Artist Suzanne Lacy brings together key strikes and actions in the 1970s in part two of a timeline ahead of her forthcoming BMW Tate Live project Silver Action at Tate Modern on Sunday 3 February. This document has been assembled by Echo Collins, with support from Margaretta Jolly, Luke Davies, and Suzanne Lacy.
1970 Demonstration at the Miss World Competition. This demonstration outside the Albert Hall, London followed similar action at the Miss America pageants in 1968 and 1969 where, by throwing stilettos and other symbols of oppression into a ‘Freedom Trashcan’, demonstrators claimed a great deal of publicity. During the evening there were protests by Women’s Liberation activists. They held up placards, shouted, blew whistles, and threw smoke bombs, stink bombs, ink bombs and leaflets onto the stage.
1970 Industrial Relations Bill Demonstrations. Protests and meetings against the harmful effects for women of the Industrial Relations Bill, established by the Conservative government to try and lessen the power of trade unions.
1970 Leeds Clothing Workers’ Strike. The dispute was sparked by unions making a pay deal without consulting workers. 20,000 men and women downed tools and walked through the streets of Leeds calling in at other factories to encourage other workers to join them. Female union members established their own strike committee and pioneered the flying picket, dispatching pickets across Leeds and beyond, helping to bring the industry to a standstill.
1971 First International Women’s Day March. The Women’s Liberation Movement’s demands were printed on banners and on a petition handed to the prime minister when 4,000 marched through London during the International Women’s Day demonstration, the largest IWD event since the Suffragette era. A parallel march was held in Liverpool.
1970-2 The Night Cleaners Campaign. London campaign to unionize the women who cleaned office blocks at night and were being victimized and underpaid, and went on to be the subject of the Berwick Street Collective’s seminal work of oppositional cinema: The Nightcleaners.
1970 First Gay Rights Demonstration. At Highbury Fields members of the Gay Liberation Front held a torchlight rally against police harassment. The following year the first London Pride was held and a group of lesbians invaded the platform of a Women’s Liberation Conference in Skegness demanding recognition.
1971 The Irish Contraceptive Train. A group of Irish feminists travelled to Belfast by rail and made their return to Dublin laden with contraceptive devices in a statement against the illegality of contraceptives in Ireland at the time.
1975 The National Abortion Campaign March. The NAC formed and organised a demonstration of 20,000 people – the largest women’s rights demonstration since the suffragettes. The campaign was formed in response to James White’s Abortion Amendment Bill.
1976 Trico-Folberth Equal Pay Strike. Women at a windscreen wipers factory in Brentford Middlesex organised by the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers were on strike for 21 weeks before winning their demand to be paid the same basic rate as male workers.
1976 to 1978 Grunwick Strike. Grunwick was a photo-processing plant in Willesden which was gripped by a major industrial dispute. The workforce had many employees of South Asian origin and for the first time in British history Asian women were at the forefront of a major strike.
1977 LGBT Protest. Silent march of protest against harassment of lesbians and gay men in Bradford.
1977 Reclaim the Night. A women-only midnight demonstration was held in Leeds in response to the Yorkshire Ripper murders. Following the Leeds initiative, women in over 20 towns held Reclaim the Night marches that night. In Bradford, 400 women held a rally to protest the Ripper murders and requests by officials that women remain inside at night. In 1978, Marylebone Magistrates Court was picketed during the trial of the the ‘Soho Sixteen’ – women who had been arrested during a London Reclaim the Night march – resulting in all of them being acquitted.
1978 Rock against Sexism. Developed in response to the misogyny of certain Rock Against Racism acts, RAS worked to increase awareness of gender issues within the music industry and to promote female bands.
1979 Southall anti-racist demonstration. In the aftermath of the death of anti-fascist activist Blair Peach, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) was born. It was and still is a non-profit all-Asian organisation. The SBS was originally established in order to provide a focus for the struggle of Asian women in the fight against racism, but became increasingly involved in defending the human rights of Asian women who are the victims of domestic violence and in campaigning against religious fundamentalism. In the early 90s they successfully launched a media campaign to free Kiranjit Ahluwalia for a murder that was overturned.
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