Campaign for Women’s Suffrage
Women’s Suffrage was a movement to fight for women’s right to vote. In Brent, Eleanor Gaskell was Honorary Secretary of the Willesden Branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage (LSWS). She became one of the movement’s most active speakers and, like many members, was arrested for causing a disruption in Piccadilly Circus, when campaigning in 1908.
In 1911 Eleanor and her husband George provided a ‘hide out’ at their home in 12 Nicoll Road, Willesden for suffragists who wished to illegally avoid completing the government census survey.
Mary Blake, Secretary of the Willesden and District Branch of the National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies, lived at 37 Staverton Road, Willesden. A feminist and a suffragist, she was unmarried, unusual at the time. Through campaigns led by Blake and many other activists, women over the age of 30 who owned property, and all men over 21, got the vote in 1918.
Campaigning against the war
Conscientious objectors, those who objected to the war on moral or pacifist grounds, had to present appeals at public tribunal boards. Questioning was often aggressive and applications regularly rejected. Willesden’s tribunal was overseen by Charles Pinkham J.P., the area’s biggest property developer and the man who is credited with building Willesden as a suburb. He is remembered in a section of the North Circular called Pinkham Way. In 2006, the government officially pardoned those who were imprisoned or punished in the name of what was called ‘cowardice’ during World War I.
Willesden women strike for fair pay
During World War I, women took on jobs previously done by men. By 1918, the majority of bus and tram conductors were women. At first, they demanded the same 5 shillings a week wartime bonus that had been given to men, but their demands developed quickly to equal pay with the slogan “Same work-Same pay.”
On 16 August 1918, female tram conductors in Willesden began a strike which quickly spread to other parts of London. About two-thirds of public transport employees joined the strike. The Willesden Chronicle’s coverage of the strike on 23 August was not favourable towards the “intransigent conductorettes” and their “anti-patriotic” behaviour.
By 25 August the strike was over and the women received their war bonus. However, it took until 1970 for the Equal Pay Act to come into force.
The General Strike
The General Strike, called by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, lasted nine days. The strike was an attempt to force the government to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for over a million coal miners. Nearly two million workers went on strike, especially those from transport and heavy industries.
During the strike the government enlisted volunteers to maintain essential services. Though it failed, the strike was a huge display of labour solidarity with the coal miners. As a result, in the general election of 1929, The Labour Party (who represented the interests and needs of the urban working class) won more seats than any other party in Parliament for the first time in its history.
The Anti-Apartheid Campaign
Nelson Mandela was a leader of the campaign against apartheid (the racial segregation imposed by a hard-line whites-only government) in South Africa. He made several trips to England to organise international resistance. In 1962, he addressed a meeting of the Willesden Trades Council at Anson Hall, Cricklewood which is now the Dar Al Islam Foundation. He was arrested later that year. After 27 years in prison, he returned to Brent in 1990 when he was invited to speak at a ‘Free South Africa’ concert organised in his honour at Wembley Stadium. He gave a moving speech calling for a continued effort to end apartheid and bring democracy for all in South Africa. Apartheid was finally abolished four years later in 1994. Brent was one of the first councils to boycott South African goods and one of the first boroughs to offer a tribute to Nelson Mandela, naming Mandela Close in NW10.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
After the use of atomic bombs during World War II, the US – then the Soviet Union and Britain – developed and tested new atomic weapons. There was a widespread fear of nuclear war breaking out and growing concern at the health risks and environmental damage caused by these atmospheric tests. By the late 1950s these fears had become serious.In 1960 local campaigners involved in the (UK-wide) Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marched in Willesden Lane supporting wider national protests to eliminate British nuclear weapons.
Fighting for workers’ rights
With large concentrations of industrial workers on estates in Brent, such as Park Royal, as well as around the North Circular road, strikes for improved workers’ rights were common in the 1960s and 1970s. Smith’s industries, based in Cricklewood, were makers of clocks and industrial instruments and the main supplier of speedometers for cars. When their workers went on strike it meant car manufacturers had to cancel shifts and lay off staff until supplies from Smith’s resumed.
Anti-Vietnam War graffiti
There had been widespread negativity in Britain about the US war against Vietnam throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Protests against the Vietnam War manifested across London in the 1960s, led by a new generation of activists, known as the ‘New Left’. Following the US response to the ‘Tet Offensive’ (an escalation of the war in February 1968), there was an even further shift in public opinion, against the role the US was playing in the war. Campaigners gathered in Wembley on 22 June 1968.
Activists tackle the housing crisis
The Hard Times was a local community paper that championed the rights of those suffering in poor housing conditions, as well as pay and conditions of local workers. The paper, based at 25 High Street Harlesden, aimed “to support and reflect the struggle of local people to organise together for social change.”
As well as reporting on social issues, the paper contained poetry, cartoons and listings of local advice groups and resources.
The Grunwick Strike
Asian women working at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in Chapter Road, Dollis Hill walked out in protest over low pay, difficult conditions and lack of union representation. A two year strike followed, led by Jayaben Desai. The strike was the first time that the Special Patrol Group, a paramilitary police unit, was deployed in an industrial dispute. 550 arrests were made over two years. The strike exposed racism, ageism and misogyny in the trade union movement as well as the industrial exploitation of immigrant workers. However, many other workers from across the country, including miners and other trade unionists, also came out in support of the women, as Dan Jones’ painting shows.
Opposition to Government cuts
In the 1980s, the Brent branch of National Association for Local Government Officers (the local government employees union) campaigned against government cuts and the privatisation of services introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government by producing posters and leaflets to gather support.
People’s March for Jobs
The 1981 People’s March for Jobs was a protest march from Liverpool to London against unemployment caused by economic recession and industrial decline. 280 participants left Liverpool on 1 May and 150,000 attended the final rally in Hyde Park, London on 31 May. The route passed through Wembley on 28 May where it gained local support. A petition with 250,000 names calling for a change in Government economic policies was handed in to parliament at the end of the march.
Miners’ strike in Brent
In March 1984, over 150,000 coal miners went on strike in protest against widespread closures in the industry. Although there were no mines in Brent, the area contributed to a nationwide solidarity movement which included collecting food and money to allow miners to live without pay. One activist claimed that £74,000 had been collected in Brent for the miners, which is believed to be the largest amount raised in London. Workers in London affected by mine closures joined in the campaign by picketing. 400 people picketed Neasden Power Station in December 1984. Brent was one of the few places in London to experience such picket lines.
Save Rutland Park Mansions campaign
Rutland Park Mansions in Willesden Green was occupied by squatters for nine years and was considered to be Europe’s largest squat. When young people first began to occupy the 42 four-bedroomed flats, they were empty. At that time Brent Council was trying to win funds for their renewal as council homes. In 1994, after months of protest against demolition, squatters were evicted. Local campaigning ensured the facade was preserved when the interior was rebuilt. The refurbished mansions were opened by Nick Raynsford MP in 1996.
Brent Stop the War
Brent Stop the War group was set up as a response to the United States and the United Kingdom’s policy on Afghanistan after 9/11. Brent Stop the War has played a crucial part in the mobilisation of anti-war activities in the UK, especially in Brent.
Save our Libraries campaign
In April 2011 Brent Council, faced with large budget cuts, made the decision to close six of its 12 libraries: Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston, and Tokyngton. This decision was made despite strong protests by residents who formed the Brent Libraries SOS Campaign. The long and hard-fought campaign gained widespread local support as well as significant national media coverage. Well-known literary figures including Philip Pullman, Zadie Smith, Jacqueline Wilson and Alan Bennett joined in the struggle. Following the campaign and through fundraising efforts of local volunteers, four independent community libraries were established on the sites of the former Council-run libraries at Barham Park, Preston, Kensal Rise and Cricklewood.
Housing Action and Brent fights back
Brent Housing Action was formed by a group of residents, campaigners and community organisations in Brent to take action on the housing and benefits cuts under the Welfare Reform Act. This included Universal Credit and the “bedroom tax”, reducing benefits to public housing tenants with spare rooms. Such reforms impacted many of the borough’s most vulnerable residents. Brent Fightback, the borough’s anti-cuts campaign group, Brent Community Law Centre which offers free legal advice, the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and the Brent Citizens Advice Bureau all supported the campaign.
Stonewall’s Sports Campaign
It was announced that as part of Stonewall UK’s #RainbowLaces campaign for inclusion, LGBT+ team Stonewall FC would play Wilberforce Wanderers AFC at Wembley Stadium. This was the latest in a line of events held at Wembley by the Football Association to promote diversity and condemn discrimination.
Living Wage Campaign
Young people from the Wembley area undertook research to reveal the shocking rates of pay that cooks, cleaners and stewards, employed by third-party contractors at Wembley Stadium, receive. They met outside the Stadium to sing Living Wage themed football chants to launch the Living Wage For All Campaign.