Heritage column: Women have led activism in the East End for decades

Female workers at Dagenham Ford, enjoying themselves.

Female workers at Dagenham Ford, enjoying themselves. - Credit: Archant

The East End of London has been a hub of activism throughout history.

Redbridge and the surrounding boroughs have provided hundreds of thousands of people with employment opportunities through its industries including the docks, factories and traditional trades such as textiles and market trading.

This plethora of jobs has attracted many communities to the area, making it a diverse place to live and work.

Dr Lisa McKenzie, from the London School of Economics, said: “You never see history changing do you? Because it’s told from the future so I think it’s already happening.

“Particularly in London there are groups fighting and campaigning and struggling against social cleansing, the lack of housing, homelessness, poverty.

“There are campaigns all over London mainly led by women.

“It’s happening organically out of their communities that the women are doing this, the Focus E15 mums in Stratford, women, young women, the New Era campaign in Hoxton run by women.

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“It’s women that are leading the way.”

For the past 100 years unions were key to improving pay and working conditions of many workers in the East End.

In 1968 The Dagenham Ford sewing machinists strike was a turning point for women and paved the way for the Equal Pay Act in 1970.

Christine recalls: “Those workers were directly affected and it took at least two years to win the first victory it was not easy to win.

“It was a far out idea, nobody wanted us to win.

“A lot of people did lots of kind of lobbying, campaigning, standing outside with placards.”

The women who have been fighting for rights in the East End until now include trade union militants, anarchists and suffragettes, housing activists, health pioneers and social workers, communists and anti-fascists.

Generally women campaigning for working rights in history and their continuation to do so until today, fighting for their rights, beliefs and communities.

On Tuesday and Thursday at Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, Eastside Community Heritage will be giving a talk titled We’re Not Finished! covering the lives and work of groups and individuals who have fought for women’s rights in the East End, Please contact 020 85533116 for more information.