Julia Varley (1871-1952) – Trades Unionist


JULIA VARLEY – Trade union organiser and fighter for women’s rights

During WWI, the men of the UK were mass-conscripted into the military, and women took their place. Women – who had only been servants or menial factory workers, suddenly found themselves as fire-fighters and police officers,or working in the industries of munitions manufacturing, bomb-making and chemical processing, Women assembled cars, and produced weaponry in their tens of thousands. This proved that they were just as capable as men. Julia Varley fought against male prejudice and founded the first ‘Union’ specifically for women – as during WWI Union Membership by women had grown by 160% – although their interests were not always pursued by these male-dominated entities. However, despite all her hard-work in this area – her Women’s Only Union ultimately failed because many working class people at the time were brain-washed into accepting bourgeois notions of discrimination, and exercised a type of snobbery aimed against other working class people. Cooks, for instance, who were always women, were not prepared to exercise an attitude of ‘equality’ toward other workers who were perceived as occupying an ‘inferior’ status. This is because a good servant was very much judged upon how well they unquestionably accepted the discriminatory and oppressive viewpoints of their masters, and made such viewpoints their own. Of course, this is importing into the working class mind, ideas and notions that run counter to the best interests of the working class – an exercise in what Marx and Lenin termed a ‘false consciousness’. A similar attitude existed in ‘White’ Unions where Black or Asian workers were not welcome – with no sense of irony! Although Unions are an essential vehicle for negotiated group rights, (capital and labour cannot co-exist in harmony), it also demonstrates the various limitations of such entities.

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