchal terms. (p. 114).

I’m not sure. Other books on Chartism have said that a few of the Chartist radicals did want the vote for women, and about the same time, the Spencean Philanthropists, an early proto-Socialist group of radical democrats, did want the vote for women, as well as children. Quite apart from the first stirrings of modern feminism in the followers of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Vindication of the Rights of Women. And even if most Chartist women did their political activism in terms of getting the vote, not for themselves, but for their menfolk, nevertheless they were pioneers in that they consciously broke the social rules against women becoming involved in politics, as this piece clearly states.

Fellow-country women, – We call upon you to join us and help our fathers, husbands, and brothers, to free themselves and us from political, physical and mental bondage, and urge the following reasons as an answer to our enemies and an inducement to our friends.

We have been told that the province of woman is her home, and that the field of politics should be left to me; this we deny; the nature of things renders it impossible, and the conduct of those who give the advice is at variance with the principles they assert. Is it not true that the interests of our fathers, husbands and brothers, ought to be ours? If they are oppressed and impoverished, do we not share those evils with them? If so, ought we not to resent the infliction of those wrongs upon them?…

For years we have struggled to maintain our homes in comfort, such as our hearts told us should greet our husbands after their fatiguing labours. Year after year have passed away, and even now our wishes have no prospect of being realised, our husbands are over wrought, our houses half furnished, our families ill-fed, and our children uneducated – the fear of want hangs over our heads; the scorn of the rich is pointed towards us; the brand of slavery is on our kindred, and we feel the degradation. We are a despised caste; our oppressors are not content with despising our feelings, but demand the control of our thoughts and wants! – want’s bitter bondage binds us to their feet, we are oppressed because we are poor …

We’re seeing something of that today, with the poverty forced upon the working people of Britain by decades of Thatcherite political orthodoxy, from both the Tories and the Blairites. 590 people have starved to death or committed suicide due to the government’s savage benefit cuts. 290,000 or so have had their mental health made significantly worse through stress from the Fitness to Work tests imposed by the government. And 4.7 million people now live in ‘food poverty’ in one of the richest countries of the world.

This situation has partly come about through successive government ignoring the poor and working class. Blair and his coterie did. They concentrated on gathering middle class votes from swing voters, and pandering to the view that everyone below them was idle, and savage cuts to the welfare state were needed to force them back into work. One of the Blairite MPs in parliament even said that, in power, Labour would be harder on the unemployed than the Tories! And meanwhile, Cameron was doing his level best to strip the vote from the young, the poor, and ethnic minorities through his voter registration scheme. Just like the Republicans were doing in America. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and it shows!

We need to invigorate working class politics against, to show that the working people of Britain matter, and that their poverty is literally killing this country, just like the Chartists did in the 19th century, though hopefully without their mistakes and failures.