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Dame Anne Godwin: trade union leader

by Irene Pink from the Working Class Movement Library Bulletin no. 7

When the Clerical Workers union, APEX, joined forces with the GMB - Britain's General Union in 1989, the records of the union were all placed in the Working Class Movement Library. Over the years there have been a number of of researchers who have studied the rich vein of history contained within the archives.

Irene Pink, herself an APEX/ GMB member and activist in the Friends of the WCML examined the role of women within the union and has contributed to preserving our knowledge of such important women trade unionists as Dorothy Evans, Helene Walker, Jessie Stephan and Anne Godwin. She has also cast valuable insights into the history of the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries as well as the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union [later APEX].

Her thesis, written in 1981 and entitled 'The role of trade union women, and women of APEX' is lodged in the WCML. The section on Anne Godwin is reproduced below.

Anne Godwin, 1897-1992

Beatrice Anne Godwin was born [July1897] at Farncombe, Surrey and was educated at the British School, Bridge Road, Godalming. She left at 15 [in 1912] and began her working life as a counting house clerk in a West End store, earning 5s a week for a six day week, working from 9.00am until 7.00pm. At sales time the working day lengthened to 10.00pm with a free supper as payment for the overtime. In 1916 she moved to the Army Pay Office as a civilian clerk. Her pay was now 16s per week. However, war prices were soaring too and some of the women working in the office formed themselves into a deputation and went to ask the Army Paymaster for more money. They did not get it, being thoroughly shouted down in the process. But this experience planted a seed of inner resistance in Miss Godwin's mind which germinated into a determination to do something practical. about trade unionism after the War.

Moving to an engineering office in 1920, she joined the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries. In 1928 she became its organiser.

The Times obituary, 20th January 1992: Dame Anne Godwin.

The daughter of a draper, when she left school at sixteen, the most suitable job appeared to be that of an office worker. The decision was made, and Anne Godwin began her working career at 5s a week, to train as a shorthand typist.

In the days before the introduction of typewriters, office work was the prerogative of men with their copper plate writing, standing in the community in a superior position to the general labourer. Women from a middle class background joined the army of office workers when typewriters became a normal part of office routine.

During the Great War (1914-1918), Anne Godwin spent three years working in the Army Pay Office, and it was during this period she had her first union contact. The pay rates were very poor, so a group of the women made an approach to the Paymaster hoping they could discuss some pay increase; they were asked if they had made any union contact. Anne's sister was working in the Civil Service and was instrumental in the first contact Anne Godwin had with AWCS, 'Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries'. the union was in its embryonic stage, mainly London based, with a tremendous amount of work ahead to build the membership into a union with substance. In 1925 Anne Godwin was offered a position in the AWCS office; there were no regular Branch meetings as we have today; members were involved in a propaganda exercise, the public needed to be made aware of its existence and women encouraged to join. One of the publicity exercises was a poster parade outside a railway station. During this period many of the temporary women civil servants had become AWCS members until about 1930 when many of them were made permanent and were obliged to join the National Association of Women Civil Servants which left a gap in the ranks of the AWCS membership.

It was at this time that Anne Godwin became a full time union official (London organiser), the previous years had given her the background experience of organisation, propaganda, and recruitment. Collective agreements were not usual in this period, much hard work and endeavour were needed in an effort to obtain rates of pay that were comparable with male rates for work of equal value. The AWCS President from 1926 to 1933 was Miss Lilian Dawson, and during her period of office in the early 1930s the first discussions took place for amalgamation with the 'National Union of Clerks'. The protracted negotiations broke down when the women of AWCS were unable to get positive assurance that the female views would be fully represented by the male officials, plus the status of their own officials. By this time the Secretary, Miss Evans had retired, the secretaryship was divided; Anne Godwin took over responsibility of negotiation and general administration, with Miss Bessie Kettle having responsibility for the management of the unemployment fund.

This was the staffing situation that prevailed when negotiations with NUC were resumed again in 1939, the NUC membership retaining their same stance that their views were fully understood and represented by the male officials, with confirmation of Anne Godwin's status as Assistant General Secretary in the new amalgamated union. Once again negotiations were protracted; it was the end of 1939 when final agreement was reached, Anne Godwin's status was confirmed as Assistant General Secretary, with an undertaking for her attendance at the TUC Conference for five years. Bessie Kettle's position was confirmed as Section Head of the Employment Bureau and AWCS unemployment fund.

The majority of AWCS members voted in favour of the amalgamation, the official 'transfer of engagement' was registered in March 1940, with a change of name, the 'Clerical and Administrative Workers Union'.

Later in 1940, Herbert Elvin retired as General Secretary soon after the amalgamation. It seemed an inappropriate time for a woman to be appointed General Secretary, the post went to Fred Wood who remained General Secretary until his retirement in 1956.

Herbert Elvin had lost his seat on the TUC General Council following his involvement with the Socialist Peace Motion, and when Fred Wood became the General Secretary he stood unsuccessfully for many years for the seat in the non manual workers Group with little chance of ousting Tom O'Brien from the seat he had occupied for over 20 years.

Anne Loughlin vacated one of the women's reserved seats in 1949 on her appointment to General Secretary of the Tailors and Garment Workers Union, electing to stand for the seat in Group 11, vacated by her predecessor. Anne Godwin's name was put forward for the vacant woman's seat, although it was anticipated that Alice Horan, Women Officer of the Transport and General Workers Union would be elected. The T&G already held three seats on the Council; in the event the voting went in favour of Anne Godwin,a seat she retained until her retirement in 1962. Once established in this position on the Council, she was able to fully represent the 'clerk' in a style never previously equalled or surpassed.

Anne Godwin's name was on the list of the Union's parliamentary panel, and she was interviewed by a selection committee for nomination. She realised that her union work was more rewarding that a possible parliamentary career, and did not pursue the political avenue.

On the retirement of Fred Wood in 1956, Anne Godwin was appointed General Secretary of CAWU; the appointment was received with great acclaim by Conference. It has been noted elsewhere that unlike her predecessor, Anne Godwin was a leader of natural authority, and a stylish administrator. The years in AWCS and as CAWU Assistant General Secretary had given her a wealth of knowledge and developed her natural clarity of thought. All these assets were brought sharply into focus during her years as General Secretary.

And so began this unique period of history when two women led a large mixed union through a period of expansion and consolidation, a most satisfactory time, increasing membership really established the Union on a solid base for negotiating. Whilst the public utilities of gas and electric were somewhat disappointing in their recruitment figures, the clerical workers union had many new recruits from the coal industry.

Anne Godwin was very positive in her views against the extreme left political views, believing that many women had been dissuaded from membership of AWCS due to the communistic views of some of the membership.

She always retained her firm belief in equality of opportunity, that women should receive equal pay for equal work. With Anne Loughlin of the Tailors she went to the ILO Congress in Philadelphia in 1944. Their combined efforts enabled them to have a clause included on equal pay in the motion for 'The social question for the post war world'. The subject of equal pay again came up for discussion at the 1950 ILO Conference in Geneva; following very lengthy argument and discussion these two ladies achieved a great victory when two thirds of the Conference delegates voted to accept the principle of equal pay.

Ever mindful of the need to interpret the female point of view in any negotiations, Anne Godwin was nevertheless very positive in her representation of all union members whose standard of living and welfare were her concern and responsibility.

Included in these responsibilities was a dedicated interest in education for the working population. Anne Godwin was closely associated with the WEA, serving on the National Trade Union Committee of the Association. On the occasion of their 50th anniversary in 1953 she wrote an article in 'The Clerk' on their aim to promote the higher education of working men and women, regarding the trade union movement as its focal point with the working population. "The WEA trade union committee is the instrument that has been created to bring unions and the WEA into working contact. Throughout the years, it has extended its range of activities, with thousands of students attending classes, weekend schools, and summer schools both in this country and abroad. We have learned that after fifty years of adult education, that education does not reside on one side of the fence." As the new General Secretary, Anne Godwin had given much time and thought to the educational standards of clerical workers, having served as a member of the Carr Saunders Committee which reported on education for commerce. She was a member of the National Advisory Committee on education for industry and commerce, and had recently been appointed to the Central Advisory Council for Education (England).

Ellen Wilkinson was another of the trade union women who combined with Anne Godwin to improve the standard conditions for clerical workers which was generally assumed to be a healthy occupation. This in fact was a long way from the truth, many clerks worked in far from ideal surroundings, with the female having a very secondary role. Whatever the standard of work, the female rates of pay were well below male rates in spite of the endeavours of the dedicated women and their campaign for equality. Even today, there are firms still clinging to the old fashioned concept of lower pay rates for women, in spite of the equal pay legislation.

Both Anne Godwin and Helene Walker, CAWU President, worked together to ensure that their views were contained within the principles of the Union Rules, and rule 13 clearly states that members standing for any union office must declare any political affiliation which must be shown on all ballot papers. Failure to do so rendered the candidate ineligible for office.

As with all trade union leaders there are appointments to various committees and Anne Godwin was no exception. The educational aspect has been mentioned already, though not the area of the Union's own educational programme when the General Secretary included attendance at weekend and summer schools as part of the responsibility of office. Adding the official visits abroad to the programme, one can appreciate the pressure experienced by trade union leaders, working long hours each day, every day for many weeks on end without respite, the dedication has to be 100 per cent plus. Following Anne Loughlin and Florence Hancock of the Transport Workers Union, Anne Godwin was only the third woman to be President of the TUC, 1961/62.

Margaret Bondfield of the NUGMW was the first woman to be accorded this honour, though she did not in fact fulfil her year of office. The chance of a parliamentary seat was too strong to resist, especially with the opportunity of a place in the Labour Cabinet.

Anne Godwin's progression to the office of TUC President was the culmination of devoted service to the trade union movement. Her year of office was the highlight of her career, she had an ideal working relationship with all the trade union leaders, being a woman presented no difficulties. She was judged on her ability to fulfil the office of President. This service was officially recognised in the 1962 birthday honours when she was created a Dame of the British Empire.

The year 1962 was an extremely busy one. Dame Anne made an official trip to Jamaica for the Independence celebrations. It was a highly successful occasion, meeting both trade union leaders, and the general public. Jamaica had a limited industry for independent survival, plans were being considered to use the old sugar plantations for resettlement of some of the population into the agricultural industry. After 300 years of British rule, the integration of the white and coloured population had been successfully achieved, moral standards were extremely good, with the traditional family church going parade on Sunday in their 'finery'. During the final months before retirement Dame Anne made a countrywide tour of all the Union Areas for a farewell meeting of officials and members. This included a visit to Scotland to coincide with the Area AGM, plus a forty-five minute broadcast and TV appearance.

The new London Head office was officially opened by George Woodcock the following year (1963), Dame Anne was present at the ceremony.

I had the great pleasure of visiting Dame Anne Godwin recently, twenty years after her retirement. While she still retains her link with the union, she takes no active role, believing that once the day of retirement has arrived one should leave the stage for the successor to carry on with the job.

Dame Anne had no involvement with the Women's Trade Union League which came to an end with the death of Mary McArthur in 1921. She could clearly recall her early introduction to the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries, and the work and effort that was made by the original members to recruit and expand into a union with strength for negotiating. Following the amalgamation with the National Union of Clerks in 1940, one of Dame Anne's responsibilities as Assistant General Secretary was to edit the union's journal 'The Clerk'. Originally published in magazine form, its format was changed to a tabloid newspaper while Anne Godwin was the editor, to increase its popularity as the official voice of the union, with the introduction of some women's features. Various avenues were explored to encourage all areas to send their articles and information in good time for publication.

Dame Anne believes that women should not receive the special privilege of reserved seats on Area and Executive Councils, equality must work both ways. One of the prime reasons for the shortage of female representation on these councils can be accounted for by their lack of experience due to the break in their working life while concentrating on the domestic scene, and bringing up young children. the years away from the office routine does cause a considerable gap in their union education and experience. At annual elections, the membership will tend to vote for experience, for which men have more weight and practice through Branch and Area level. Nowadays, more sharing does take place in domestic responsibility between husband and wife, though the equal 50/50 division has not been reached. The exception to the rule on reserved seats for women is the TUC Council, which would have no female representation without the reserved seats. All unions are represented on the Council by either General Secretary or President and only one small union of 4,000 members has a female General Secretary. When reserved seats were first introduced there were only two, this has now been increased to five and does ensure that the female point of view is well represented.

The TUC has changed and improved overall; probably the increase of women's activity during the war years, and the increased army of women workers since that date has been responsible for the changes. Women in the world of industry and commerce today enjoy a more equal status than the early days of Dame Anne's working career. Women have the right to maternity leave with job protection. It was not unknown in the twenties and thirties for some of the active women trade unionists to forego motherhood if it entailed job loss.

Dame Anne was the guest speaker at the Conference in 1980 when the union celebrated its 90th anniversary; she recalled the period when she and Helene Walker were working together as General Secretary and President in harness, as 'not a bad team'; Helene Walker was a very able and competent President. It was a unique period in union history when two women successfully led the union through a period of growth and consolidation in a 'man's' world.

There was always a good working relationship with all the male union officials with whom Dame Anne came in contact during her career, especially during the year of her TUC Presidency which she considers the 'highlight' of her career.

Being in a good position to expand a woman's view, Anne Godwin was the General Secretary of a large mixed union representing all the membership, which she did with great eloquence. The figures published for 1974, reveal that of 1,027 delegates to the TUC Conference, only 60 were women. Only one union provides a ruling for 50 per cent female delegates. Even unions with a female membership higher than 50 per cent had very few delegates; some very large unions had no female delegates.

Anne Loughlin and Anne Godwin are the only two women to have achieved the office of General Secretary in a large mixed union, and this before the current legislation of equal opportunity. Great ability does not always lead on to natural progression.

Dame Anne Godwin has set a fine example for women of the future to follow. Her clarity of thought and dedication received its natural reward in her unique position in the history of the Trade Union movement.

Postscript

Anyone wishing to find out more about any of the trade union women referred to at the beginning of this article or about AWCS should look at Irene's thesis which is kept in the Library along with two other useful pieces of work - both on the history of AWCS. These are:

'Some Aspects of the history of the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries', Ruskin College Diploma thesis by Vanessa Anders 1991.

'The Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries 1903-1940 - the entry of middle class women into clerical labour', Salford University BA thesis by Vivian Belkacem 1993.

Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries Web page

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