The International Federation of Working Women, 1919-1924 – Geert Van Goethem (2006)

An International Experiment of Women Workers: The International Federation of
Working Women, 1919-1924, by Geert Van Goethem, Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent, Belgium

In: Magaly Rodriguez Garcia, ed., “Labour Internationalism: Different Times, Different Faces”, in Special issue of Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Filologie en Geschiedenis/Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire, vol. 84, 2006, no. 4, p. 1025-1047. To order the issue, contact:
Geert Van Goethem is also the author of: The Amsterdam International (sub-title: The World of the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), 1913-1945), Ashgate (, 2006, 320 p., ISBN-10: 0 7546 5254 8.
Labour history is mainly about men, and gender history is usually about women. In fact,
gender history is generally the province of female scholars, and labour history is
dominated by male historians. This contribution, written by a man, draws chiefly on
documents written or published by women and women’s organisations to study how an
exclusively female initiative, an international of women workers, was received in the
world of labour. It is in keeping with the claim made by Kathy Sklar, that “one way to
understand the history of women as a group is to consider them with respect to two
kinds of experience: [1] those shared with other women and [2] those shared with men
of their own social group” (1). In this contribution, I would like to put forward a few elements
that can enrich our insights into the relations between women and trade unions. For this
purpose, I am using the history of a little-known international experiment, in which an
international company of women trade unionists tried to develop a structural form of
cooperation between 1919 and 1924. The discussions these women held amongst each
other, the positions they took, their attitude towards the environment in which they
operated and the treatment they received from that environment all shape the context of
interaction between class and gender, as “systems of domination or systems of
inequality” (2) that both diverged and converged. Surprisingly, we find that a third element
also comes into play here: nationality, a factor that turns out to be a considerably tough
one in this internationalist community.
Anyone who browses the sources will have no difficulty finding statements by
union representatives that are discriminatory about paid female labour and even about
women in general (3). It is indeed a remarkable fact that a social movement whose prime
goal was to emancipate the lowest social class, the workers, actually discriminated
against the weakest segment of that class itself, and even excluded them. Researchers
who engage in the study of the relations between women and the unions consequently
arrive at almost identical conclusions, which can be summed up in the words of Jennifer
Curtin: “In the past, women have been excluded from membership, denied access to
decision-making positions, and some trade unions have acted to reinforce rather than
challenge women’s inequality in the paid workforce” (4).
Corrie van Eijl too stated that trade unions in general, instead of working to
diminish differences in vocational skills and remuneration between men and women,
have, on the contrary, contributed to “the interests of working women being construed as
incompatible with those of working men” (5). In Frader’s view, this reinforcement of the
opposition between the sexes has been a deliberate policy of the men: “A travers les
syndicats, les hommes ont ainsi défendu leurs prérogatives, contribuant à maintenir les
frontières entre identités masculine et féminine” (6). Madeleine Reberioux consequently
confirms that “oui, la rencontre entre les femmes et le syndicalisme n’a pas été facile” (7).
The conclusions are therefore unequivocal and quasi unanimous, and the question as to
why trade unions excluded and discriminated women often elicits the same answers,
even from different perspectives. I will give three, but add that, with most authors, these
elements are interrelated.
First, there is the class perspective. According to historical materialism, class and
class consciousness are the determining factors in starting off the process that leads to
the final historical destination of the classless society. Trade unions, inspired by their
Marxist world view, applied class as an inclusive category that left no room for
differences, neither from the ethnic point of view, nor from the point of view of gender.
Regina Becker-Schmidt points out that this concept of class, which appears to be
gender-neutral, turns out, on closer analysis, to be identical with “Arbeitermannschaft” (8).
For Bert Klandermans, this makes unions “bulwarks of white male workers who have
difficulties with changes in favour of female workers or workers from different ethnic
backgrounds” (9). This monolithic class thinking, according to Leela Fernandez (10) and
others, disregards the social dynamic, which is infinitely more complex. The attempt of
the trade unions to formulate class as a separate, clearly defined and sharply delimited
category consequently hides an obsession with power and a claim of exclusivity with
regard to representation. In other words, the more class becomes an exclusive category,
the more it represses and ignores other categories, such as gender and ethnicity. Or, in
other words, apparent gender neutrality often hides gender, race and ethnic ideologies
and interests (11).
An explanation can also be sought in the strategy of the trade unions, who did not
necessarily base their actions on the class theory, but whose sole purpose was to
defend the professional interests of their members. For these organisations, a possible
influx of cheap (female) labour was a threat to the wage level and, in times of economic
crisis, even to the jobs of their (male) members. This corporatist trade union model did
not just discriminate against women, but also against minors, foreigners, unskilled
labourers, and in general, anyone who constituted a threat to the standard of pay.
Many authors base their analyses on the gender perspective. An example is Thea
Sinclair, who points to the “implicit gender ideology” of the world of labour. It is an
ideology that is activated by “the practices of management, unions, male workers and
women themselves” (12). Corrie van Eijl further explores this ideology and points to the
triad underlying it, composed of morality, procreation, and family. They are to be seen as
interrelated concepts that gave meaning to the difference between men and women.
The argument of morality was often found in denominational circles, including the
Christian-inspired trade unions. There were two viewpoints from which the negative
effects of paid labour on procreation were argued: on the one hand, the risks posed by
the hazards of factory work to the reproductive capacity of female workers, and on the
other hand, the danger of paid work leading women away from marriage and
procreation. This justification of a gender difference on the shop floor was a motivation
for differences in employment legislation and differences in the appreciation of female
and male labour. The third factor was composed of ideas about the family. The idea that
society was made up of families and the assumption that there was a more or less
natural division of labour within those families were so general that other opinions were
only sporadically heard.
One of the disadvantages of this kind of general agreement is that there is little
room or attention for stories that challenge this overall view. Although there have of
course been many authors who went in search of contributions made by women to the
social struggle, these studies eventually tend to confirm this image of repression and
marginalisation. That is why the period and aftermath of Word War I offer several
interesting possibilities of research. The massive employment of women in the
metalworking industry and in particular the arms industry during the war broke the
hegemony of men in industrial labour. And just like the immediate post-war period was a
crucial one in the process of securing workers’ rights in general, this period was also
very important for the women workers and their representatives. Women became actors
and took their own initiatives to formulate and defend both their social rights and their
right to represent themselves. All this challenged the idea of the uniform working class.
Moreover, this was a period when women’s political rights were a major issue, supported
by strong national women’s movements, which also started uniting internationally. This
gave women unionists a double opportunity to develop themselves, but at the same
time, the choice between class and gender solidarity presented a fundamental problem
of loyalty.
The International Congress of Working Women, Washington, October 1919
National trade union federations, most of which were founded in the last decades of the
nineteenth century, started collaborating internationally in 1901. The International
Secretariat of National Trade Union Federations was a contact and consultation body for
leading union officials, mostly from European workers’ movements. The secretariat was
dominated by German unionists, but was weakened by virulent ideological oppositions
between radical and anarchist unions and the more moderate reformists (13). In the course
of the First World War, however, the situation changed completely. The trade union
international split into three camps, depending on the political and military positions of
the countries involved; the German dominance naturally came to an end; and the largest
syndicalist organisation in Europe, the French Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT),
took a much more moderate position and gradually joined the reformist camp. It was
precisely the French union leader Leon Jouhaux (14) who, at a conference of trade unions
of the Allied countries in Leeds in 1916, advocated a peace treaty that would also
include “labour clauses”. During the war, trade unions and leaders of the reformist
workers’ movement in the chief belligerent countries had gained access to power and
were determined to create a role for themselves in the framework of the impending
peace negotiations (15). Eventually, this led to the Labour Charter in the 1919 Peace
Treaty. This charter, in which the main points were the introduction of the eight-hour
working day and the legal protection of female and child labour, also led to the
foundation of the International Labour Organization (ILO) as part of the League of
Although female labour featured prominently on the agenda, the world of
international diplomacy in which these negotiations were held was even more of an
exclusive all-male affair than that of the labour movement. Women had been “hidden
actors” (16) on the international stage, but immediately after World War I they emerged as
active participants in the as yet undeveloped domain of international labour law. They
largely owed this new role to a few strong national organisations of working women in
the main Allied Powers, the United States and Britain. The American National Women’s
Trade Union League (NWTUL) (17) was an autonomous organisation that operated under
the umbrella of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In Britain, there were strong
women’s organisations in several large trade unions as well as women’s groups in the
cooperative movement and in the Labour Party. All these organisations worked together
on the Standing Joint Committee of Working Women (SJC) (18), which coordinated
international contacts and reported on them to their respective national structures.
Characteristic of both the American and the British women’s movements was their mixed
social make-up, which placed them in an intermediate position between the maledominated
labour movement and the feminist movement which was dominated by
middle-class women. They could be described as organisations with a double identity,
women’s and workers’ movement in one. However, they had a degree of autonomy vis-
à-vis there male dominated national labour movements, and during the war, they were
closely involved in the discussion on the future of working women.
They had a particular interest in the Labour Charter, in which particular clauses
would govern women’s labour, and so various national organisations of trade union
women started an intensive lobbying campaign. Their major demand was the inclusion
of women in the national government delegations that were to negotiate the Labour
Charter. On this point, the strong organisations from the US and Britain had the support
of French women and various women’s organisations from Scandinavia. The main
leaders of the national women’s organisations knew each other personally. Women who
were active in the labour movement already developed a network during the war. Of
particular importance in this regard was the initiative of the American women to send a
small delegation, composed of Mary Anderson (19) and Marie Rose Schneiderman (20), to
Paris in March 1919. They succeeded in being personally received by US President
Wilson, who described their demand to include women in the government delegations to
the International Labour Organization as “a quite reasonable request” (21). After their visit
to Paris, the delegation went to report to their British colleagues, who reciprocated by
sending a delegation to the national convention of the NWTUL in Philadelphia, where
Anderson and Schneiderman, in the conclusion of their report, launched the proposal
“that the league hold an international labor conference for women”. On the basis of their
experiences in Europe, they had become convinced “that a new era was ahead of us
and that this was the time to start women thinking and acting on international matters” (22).
It was no accident that this International Congress of Working Women met in October
1919 in Washington DC, concurrent with the first International Labour Conference. The
date was chosen for strategic reasons and inspired by the concern that women were not
sufficiently represented at the official congress: “we wanted to inaugurate an
international program for women and get it accepted by the conference” (23). On the
initiative of the American NWTUL, invitations were sent to thirty-three national
organisations. The invitation referred to the upcoming international labour congress,
where “items on the agenda intimately concern working women”. “Women must now
assume responsibilities in the affairs of the world”, the organisers stated, and that was
why the established national trade union organisations were asked to send delegates.
Eventually, nineteen countries were represented (24). The agenda covered all the major
issues that were also being addressed by the International Labour Conference, and
many delegates were also technical advisers to the labour conference. Making
recommendations to the labour conference was of course one of the main objectives of
this international women’s congress. Among the other matters addressed were the
development of a network and the question of whether there was a sufficiently solid
basis for establishing a permanent international organisation of working women.
After the congress, a propaganda brochure was published, that proudly
announced that in Washington “a meeting of historical importance has taken place
…composed of women … from different nations moved by the same spirit of kinship” (25).
According to the American organisers, the development and promotion of sistership
among women of different backgrounds and origins was one of the major objectives of
this collaboration. In this respect, the working women distinguished themselves from
their male counterparts, at least as regards their discourse and culture.
Equality versus protection
The question of whether women should seek protection or strive for equality was a bone
of contention. In February 1919, at a conference in Berne, the international labour
movement (26) unambiguously went for protection. The demand from “certain feminist
tendencies” that women in the labour market be treated in the same way as men was
dismissed as “a claim of unlimited protection for the exploitation of women”. To the trade
unionists who met in Berne, woman’s protection was imperative: “She must be
employed differently, being weaker than man and moreover being exposed to certain
disturbances in her labour in consequence of her nature. For the sake of the future
development of mankind it is of vital importance that women shall be protected after
confinement” (27). However, the Berne programme also included one demand that was
also made by feminism: “Under all circumstances, equal wages for equal work should be
warranted”. In Berne, the vision was developed that would remain unchanged for the
next few decades: the protection of working women as mothers and the equality of
women as workers. It was a standpoint that could easily lead to ambiguity, and it could
not count on general support in women workers’ circles. But a woman’s right to work,
even if she was married, was not questioned.
Through Margaret Bondfield (28), the only woman who attended the Berne
conference, the British women voiced a different view. She did not like the clause
prohibiting female labour in unhealthy and dangerous industries, because, she argued,
merely banning women would not make the work any safer or healthier for men either.
Consequently, Bondfield asked to restrict the ban on women’s labour to those
companies “where it is impossible to provide for sufficiently healthy conditions” (29).
The documents that were discussed a few months later in Washington at the first
International Congress of Working Women (ICWW) were similarly devoid of fundamental
criticism of the principle that women needed special legal protection in the workplace.
The great majority of the delegates agreed that women were in need of protection as
regards both night work and work in dangerous and unhealthy jobs. The American Rose
Schneiderman rejected the demand for full equality with roughly the same argument that
had been used in Berne: “equality of women to kill themselves by night work is no
equality to us” (30).
The dissident voice came from Scandinavia, where the Swedish socialist women
in particular took a stand against separate labour legislation for women, “except when
women are actually engaged in child-bearing”. They clearly stated their reason: “such
protection tends to limit women’s scope of activity and to cut women off from many
suitable and remunerative occupations” (31). Eventually, the resolutions took both views
into account as much as possible. As regards work in unhealthy and dangerous
industries, they adopted the formula that had formerly been devised by Margeret
Bondfield, while the ban on night work was generalised as a principle, with certain
exceptions on account of the nature and the need for continuity of specific industries and
for ensuring essential public services.
Another subject on which the Washington congress delegates were divided was
the question of maternity benefit. There was quite general agreement on the principle of
creating an insurance system for mothers, but that was were agreement ended.
Opinions were greatly divided when it came to the nature of this insurance. Would it
cover only medical aid or include a financial benefit? Would it have to be financed by the
general state funds or would it have to be part of a general health insurance system?
Was it to be restricted to women doing paid labour or extended to all women? In the
end, no agreement could be reached and the congress issued both a majority and a
minority resolution. The majority resolution went for the maximum scenario, while the
supporters of the minority resolution wanted to restrict the system to working women.
This discussion too was quite illustrative of the different social backgrounds of the
conference participants.
It is difficult to say whether the resolutions of the International Congress of
Working Women had a determining influence on the results of the International Labour
Conference and on the working of the first conventions. What we do know is that many
women who attended the congress held strong positions in various national workers’
delegations, such as the French Jeanne Bouvier (32), the British Margaret Bondfield and
Mary MacArthur (33) and the Belgian Hélène Burniaux (34); the Norwegian Betzy Kjelsberg (35)
was a technical adviser to the Norwegian government delegation. It was mainly in their
committee work that these women exercised their influence, and it was precisely there
that the recommendations of the ICWW proved useful. It should come as no surprise
then that the final conventions on the eight-hour working week and the protection of
female and child labour differed only slightly from the resolution adopted by the ICWW,
although this in itself cannot be taken as a measure of the authority of women workers.
Feminism versus class struggle
For the two major national organisations of women workers, the American and the
British, international collaboration was a logical step to take. Their goals were identical
and they fitted in with their national ambitions. Their actions centred on three key
concepts: organisation, education and legislation. Their primary goal was organisation:
to get women to join the union, if necessary through separate organisations for women.
There are few if any examples of all-women trade unions that were successful in the
longer term, though some enjoyed short-lived success. As a result, the organisations of
working women often fell back on their second goal, education. Because women’s lack
of education and knowledge was generally considered one of the main reasons why
women were indifferent to trade unionism, also by the male union leaders, it was usually
easy to find partners for this enterprise. Consequently, this became the area in which
separate initiatives for and by women were not only tolerated, but even acknowledged
and supported, even though the funds that were made available for education were
often inadequate. For many female union leaders, therefore, the third pillar became the
most important one: legislation. At the time of the ICWW, the most powerful national
organisation of working women, the American NWTUL, gradually turned towards labour
law as an instrument for securing the rights of women workers. Mary Anderson, one of
the leading figures of the NWTUL, became one of the first Women officers of the
influential Women’s Bureau of the US Department of Labor. It was no coincidence that
the possibilities offered by international labour legislation strongly motivated precisely
the American women to collaborate across national borders. The representation of
women workers on the new international body was essential, and called for the creation
of a new structure. The international congress needed to acquire permanent status and
proceed to establish the International Federation of Working Women (IFWW), which was
to become the international voice of the national organisations of women workers. In the
eyes of the American initiators, a separate women’s organisation, that could operate
independently from the male-dominated national trade union federations, was the only
guarantee of both the representation of women and the consistent defence of women
workers’ rights. Margaret Dreier Robbins (36) personally and financially committed to this
initiative, for which she received the support of the NWTUL.
Seeing that it was the Americans who took the initiative and footed the bill, they
were also the ones who could decide on who would be admitted to the congress. This
immediately posed a problem. Would the congress be reserved for trade unions or
would it also admit women’s groups from other sections of the organised working class?
The answer to this question would naturally largely determine the nature of the
organisation. The British women were in favour of a broad organisation of working-class
women, much like their own Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s
Organizations. The British thought it would be wrong to establish an organisation
composed exclusively of union women, because there already was an international
trade union movement. They advocated a broader organisation that would also include
working-class women without paid jobs, since they too were affected by problems such
as maternity leave, health insurance and child labour. This unique combination of
feminism and class struggle proposed by the British women met with heavy opposition
from the American women. Within the NWTUL, it was feared that following the British
example would lead to political questions dominating the organisation. Just like the AFL,
the NWTUL was fearful of the influence of radical left-wing and socialist political
programmes on what they perceived as ‘purely’ industrial matters. Moreover, the British
situation, with a strongly developed women’s movement in all branches of the labour
movement, was quite unique, even in the European context.
The result of this difference of opinion was that the Washington congress was
unable to establish a permanent organisation and that the discussion was postponed
until the next meeting, which was scheduled for 1921. In the meantime, it did elect an
executive body, with the American Margaret Dreier Robins as president and Mary
MacArthur (Great Britain), Jeanne Bouvier (France), Betzy Kjelsberg (Norway) and
Louisa Landova-Stychova (37) (Czechoslovakia) as vice-presidents. The secretariat
remained in charge of the American NWTUL with Maud Swartz.
Immediately after the congress, the American presidency was very keen to
publicise the existence of the new initiative and solve the fundamental problem of
affiliation. Thanks to the publication of a trilingual newsletter, of which the first issue
came out in May 1920 and which was sent to more than 1,000 contacts, the initiative
maintained a certain momentum. The ICWW also started to carve out a niche for itself
within the international women’s movement. Jeanne Bouvier and Duchene represented
the congress at the meeting of the Women’s Suffrage Alliance, in spite of the problem of
incompatible principles, as this alliance was opposed to the legal protection of female
labour. Betzy Kjelsberg also represented the ICWW at the International Council of
Women in September 1920 in Norway, and Maud Swartz was sent to the Women’s
International League for Peace and Freedom in July 1921 (38).
Meanwhile, a lively correspondence was conducted on the constitution of the
permanent organisation. However, the British and the Americans were unable to
overcome their differences, so that two drafts were in circulation. This in itself was
already a serious impediment to further development, but there was more. In almost all
national trade unions, the number of female members dropped sharply after 1920.
Women seemed to be the first victims of the severe economic crisis that had set in. The
international climate changed and the workers’ movement was forced onto the
defensive. The hope for a fast implementation of the conventions concluded in
Washington turned out to be unrealistic and even the ILO itself was struggling to survive.
To make things worse, there were the internal problems within the international trade
union movement, where the American AFL was unable to achieve its initial ambitions of
leadership and turned its back to the old continent in disappointment. The dispute
between their national federations in the context of the international trade union
movement weighed on the relations between the American and European women trade
unionists. For the time being, however, the American NWTUL remained motivated to
carry on, even though complaints about the financial burden that the international work
entailed and was borne exclusively by the Americans were now aired openly (39).
In the autumn of 1920, when the ILO announced a new conference in Geneva in
April 1921, the executive body of the ICWW decided to convene a new congress of the
women’s international at the same time. However, the ILO conference was deferred to
autumn, and so the second ICWW had to be moved to October 1921 as well. The
American secretariat invited forty-nine national organisations, including all members of
the International Federation of Trade Unions and of the Pan-American Federation of
Trade Unions (40). Eventually, however, only twelve delegations took part in the congress.
The International Federation of Working Women, Geneva, 1921
Feelings ran high during the preparations for this congress. Especially the British were
adamant that the new federation had to be open to all working-class women: “we must
represent not only the women wage-earners but the women in the homes. We want the
mothers’ point of view represented in considering all industrial matters and especially
such questions as Maternity, Employment of children, and the educational opportunities
of young persons” (41). The proposal to restrict admission to women trade unionists was
not acceptable to the British women and they insisted that their view be taken into
account, so that they would not be forced to sever their relations with the ICWW. Other
women also threatened with resignation. The French Jeanne Bouvier refused to accept
organisations with a Christian inspiration, such as the Belgian ACV, that had sent
delegates to Washington. For the French CGT, cooperation with a Christian-inspired
trade union was out of the question, not just in France but on the international level too.
Hence Bouvier’s proposal to restrict affiliation with the women’s international to those
organisations whose national federation was also affiliated with the International
Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). This added a new and important element to the
discussion. How would the women’s international relate to the trade union international?
The IFTU, better known by its nickname the Amsterdam International (42), had
shown little interest in the women’s initiative so far. After its reconstitution in July 1919 in
Amsterdam, this international had immediately become embroiled in several serious
conflicts. The emergence of communist trade unions and the formation of a communist
international, the Profintern, that had set itself the aim of destroying the Amsterdam
International, led to bitter battles and even splits in several European countries. One of
the consequences was that the IFTU became extremely suspicious and started to close
itself off from the outside world. But there were political consequences too. Under
pressure from the militant left, the Amsterdam International became more radical, to the
extent that it organised a congress in London in 1920 where it voted a resolution that
called for the socialisation of the means of production. Thereby, the IFTU provoked, as it
were, the departure of some of the more moderate national federations, such as the
British General Federation of Trade Unions and the American AFL.
The presence of Jan Oudegeest (43), the general secretary of the IFTU, at the
meeting of the ICWW’s executive body on 25 October 1921 was therefore not a neutral
act. At the very least, it was a sign that the IFTU leadership was starting to interfere in
the women’s international.
The 1921 congress in Geneva was conducted in the same positive and optimist
atmosphere as the meeting in Washington. The participants soon reached an agreement
on both fundamental questions and practical matters. The International Congress of
Working Women renamed itself the International Federation of Working Women, and
stated as its purpose “to unite organised women in order that they may resolve upon the
means by which the standard of life of the workers throughout the world may best be
raised”. On the matter of affiliation, differences were settled by compromise. The British
were granted an exception to the rule. In principle, affiliation was reserved for national
trade union federations who had women among their members and who were affiliated
with the IFTU, but the constitution also allowed organisations of working-class women to
join if they declared themselves in agreement “to work in the spirit and to follow the
principles of the International Federation of Trade Unions” (44), which also left the door
open for the American women. The constitution further specified that only one
organisation per country could be admitted, which closed the door to Christian unions. In
view of what happened a few years later on, it is difficult to understand why the
American women did not oppose this. The federation may have been at this point, but its
independence was instantly mortgaged by this exclusive link with the IFTU.
Presumably, the close ties that were forged here with the IFTU were interesting
for tactical and organisational reasons. The goals of the IFWW were to promote the
trade union movement among women, to support the development of “an international
policy giving special consideration to the needs of women and children”, to follow up the
development of international labour legislation within the framework of the ILO and to
promote the appointment of women “on all organizations and committees dealing with
questions affecting the welfare of the workers” (45). It was unthinkable that the IFWW could
realise these goals without a structural connection with the IFTU, because, in practice,
the IFTU monopolised the Workers’ Group within the ILO and all contacts with the
national federations concerning the ILO surveys went through the IFTU.
Of course, all this made it difficult for the IFWW to develop a clear identity. But the
congress participants had good hopes of success. The American Margaret Dreier
Robins remained the president and the NWTUL promised to pay $1,000 over the next
two years to cover the cost of running the secretariat, which was moved from
Washington to London. The British Marion Philips (46) became the secretary and each
member country was free to appoint a vice-president (47). From this point onwards, the
daily management of the IFWW was in the hands of three British women: Margaret
Bondfield, Marion Philips and Harrison Bell.
But there was one more shadow. Compared to Washington, the Geneva
congress was considerably less of an international event. The European countries most
conspicuous by their absence were Germany and Austria, and that had its reasons. Only
a few years after the war, the German labour movement had not yet re-established its
former leading international position, which it should rightly still have held on account of
its massive membership. It had been absent at the establishment of the ILO and there
had been a serious incident at the constituent congress of the IFTU with the American
union leader Samuel Gompers (48). The absence of Germans in this initiative that was
dominated by Americans and British meant that the IFWW was unable to cross the
dividing lines drawn by the war.
One of the first missions undertaken by Marion Philips as the new secretary of the
IFWW was a trip to Amsterdam with a view to finalising agreements with the leaders of
the IFTU. The IFTU’s management committee showed a great interest in the IFWW and
proposed the collective affiliation of all the national federations that were members of the
Amsterdam International and that had female members. Moreover, the IFTU was willing
to pay an affiliation fee of £5 for every 50,000 members. Seeing that the total number of
female members in 1922 was 3,524,291 (49), that represented a considerable sum, which
would be sufficient to finance the operation of the IFWW. This proposal was submitted to
the president and vice-presidents of the IFWW, who, according to Marion Philips,
accepted it by majority (50). The British Trades Union Congress (TUC) could agree with
this proposal, especially because it entailed that there would be no extra financial
consequences, since Amsterdam would pay the fees with the money it received from the
national federations. She reported this to Edo Fimmen (51), who led the IFTU jointly with
Jan Oudegeest, and arranged with them that the IFTU would address this matter at its
next congress in Rome. However, the American president of the IFWW, Margaret Dreier
Robins, was none too pleased with this development. “Do you suppose that I have
fought and bled and nearly died for the cause to give the Congress of Working Women
into the keeping of Messrs. Oudegeest, Fimmen and Jouhaux?” (52), she wrote to
Elisabeth Christman, the secretary of the American NWTUL.
On the other hand, the British tried to put their own ideas into practice and “to link
up as far as possible the political, industrial and co-operative sides of the women’s
labour movement”. However, they soon found that the situation on the continent was
quite different from their own, so that the project was quickly abandoned as “not
practicable”. The British women concluded that it was unfeasible to work for “the
inclusion of any but trade union women within the Federation” (53). For Marion Philips, this
was a sore disillusionment, which made her lose much of her interest in the IFWW and
devote herself increasingly to the political organisation of women, again on the
international level. A few years later, when the Labour and Socialist International was
founded in 1923 in Hamburg, she relaunched the idea of establishing a mixed working
group of women from the worlds of politics, cooperatives and trade unions. Her proposal
was immediately torpedoed by several countries, led by the Germans (54).
Rome, 1922
The early years of the Amsterdam International were tumultuous. In spite of relatively
good financial circumstances, there was no internal stability. Old wartime feuds lived on
and political questions dominated the agenda. In 1922, when the first regular congress
was organised in Rome, the air seemed to clear up a little. The Germans were
appeased with an extra secretary (Johannes Sassenbach) and the election of Carl
Legien (55) as vice-president. The heaviest discussion concerned the actions the
International would take in case a new war broke out. Secretary Edo Fimmen, to the
great displeasure of the British president, J. H. Thomas (56), succeeded in finding a
majority in favour of the principle of a general strike. Seeing that the discussion on the
organisation of women was on the Rome agenda, the national federations had sent
more women to this congress than to earlier ones. The French CGT sent two female
representatives (Jeanne Bouvier and Jeanne Chevenard (57)). There was one woman
delegate each from the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (ADGB, Gertrud
Hanna (58)), the TUC (Julia Varley (59)), the Italian Confederazione General del Lavoro (CGL,
Laura Casartelli Cabrini (60)) and the International Trade Secretariat of the agricultural
labourers (Argentina Altobelli (61)). Marion Philips attended the congress in her capacity of
secretary of the International Federation of Working Women. The discussion on whether
women were to organise separately caused great disunity among the female delegates.
Gertrud Hanna objected to a “special Women’s International” (62). She held up the
example of Germany, where women were members of their trade union “with the same
rights, and, of course, the same obligations as men”. For that reason, the ADGB could
not agree to a situation in which “each sex would adopt resolutions separately”. Hanna
opposed the International Federation of Working Women because, in her opinion, it had
the intention “of taking action solely from the woman’s standpoint. This view is extremely
naive and will speedily show itself to be impracticable”. At the congress, she got the
support of the Italian federation and of the International Federation of Textile Workers,
amongst others. Tom Shaw (63), the secretary of the textile international, even called
maintaining a separate international for women reactionary “because it would tend to
make for a sex division by which workers in the same industry would be parting from
each other and forming separate sections”. In his reaction, IFTU secretary Jan
Oudegeest called that a fine theory, but remarked that “if we want to educate women as
trade unionists the work must be done by women”. On this point, he was supported by
the Frenchwoman Jeanne Chevenard, who tried to counter the German objection by
pointing to the structural relations between the IFTU and the IFWW. She wanted those
relations to be further strengthened by the cooptation of a female member on the IFTU’s
management committee, “who shall be specially appointed to deal with questions
concerning women and children”. The raison d’être of the IFWW was also defended by
its secretary, Marion Philips: “we want the International Federation of Working Women to
serve the need of the organized workers and not a special sex interest”. She argued that
preserving the IFWW was necessary “because we believe we can help to bring women
into mixed organizations of men and women”. The women’s international had to be the
bridge leading working women to their trade unions. However, as a result of the
stubborn resistance of the German trade union, that represented approximately 40% of
the IFTU members, there was no majority in favour of the offer that the secretariat had
made to Marion Philips. In a toned-down resolution, the unions in all countries were
called to “devote their whole attention to the organisation of women workers”. It also
proclaimed “the organisation of men and women in one Trade Union to be the most
efficient form of Trade Unionism”. Autonomous organisations of women were urged to
join their national federation. The IFTU congress also stated that “the aims and
composition of the IFWW” were too unclear and confined itself to calling upon the
management committee “to continue the present friendly relations with the IFWW”64. By
the next congress, to be held in 1924 in Vienna, the secretariat would have to work out a
new arrangement.
After Rome, the IFWW made an effort to justify its existence by better defining its goals.
Three tasks were distinguished: the promotion of trade unionism among women, the
development of an international policy favourable to the needs of women and children,
and the representation of working women in organisations involved in “the welfare of the
working class” (65). To avoid all misunderstandings, it also stated in very clear terms that
“where men and women are employed in the same industry they should be organised
into the same union” (66). Apparently, there were many women in the IFWW who believed
that things had gone wrong in Rome due to uncertainty about both the composition and
the objectives of the federation. Especially the British management committee was
convinced that it would suffice to bring clarity to these matters and the problems would
be solved. In the meantime, they simply continued their collaboration with Amsterdam.
Marion Philips drafted a report on women and child labour in the textile industry which
the IFTU published in three languages. The IFWW started supplying a monthly
supplement to the IFTU press reports, called Women’s Work, of which five issues were
still published in 1923. The IFWW also continued the policy of the ICWW with regard to
representation. It took part in the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance in Rome in
May 1923, the Pan-American Congress of Women in Baltimore in 1922 and the
constituent congress of the Labour and Socialist International in Hamburg in May
1923 (67). But then things started going wrong. The IFTU itself had to contend with a
severe internal crisis and was forced to discontinue a major part of its activities and
dismiss many of its staff. Secretary Edo Fimmen resigned following a conflict about
possible cooperation with communist organisations. After a short phase of expansion,
the IFTU found itself in deep waters. The organisation itself was in danger of collapse.
Several growth perspectives, such as the development of a women’s department,
suddenly became much less interesting.
But the IFWW itself had run out of steam too. Many national federations could not
be convinced of the need for a separate women’s international. “Presque toutes les
Centrales Nationales se déclarèrent hostiles à une Internationale syndicale particulière
des Travailleuses, parce qu’on la tenait soit pour dangereuse, soit pour superflue” (68),
stated the annual report of the IFTU in 1923. The dream of the British women to initiate
a broad international cooperation between women’s groups from the working class
turned out to be unrealistic. They had to reconcile themselves to the situation. The
IFWW would be made up exclusively of unions affiliated with the IFTU, and so the British
section of the IFWW turned to the TUC. The TUC was a relative newcomer on the
international scene, but it was highly cost-conscious. Now that affiliation with the IFWW
was going to be restricted to trade unions, the danger of double work, and therefore
double costs, seemed real. The latter was not an attractive perspective for the British,
who had had very negative experiences with the financial policy of the IFTU. As the
IFWW was to be a pure trade union organisation, its British section was forced to resort
under the TUC and submit to its control. The secretariat and the headquarters were
moved to the TUC, which, in view of the acute shortage of funds, donated £60 – a
donation and not an affiliation fee, because paying double dues was anathema to the
Although the affiliation question was now resolved, the IFWW failed at growing in
geographical terms. In fact, the Norwegian, Swiss and Polish organisations even
resigned and the IFWW lost touch with the Czech and South African groups. Germany
and Austria remained not only aloof but even outright hostile. This negative attitude of
the national federations of the IFTU was expressed in very clear terms on the occasion
of the second IFWW congress in Vienna from 14 to 18 August 1923. Most of the national
federations affiliated with the IFTU rejected the invitation and boycotted the congress.
Eventually, only six countries (Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden and the
United States) (69) sent an official delegation. There were also five guest delegations (70).
The great difficulties of the IFWW to develop into an international representative body
are tellingly illustrated by the nationality of the participants. Twenty-one of the thirty
delegates were Anglo-Saxon: ten Americans and eleven British.
The agenda of the congress featured the same topics that had dominated the
other meetings: the constitution, unions and women, international labour law, women for
peace, family allowance. But the discussion on the future of the federation towered
above all the others. In the run-up to the congress, on 20 July, there had been a meeting
of the secretariat, at which the American president had clashed with the British
management committee. Margaret Robins opposed the proposal of the British women to
structurally subsume the IFWW under the IFTU. In accordance with the logic developed
at their national level, the British women had arrived at the conclusion that, if the IFTU
would actually establish a women’s department, “the Federation’s identity might be
absorbed in that larger organisation” (71). But Margaret Robins made fundamental
objections to this and “the meeting terminated without any agreement as to future
policy” (72).
It had been the intention to devote one day of the Vienna congress to discussing
the future organisation of the union women. In the hope that some unions unwilling to
affiliate with the IFWW would nevertheless participate in the discussion, the congress
was even going to be suspended for a day (73), but this was prevented by a boycott of the
German and other national federations and so the discussion was postponed until the
next IFTU congress in Vienna, scheduled for the following year.
Eventually, after more heavy opposition from the American delegation, the
working women congress decided to go along with the suggestions of the British section,
although the proposal to turn the IFWW into the women’s department of the IFTU was
toned down a little. The management committee was charged with negotiating with the
IFTU about closer collaboration, and the congress immediately formulated a framework
for this. The IFTU would be asked to establish a women’s department and appoint a
female secretary. They had to set up a women’s committee, that would meet at least
once a year, and every two years it would have to organise a congress of working
women, preceding the IFTU congress proper. If all these conditions were met, the IFWW
would allow itself to be subsumed under the IFTU. The women of the American NWTUL
were the only dissenters, but they wanted to leave a window of opportunity open and
abstained from voting. Although they had mainly emphasised the necessity for women to
maintain their independence during the discussions, their formal argument was limited to
referring to the AFL, which was not affiliated with Amsterdam, which meant the NWTUL
would be in an awkward position with regard to its national federation. Margaret Dreier
Robins’s dream to create a worldwide, autonomous organisation of working women was
shattered, and she resigned from her position of president. Marion Philips stepped down
as the secretary. Her work as chief women’s officer of the Labour Party was mainly
situated in the political sphere. Now that the IFWW had become a purely trade union
organisation operating under the wings of the TUC, Margaret Bondfield, who had been
elected the first female president of the TUC in 1923, took over the leadership of the
British section. Robins’s successor as president of the IFWW was the Belgian Helène
Burniaux and Edith MacDonald was promoted from assistant secretary to secretary,
while Marion Philips remained on the management committee in the capacity of adviser.
Although the discussion between the European and the American women had been
painful and disruptive, the Americans did not want to sever their ties with the IFWW just
yet. Apparently, opinions were still divided in the US and the British hoped that they
might still “retain the affiliation of the American Women Trade Unionists, which we have
reason to think it may be possible to do” (74).
After the Vienna congress, the management committee of the IFWW issued an almost
desperate memorandum to try and persuade the IFTU of the need to focus more
strongly on women and women’s issues. Now that the collective affiliation of the national
federations with the IFWW had failed in Rome and the IFTU secretariat had been
charged with setting up a women’s department and to report on it at the next congress,
to be held in 1924 in Vienna, it was feared that the IFWW would fall between two stools.
The IFWW therefore had to prove its worth to the IFTU and tried to do so in a lengthy
memorandum. They referred to the threat posed by underpaid and unorganised workers
in countries such as China and India and pointed out that, there too, it was women
whose labour was cheapest and who therefore were the biggest danger. The leaders of
the IFWW stressed that they were in touch with women in these countries and
emphasised the importance of maintaining and strengthening these relations. “We are
convinced that the Trade Union Movement must give more attention to these lower
ranks and build from the bottom rather than from the top”. Naturally, they made out a
case for maintaining their initiative: “Our work and experience as a Federation have
taught us some valuable methods of organisation and given us a knowledge of the
needs of the women’s side of the trade union movement” (75). However, they did not argue
in favour of organising women in separate trade unions. Instead, they proposed intense
campaigns aimed at women, with the goal of involving them in the labour movement. As
organisations affiliated with the IFWW, they expressed their faith in these methods, and
stated “we are anxious to see them continued and developed”.
The IFWW memorandum was discussed by the IFTU’s management committee
on 8 November 1923. At that moment, the Amsterdam International was in the middle of
a political, structural and financial crisis. There was exceptionally great dissension about
whether or not Amsterdam should engage in negotiations with the Soviet Union’s trade
union federation. The British TUC, the financial mainstay of the International, demanded
that the IFTU start negotiating the affiliation of the Soviet federation. The continental
unions and the secretariat (Fimmen had announced his resignation one week earlier)
strongly opposed this. This question, which coincided with a severe financial crisis,
largely paralysed the trade union international and would lead to the resignation of both
British president A.A. Purcell and secretary Jan Oudegeest in 1926. The question of the
IFWW came up on the agenda in the middle of these stormy debates at the
management committee meeting of 8 November 1923. The discussion was very brief,
because the proposal to finance a special fund from the IFTU’s general funds was no
longer realistic, given the financial situation, and virtually all the national federations
(with the exception of Denmark and Sweden) refused to make a special financial effort
for the preservation of the IFWW (76). Johannes Sassenbach (77) encountered no opposition
therefore when he proposed “to induce the present existing Working Women’s
International to dissolve itself and to transfer its function to the International Federation
of Trade Unions” (78). This would be submitted at the following IFTU congress in Vienna in
The fate of the IFWW was finally sealed at the first conference of women workers,
preceding the IFTU congress of May-June 1924 in Vienna. Delegates from seven
countries took part in this conference, including Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
However, not a single non-European country was represented. At this conference, the
misunderstandings between the women from the various European federations were
cleared up and a joint proposal was drawn up with regard to the IFTU, in keeping with
the majority view that had been formulated at the last IFWW congress. The IFTU
congress largely took this up and put together a women’s committee, which immediately
convened a conference in Paris in 1927, after which the leadership of the IFWW
proposed to its affiliates that the IFWW “would cease to exist and its functions pass to
the Women’s Department of the International Federation of Trade Unions” (79). This led to
protest at the convention from the American NWTUL, which promptly severed its ties
with the IFWW in June 1924. In December 1924, the management committee of the
IFWW decided to dissolve the federation as soon as the IFTU’s women’s committee
started its activities and “to transfer to the Committee the task of stimulating trade unions
organisation among women workers, and of keeping a vigilant eye on their industrial
conditions and welfare” (80).
The women’s committee of the IFTU was to remain active until 1938 and
organised three conferences (Paris 1927, Brussels 1933 and London 1936). Together
with the IFTU, a number of attacks on the extension of night work for women (1930) and
the right of married women to paid labour (1934) were successfully withstood at the level
of the ILO. However, the IFTU never complied with the demands of the IFWW. It never
set up a fully-fledged women’s department, nor did it appoint a female secretary or
include a woman in its Bureau. The women’s committee itself, which had no autonomy
and no funds of its own, was unable to take any initiatives. Even the representation of
women unionists within the international women’s movement was made impossible for
them, because the IFTU did not wish to have any links with organisations that were not
social democrat. In 1936, the last pre-war conference of women unionists took place in
London. After that, the IFTU considered these meetings superfluous, because, as they
phrased it, they were getting to be about “seeking for problems to be discussed in order
to justify the holdings of such conferences” (81). Consequently, the management
committee decided, in January 1938, that the Women’s Committee would henceforth
work exclusively via correspondence and that meetings or congresses would only be
held when there were specific problems to be addressed. Apparently, none came up.
In the sparse literature on the subject, the failure of the IFWW is explained as an
example of the class concept impeding the development of gender solidarity. It is true, of
course, that the differences in ideology and organisational culture of the various
women’s groups involved played an important part. Moreover, the male-dominated
international trade union movement had little thought for the discrimination of women as
paid workers, and the predominance of the class concept did nothing to encourage
consciousness of these issues. Organisationally, this was translated into a severe lack
of funds and very few opportunities for organisations of working women. This too fits in
with the conclusions of research into the relations between women and trade unions.
And yet this is not sufficient as an explanation for the failure of the IFWW.
Nationalism (82) should at the very least be added to the gender-class conflict. In my
opinion, it was the decisive factor. The national organisations that took the initiative
wanted to shape a women’s international in their own image. The Americans wanted an
autonomous organisation of women unionists with a mixed social and ideological
membership, the British wanted an organisation of working-class women irrespective of
their economic status, the French refused to collaborate with Christian women, and in
the German model there was no place for an autonomous women’s group. It was an
impossible puzzle of incompatible principles. On top of that, the circumstances were
against the women’s international. Wartime oppositions were unspoken but latent. The
international of working women was a project of the Allied countries, and was unable to
go beyond that. There were attacks by the communists on socialist organisations,
causing these organisations to start behaving like fortified strongholds and leave no
room for a more open and pluralist enterprise. And, from 1923 onwards, the internal
financial chaos within the international trade union movement precluded any new
The fact that national elements weighed more strongly than transnational thought
and action – even in an international context of national workers’ organisations, confirms
the conclusions of recent research into the history and nature of this internationalism (83).
The women’s international was no different in this respect from the male-dominated
international organisations within the workers’ movement, where the national framework
prevailed in language, culture and action. Leila J. Rupp’s conclusion that “women
committed to internationalism put a stronger and deeper loyalty to the land of their birth
first” (84) can be confirmed, but it does not explain why the women’s international
experiment (IFWW) failed while the men’s (IFTU) survived. One possible explanation is
that within the IFTU there was enough convergence in methods, ideology and
organisational culture between the most important national trade union centres to
facilitate transnational cooperation, whereas the national organisations of women
workers differed in all these aspects. The idea, though, that trade unions ought to take
specific initiatives towards working women prevailed and led to the establishment of an
international women’s committee, not as an independent organisation, but as an integral
part of a global trade union movement.
(1) Quoted in Norbert C. SOLDON, The World of Women’s Trade Unionism, Comparative Historical Essays, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1985, p. 4 (Contributions in Women’s Studies, Number 52).
(2) Eileen BORIS & Angélique JANSSENS, “Complicating Categories: Gender, Class, Race and Ethnicity”, in International Review of Social History, 1999, Supplement 7, p. 6.
(3) “We think a woman’s place is at home, looking after the home, husband and family” (John Wadsworth, general secretary of the Mine Workers’ Union of Yorkshire. “La place de la femme est au foyer et non à l’atelier” (French syndicalists, Calais Congress, 1890).
(4) Jennifer CURTIN, Women and Trade Unions. A Comparative Perspective, Brookfield, Ashgate, 1999, p. 1.
(5) Corrie VAN EIJL, Het werkzame verschil, vrouwen in de slag om de arbeid, 1898-1940, Hilversum, Verloren,1994, p. 355.
(6) Quoted in Françoise BATTAGLIOLA, Histoire du travail des femmes, Paris, Editions Découverte, 2000, p. 43.
(7) Madeleine REBERIOUX, Le mouvement syndical et les femmes jusqu’au Front Populaire, Paris, FEN, 1988, p. 74.
(8) Regina BECKER-SCHMIDT, “Frauen und Deklassierung. Geschlecht und Klasse”, in Ursula BEER, Klasse, Geschlecht. Feministische Gesellschaftsanalyse und Wissenschaftskritik, Bielefeld, AJZ-Verlag, 1987, p. 228.
(9) Bert KLANDERMANS, “Does Class Still Unite? Concluding Remarks”, in Guy VAN GYES, Hans DE WITTE & Patrick PASTURE, eds., Can Class Still Unite? The differentiated work force, class solidarity and trade unions, Burlington, Ashgate, 2001, p. 326.
(10) Leela FERNANDEZ, Producing Workers. The Politics of Gender, Class and Culture in the Calcutta Jute Mills, University Park, Penn State University, 1997, p. 160.
(11) Elizabeth FAUE, “Gender and the Reconstruction of Labor History: An Introduction”, in Labor History, vol. 34, 1993, nr. 2-3, p. 172.
(12) Thea SINCLAIR, “Women, work and skill. Economic theories and feminist perspectives”, in N. REDCLIFT & M.T. SINCLAIR, eds., Working Women. International Perspectives on Labour and Gender Ideology, London, Routledge, 1991.
(13) Susan MILNER, The Dilemmas of Internationalism: French Syndicalism and the International Labour Movement, 1900-1914, Oxford, Berg, 1990, 260 p.
(14) Léon Jouhaux (1879-1959): secretary general of the CGT (1909-1947), president of CGT-Force Ouvrière (1947-1954), vice-president of the International Federation of Trade Unions (1919-1945).
(15) Gary BUSH, The Political Role of International of International Trade Unions, New York, St Martin’s Press, 1983, 279 p.
(16) Rebecca GRANT, “The Sources of Gender Bias in International Relations Theory”, in R. GRANT & K. NEWLAND, eds., Gender and International Relations, Buckingham, Open University Press, 1991, p. 8-26.
(17) Robin Miller JACOBY, The British and American Women’s Trade Union Leagues, 1890-1925, Carlson, Brooklyn, 1994., 238 p.
(18) Founded in 1916 as the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organizations, with the following participant organizations: Women’s Trade Union League, Women’s Co-operative Guild, National Federation of Women Workers, Labour Party, Workers’ Union, Postal and Telegraph Clerks’ Association, National Union of General Workers, Railway Clerks’ Association
(19) Mary Anderson (1872-1964): American Trade unionist and Labour expert. Organiser for the National Boot and Shoe Workers’ Union and one of the founders of the National Women’s Trade Union League. She became chief of the Women’s Bureau of the US Department of Labor in 1919.
(20) Mary Rose Schneiderman (1884-1972): American women trade unionist. Vice-president (1907) and president (1918) of the New York branch of the Women’s Trade Union League. National president of the NWTUL (1928) and secretary of the New York state department of labor (1937-1944). She was an official of the National Recovery Administration in the 1930s and a member of President F.D. Roosevelt brain trust.
(21) Mary WINSLOW, Women at Work. The Autobiography of Mary Anderson, Minneapolis, 1951, p. 122.
(22) Ibid, p. 124.
(23) Ibid, p. 126.
(24) There were official delegates from Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, India, Italy, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the United States and Sweden and guests from Cuba, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain and Switzerland.
(25) London, Metropolitan University, Margaret Bondfield Papers, Working Women and the World, s.d.
(26) In February 1919, national trade union federations from seventeen countries met in Berne to draw up a joint list of demands that was to serve as a guideline for their representatives at the peace talks. Although this conference was not an official congress of the International Federation of Trade Unions, the programme was subsequently adopted, with almost no changes, when the IFTU was reconstituted in July 1919 in Amsterdam.
(27) Report, Bern conference, ITFU, 1919, p. 10.
(28) Margaret Bondfield (1873-1953): British Women Trade Union leader and Labour politician. Secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League (1908), Member of Parliament (1923), first woman to serve as president of the Trades Unions Congress (1923). In 1929 she was appointed as Minister of Labour by Ramsay McDonald. She was the first woman to gain a place in the British Cabinet. In the financial crisis of 1931, she upset many members of the Labour
Party when she supported the government policy of depriving some married women of their unemployment benefit. She lost her seat in 1931.
(29) The Labour Women, May 1919, p. 51.
(30) Quoted in Leila J. RUPP, The making of an International Women’s Movement, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 141.
(31) The Labour Women, A Monthly Journal for Working Women, March 1919, p. 28.
(32) Jeanne Bouvier (1865-1964): French trade unionist. Shirt-maker, active member of the Clothing Union from 1919 onwards. Secretary of the Paris Bourse du Travail from 1921 to 1922.
(33) Mary MacArthur ( 1880 -1921): British Trade Union Activist. Secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League (1903).
(34) Hélène Burniaux (1889-1950): Belgian women trade unionist. Combined her trade union work with a full time occupation as a school inspector. Member of the Belgian Comité National d’Action Féminine, president of the International Federation of Working Women (1923-1924).
(35) Betzy Kjelsberg (1886-1950): Norwegian politician and trade union activist. Vice-president of the International Council of Women (1926). Factory Inspector and member of the Norwegian Parliament.
(36) Margaret Dreier Robbins (1868-1945): American women trade union leader. Daughter of an upper-class industrial, joined the Women’s Municipal League in Brooklyn in 1902 and the Women’s Trade Union League in 1904. President of the National Women’s Trade Union League (1907-1922); president of the International Federation of Working Women (1921-1923). She moved to Florida in 1925 and remained active in progressive politics until her death.
(37) Louisa Landova-Stychova: member of the Czechoslovak Anarchist party.
(38) Paris, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Fonds Jeanne Bouvier Papers, box 23, file 2, ICWW, Report 1920-1921.
(39) According to the first ICWW report, the cost was $700.
(40) The Pan-American Federation of Trade Unions was founded on 7 July 1919 on the initiative of the American Federation of Labor and had members in Argentine, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and the USA.
(41) Paris, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Fonds Jeanne Bouvier Papers, box 23, file 2, ICWW, Report 1920-1921.
(42) On the history of the IFTU, see Geert VAN GOETHEM, The Amsterdam International, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006, 320 p.
(43) Jan Oudegeest ( 1870-1950): Dutch trade unionist and politician. President of the Dutch Nederlandsch Verbond van Vakvereenigingen (1908-1919), secretary general of the International Federation of Trade Unions (1919-1926), president of the Dutch socialist party SDAP (1927-1934).
(44) London, Metropolitan University, Margaret Bondfield Papers, The International Federation of Working Women, Constitution.
(45) Ibid.
(46) Marion Philips (1881-1932): British feminist and labour activist. Secretary (1912) of the Women’s Trade Union League, editor of Labour Women. One of the founders (1916) and secretary (1917-1932) of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations. Chief Woman Officer of the Labour Party (1917-1932), secretary of the International Federation of Working Women (1921-1923), Member of Parliament for Labour (1929-1931).
(47) There were vice-presidents from twelve countries: Helene Burniaux (Belgium), Derry (Canada), Laura De Zayas Bazan (Cuba), Bozena Kubichova (Czechoslovakia), Jeanne Bouvier (France), Margaret Bondfield (Great Britain), Laura Casartelli (Italy), Betzy Kjelsberg (Norway), Sophie Dobrzanska (Poland), Mary Fitzgerald (South Africa), Angele Monnier (Switzerland) and Maud Swartz (USA).
(48) Samuel Gompers (1850-1924): American trade union leader. President of the American Federation of Labor (1886-1924).
(49) First Yearbook of the International Federation of Trade Unions, The International Trade Union Movement, Supplement VII, 1922, p. 168.
(50) Paris, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Fonds Jeanne Bouvier, box 23, file 2, Marion Philips to Jeanne Bouvier, 10 January 1922.
(51) Edo Fimmen (1881-1942): Dutch trade union leader, secretary general of the International Federation of Trade Unions (1919-1924) and of the International Transportworkers’ Unions (1919-1942).
(52) R. M. JACOBY, The British and American Women’s Trade Union Leagues, op. cit., p. 171.
(53) London, Metropolitan University, Margaret Bondfield Papers, Memorandum from the IFWW to the IFTU, s.d.
(54) The Labour Woman, June 1923.
(55) Carl Legien (1861-1920): German trade union leader. President of the Generalkommission der Gewerkschaften (1890). First president of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, ADGB (1919).
(56) J. H. Thomas (1874-1949): British trade union leader and politician. Secretary general of the National Union of Railwaymen (1918-1924), president of the Trades Union Congress (1920), president of the International Federation of Trade Unions (1920-1924).
(57) Jeanne Chevenard (1876-1944): French union leader. An embroideress by profession, she became active in the CGT in 1913. Originally a syndicalist, she switched to the reformist movement of Léon Jouhaux in 1921. She became one of the major representatives of the Clothing Union and was generally acknowledged within the CGT as the specialist in ‘women’s issues’. Chevenard was a confirmed anti-communist and a faithful supporter of Jouhaux.
However, under the Vichy regime, she was appointed a member of the Lyon town council and became involved in the collaboration. On 29 June 1944, she was executed by the resistance.
(58) Gertrud Hanna (1876-1944): German feminist, politician and union leader. Started working at the age of 14 as a printer’s aide and became involved in the socialist movement at an early age. In 1907, she became active in the German women’s movement and started campaigning for the protection of pregnant women in companies. She represented the ADGB at the IFTU congresses and played an important role during the Women Workers’ Congress of 1927 in Paris. Under the Weimar Republic, she was an MP for the SPD. When the Nazis came to power, she had to give up her political and union activities. She tried to survive by taking in mending, but came under increasing pressure from the Gestapo towards the end of the war. She committed suicide, together her sister, on 26 February 1944.
(59) Julia Varley (1871-1952): British feminist and union leader. Varley joined the labour movement as an activist in the suffragette movement. In 1909, she was asked to take charge of organising the women in the trade union in Birmingham. In 1912, she became an official of the Workers’ Union, which wanted to organise the great mass of unskilled labourers. During Word War I, there was an acute labour shortage, forcing the munitions factories to employ large numbers of unskilled women. Membership of the Workers’ Union grew spectacularly and the
organisation became a major power factor within the TUC. In 1921, Varley became a member of the TUC’s General Council and chairwoman of the TUC Women’s Group. In this capacity, she attended several international meetings of both the IFTU and the IAO. When the Workers’ Union merged with the TGWU, Varley became the chief women’s officer of the new powerful union. She retired in March 1936.
(60) Laura Casartelli-Cabrini (1883-1932): Italian feminist and journalist. Member of the central committee of the Unione Agricole Femminile from 1919 onwards and editor-in-chief of the Almanacco della donna italiana (1920-1925).
(61) Argentina Altobelli (1866 – 1942): Italian trade unionist. Around the turn of the century, she was active in the area of Bologna as an organiser of female farm workers and women. In 1906, she became the secretary of the farm workers’ union, a position she was to keep for almost 20 years. Within the Italian socialist movement, she was also active in the National Women’s Committee. She belonged to the reformist trend of Italian socialism. She dropped out
of the public picture during the Fascist dictatorship and made her living as a library assistant.
(62) This and next quotes : Report of the International Trade Union Conference, held at Rome, 1922, London, Foulger, s.d., p. 45
(63) Tom Shaw ( 1872-1938): British trade union Leader and politician. Secretary of the International Textileworkers’ Federation (1911-1924). Minister of Labour (1924); minister of War (1929-1931).
(64) London, Metropolitan University, Margaret Bondfield Papers, Note on the Federation of Working Women, s.d.
(65) Report on the Activities of the International Federation of Trade Unions, 1922 and 1924, op. cit., p. 115.
(66) International Federation of Working Women, Working Women in Many Countries. Report of Congress held at Vienna, August 1923, Amsterdam, IFTU, 1924, p. 7.
(67) Ibid, p. 6.
(68) Fédération Syndicale Internationale, Rapport sur l’Activité en 1922 et 1923, FSI, Amsterdam, 1924, p. 111.
(69) There was also a Romanian delegate, but she was not mentioned in the official reports and her speech was omitted from the congress report.
(70) Argentine, Chile, Hungary, Japan and Romania.
(71) Manchester, PHM, Labour Party Archives, Standing Joint Committee of Working Women’s Organisations, Report, 1923.
(72) London, Metropolitan University, Margaret Bondfield Papers, Meeting of the Secretariat, minutes, 20 July 1923.
(73) Coventry, Modern Records Centre, TUC Archives, Letter from Johannes Sassenbach to the members of the IFTU, 8 May 1923.
(74) Coventry, Modern Records Centre, TUC Archives, Edith McDonald to Fred Bramley, 21 April 1924.
(75) London, Metropolitan University, Margaret Bondfield Papers, Memorandum from the IFWW to the IFTU, s.d.
(76) Report on the Activities of the International Federation of Trade Unions, 1922 and 1924, op. cit., p. 262.
(77) Johannes Sassenbach (1866-1944): German trade union leader. Secretary (1922-1927) and secretary general (1927-1931) of the International Federation of Trade Unions.
(78) Coventry, Modern Records Centre, TUC Archives, IFTU, Management Committee, Minutes, 8 November 1923.
(79) London, Metropolitan University, Margaret Bondfield Papers, IFWW, Final Report, August 1923 – December 1925.
(80) Ibid, p. 7
(81) The Activities of the International Federation of Trade Unions 1936-1938, Paris, IFTU [1939], p. 67.
(82) Not in the political sense, but as an expression of attachment to one’s national culture.
(83) Kevin CALLAHAN, “‘Performing Inter-Nationalism’ in Stuttgart in 1907: French and German Socialist Nationalism and the Political Culture of an International Socialist Congress”, in International Review of Social History, vol. 45, 2000, nr. 1, p. 51-87; G. VAN GOETHEM, The Amsterdam International, op. cit.
(84) L. J. RUPP, The making of an International Women’s Movement, op. cit., p. 117