Excuse me for not brimming with excitement over the Centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act on 6 February.
Tuesday’s anniversary should be marked as a milestone not an end. The 1918 Act granted the vote to to all men over the age of 21 and to women over 30 who met a property qualification. More than half of adult women remained excluded from voting for another ten years when the franchise was finally equalised.
Half a lifetime after my first foray, I re-read Angela Davies “”Women Race and Class” I am struck afresh by her observation and deep critique of the absence of intersectionality recorded in the women’s franchise struggle. Davies details the intimate ties and conflicts within anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements – too often swept under the carpet. Too inconvenient or perhaps too uncomfortable for the whitewashed liberal democracy retrospective. The reality of the universal suffrage struggle is far more dirty and violent.
Suffragette struggle was not a singular middle class preserve of propertied women over 30. Sepia stained photos of upright women in white dresses with sashes are a soft focus snapshot in a long battle of sustained violent, militant and working class organisation and action that reached out beyond the parlours and meeting halls into workplaces, on the streets and even up the closes of Glasgow tenements.
Helen Crawfurd, a leader of the radical WSPU in Glasgow believed the emancipation and education of women as as workers was as important as the vote. Crawford advocated and led in militant suffragette direct actions, attacking police attempting to arrest Emily Pankhurst at a public meeting in Glasgow, window smashing and bombings and was arrested, imprisoned and participated in the hunger strikes. She opposed Britain’s involvement in WW1 and became a leader in the Glasgow Rent Strike campaign leading working class women into direct action in Red Clydeside.
So, I agree it is nice that the Royal Mint is issuing a new 50p coin to commemorate 100 years since some achieved the right to vote. Ironic though, as after all a coin is a mere token. On 6 February then, we mark a milestone with half a pound, but with another decade to go until the centenary of true equal franchise is marked.
The suffragettes demanded deeds not words, and in these new unequal times, we should too.