Dora B. Montefiore, New Age April 1905
Source: New Age, p. 234-235, 13 April 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Friends at Brighton have written to me in terms of warm admiration about the work of the organised women Liberals for the successful return of Mr. Villiers; and The Daily News tells how, at a short notice, 40,000 addresses were folded and placed in directed envelopes by women workers of the Brighton and Hove Women’s Liberal Federation, and how 100,000 leaflets and pamphlets combating the fiscal policy of Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Balfour were issued with the help of the same willing workers. It is to be hoped that these energetic Brighton women have exacted pledges from Mr. Villiers that in his future action in the House of Commons, to which they have so largely helped to elect him, he will support, and use his influence to induce others to support, the measure now before the House, which will, in the future, place women in a position above that of the political charwoman, destined only to do the odd jobs and the drudgery of political work. Envelope-addressing, working for bazaars, canvassing, and all the “char-lady” jobs for the returning to Westminster of candidates who, once there, persistently trick or flout their unrepresented supporters – are occupations that, after a certain time, lose their charm. We women demand, in return for our support of either Tory, Liberal, or Socialist candidate, the honest support by that candidate of the principle of Woman Suffrage; as it is through the political vote only that we can protect our industrial, our social, and our political interests.
I am moved to write a word on the subject of bazaars and of sales of plain and fancy needlework, because it seems to me that many women professing progressive and Socialist principles fail to take sufficiently into account the wrongs that bazaars frequently cause to the industrial worker. As a method of raising money, resorted to by Conservative or capitalist Liberal sections of the community, a bazaar or sale of plain and fancy needlework is a logical and understandable function; but for Socialists and trades unionists to make profit out of unpaid labour which competes unfairly with paid labour is to show that they have not grasped in detail the principles for which they stand. For months and months before one of these bazaars is held, women who are anxious to serve in some way the cause for which they stand, are stitching away, more often than not at dainty children’s and babies’ clothing for which there is always found a ready sale; but do they, or do the men and the women leaders who set them to work, take into due consideration the fact that as the goods are sold at the bazaar for little more than the value of the material used, they are underselling the regular workers in that line of industry? A case has come under my notice to-day of a skilled home-worker for a baby linen warehouse, who has had no work for over three months; if she belonged to a union, that union would have just as much right to complain of the unfair competition of bazaars with her particular industry, as the brush makers and some similar trades have to complain of the unfair competition of prison industries. It would really seem as if nowadays, society were divided into two classes only – exploiters and the exploited. Women who work for men’s political advancement, either as addressers of envelopes, as plain and fancy needlewomen, or at any other odd jobs as political charwomen, without demanding as a quid pro quo that their own immediate political interests should be attended to, are not only allowing themselves to be exploited, but they are, at the same time, helping in the exploitation of their industrially unorganised sisters. There are many devoted women who deliberately allow themselves to be exploited in the cause for which they stand, but who, if made conscious of the fact, would shrink from joining in the exploitation of others. Let such women think out for themselves the industrial ethics of bazaars and sales of needlework, and if they fail to justify to themselves such methods of raising money, let them leave such methods in the future to other and less advanced political parties.
“Is it not part of the duty of a Prime Minister,” asked Mr. Crooks the other day in Parliament, “to study the question of the underfed children?” “Yes,” replied Mr, Balfour, “and for that purpose we have appointed a Committee to collate the facts on which, legislation can be based.” The “we” sounds almost royal, and must indeed have impressed the man of the people who had the temerity to raise such a question; but surely the reply sets one wondering how many of the honourable gentlemen who are included in that anointed “we” would be to-day in existence if, during the period of their hungry and growing youth necessary food had been withheld from them while the facts were being “collated” about the minimum of nourishment and the maximum of mental cram that could be endured by the system of the public schoolboy. On another occasion, when replying in his usual urbane manner to Mr. Benn, the Premier said he could not promise any facilities for further progress with the Local Authorities (Qualification of Women) Bill; it only being usual to do so in the cases of non-contentious Bills. It has doubtless slipped Mr. Balfour’s treacherous memory that when the recent Education Bill was passed, and women found themselves left off the new educational authorities, they were assured “it was an unintentional mistake in the drafting of the Bill.” If that was really so, why should the question of replacing women in their former position be a “contentious” one to the Government which made such an “unintentional mistake”?
I wish to call attention to two new and excellent leaflets for distribution at Women Suffrage meetings, which are just now almost as much to the fore as are revivalist, meetings. The first of these leaflets is issued by the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and other Workers’ Representation Committee, and has for its title “Will Working Women have. Votes under Mr. Crooks’ Bill?” The leaflet gives facts and figures which prove incontrovertibly that the average proportion of working women out of the total of women voters examined in seventeen towns is 91 per cent. The other leaflet is issued by the I.L.P., and is signed by thirty-three women of the Independent Labour Party, who vouch for the accuracy of the facts and figures bearing on a similar inquiry which they have instituted. They, also, are in favour of the Women’s Enfranchisement Bill now before Parliament, and as they shrewdly remark, “A Bill on the Statute Book is worth two oh the Liberal programme!” We have much to do before May 12, when our Bill comes up for second reading in the House of Commons, and I advise all women who are working actively in the cause to send for copies of these two useful little leaflets.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.