This title is part of a quote from an account in a local newspaper of the Exeter Bread Riot of 1854, it goes on, ’The women as usual were the beginning of the disturbance.’ (Western Times, 14th January 1854) I love that because it reveals a truth that, as managers of the domestic economy, generally, women are the ones who know when the situation is no longer supportable. Whether it’s about hunger, as in the bread riots, demanding safer working conditions, as the fishermen’s wives and widows from Hull in the 1960s, or against murder and disappearances, as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo a decade later, women are often the first into battle. They then force the men into action, sometimes by leading them. The storming of the Bastille may have signalled the beginning of the French Revolution, but it was the march of women to Versailles that sealed Louis XVI’s fate. Likewise, it’s not well known that it was the women who started the Russian Revolution in March 1917, appropriately enough on International Women’s Day*, when female workers in a clothes factory in St Petersburg went on strike and called out the men in other works to join them. The Bolsheviks weren’t consulted, Lenin was still in Switzerland, the Winter Palace was unstormed. Shame that Eisenstein didn’t make a film about that.
Of course I’m talking about poor women, not the ones who become professional politicians, business leaders or academic writers. So, while Theresa May desperately tries to get the Tories to back-pedal and take on some of Labour’s policies, we can only wait and hope for the crunch to come.
[* started by a Jewish garment worker and socialist who was an immigrant from Russia to the USA. Come on chickens … time to roost!]