We hold many items in our collections which reflect the role women have had over the last century, so selecting a single item to reflect the themes of International Women’s Day which marks the economic, political and social achievements of women is not a simple task. However, one of the more striking images is this poster from the Vanley Burke collection (MS 2192) which advertises an evening event held at The Cave on the Moseley Road on the 13th October . The event was part of a national tour of the UK entitled ‘Sisters of The Long March: Songs of Struggle, Dances of Resistance’ produced by the Sarmcol Workers’ Co-operative in association with the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the TUC (UK).
The ‘Sisters’ were a group of NUMSA women who narrated, through song and dance, the plight of workers at the Sarmcol factory a subsidiary of British Tyre and Rubber (BTR), in Mpophomeni near Howick, Natal. Workers at the Sarmcol factory went on strike in 1985 after BTR refused to sign an agreement recognising the Metal and Allied Workers’ Union (MAWU). This union had been attempting to gain recognition from BTR since 1972. The strike was the first to be held by black South Africans and Mpophomeni was to become heavily involved in the anti-apartheid movement. In March 1985, the management of BTR sacked the 970 workers on the grounds that the strike was illegal. The situation worsened when at a rally of the Inkatha Freedom Party in December of the following year, four key members of MAWU were abducted, three of whom were killed. As a result, the area suffered from a period of political clashes and it was not until thirteen years later, in March 1998, that the 970 dismissed strikers won their case at the Appeal Court. The caption on the poster reads, ‘Our strike bound community is united in the face of BTR’s attempt to starve us into surrender. We women tell our community’s story from our position as women in this struggle.’
There is a catalogue of the Vanley Burke collection available in our search room and a selection of other material in our collections which reflects the role of women is available to view on the Suburban Birmingham website.
Archives and Heritage is not the only part of Central Library marking International Women’s Day. Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts will be celebrating International Women’s Day with an evening of poetry in the Library Theatre.
Eleanor, Archives Assistant
Cambridge and District Trades Council, History, available at www.cambstuc.org.uk/history
Heritance, the Open Museum People, Project Mpophomeni, South Africa, available at http://www.heritance.org/projectprofile_mpophomeni.html
South African Broadcasting Corporation, Sarmcol Strike, available at http://sabctrc.saha.org.za/glossary/sarmcol_strike.htm?t=sarmcol&tab=glossary