By Mary Davis
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Additional resources for Comrade or Brother?: A History of the British Labour Movement
Important though men like these were to the cause of factory reform, their contribution, which because of their class position attracted much publicity, is minimal in Davis 01 intro 53 18/12/08 16:28:07 54 COMRADE OR BROTHER? comparison to that of the much less celebrated, but far deeper and more consistent mass campaigns led and waged by working men and women whose very lives were threatened by the inhuman exploitation to which they were subjected in the early factories. The first signs of the movement for factory reform are to be found as early as 1814 among the cotton spinners of Manchester who formed what was known as ‘short time committees’.
Whilst the Webbs do not make the mistake (made by many of their disciples) of assuming that trade unionism was a by-product of industrialisation, their original definition fails to take account of the continuous struggle between labour and capital even during the period of handicraft production. An understanding of capitalist relations of production during the mercantile period has led some modern historians to see the guild system in a new light as they connect it to the increasing evidence being found to substantiate the existence of struggle waged at the point of production in earlier centuries.
Existing situation. Given the prevalence of the sexual division of labour within and between industries it made sense, according to this argument, to maintain separate spheres for women in trade unions too. On the other hand, there was a dawning recognition that sexual divisions were in the interest of the employer and that the way to overcome the super-exploitation of women was through trade union organisation. Given that no women were in the leadership of sexually mixed unions, Morrison and others in the GNCTU thought that separate women’s organisations would encourage more women to become self-mobilising, thereby lessening their reliance on men.