Women's labour and trade unionism - a dangerous combination?

Rebecca Zahn, Nicole Busby

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Women have played a key role in the British trade union movement since its inception. After all, the first strike for equal pay was organised by 1,500 women card-setters in Yorkshire in 1832. However, although trade unionism and the intellectual underpinnings of the labour movement were instigated around and by women – one need only think of the economist and labour historian Beatrice Webb (often referred to as one of 'the Webbs', i.e. the wife of Sidney) who was a pivotal figure in her own right – as well as men, once institutionalised, the labour movement became focused on the needs and concerns of the 'standard male worker'. Women workers became part of the women’s movement – viewed as ‘the other’ and often subjected to outright hostility – rather than an integral part of the British workers’ movement. Women's position outside the mainstream labour movement has sustained up to the present day when gendered occupational segregation and the prevalence of part-time work raise questions concerning the relevance of traditional trade unionism to women's working lives. From their perceived threat to the established organisation of paid work up to these contemporary challenges to trade unionism, women can be seen as 'dangerous'.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDangerous Women
Subtitle of host publicationFifty Reflections on Women, Power and Identity
EditorsJo Shaw, Ben Fletcher-Watson, A Ahmadzadeh
Place of PublicationLondon
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • women's labour
  • trade unionism
  • labour movement


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