Jessie Eden

Playing a blinder for women

Fans of the BBC drama Peaky Blinders may recognise the name Jessie Eden. Often forgotten amongst the higher profile women trade unionists of the early twentieth century, the series brought her some well-deserved attention. Here are five things you need to know about Jessie.

She placed a high value on her politics.

Jessie was born Jessie Shrimpton on the 24th February 1902. Jessie was the oldest of three girls born to William and Jessie Senior. She married Albert Eden in summer 1923 but the marriage was short-lived and she later spoke of the “folly” of being married to someone who did not share her interest in politics.

She rallied her colleagues for the general strike.

In 1926 she convinced her all-female section of workers at the Joseph Lucas motor components factory in Birmingham to down tools as part of the general strike.

Her speed led to mass walk out.

In 1931 she noticed factory management monitoring her production. She discovered they were planning to link pay to production outputs and had chosen to time her as the benchmark because she was known to be a fast worker. This caused an outcry amongst the women who were already having their toilet breaks timed and Jessie led 10,000 women on a week-long walkout.

She paid the price for the strike’s success.

A strike by this many women was unprecedented at the time. The women won and the system was dropped. But Jessie found herself singled out at work and eventually lost her job. She received victimisation pay from the Transport and General Workers Union and a gold medal from its then leader, Ernest Bevin.

She campaigned for better housing.

During the rental crisis of the late 1930s tens of thousands of working class families across the country went on rent strike in protest of the appalling slum-like living conditions. Jessie led the Birmingham strand of the campaign where 90 per cent of all of Birmingham’s tenants withheld their rents for ten weeks and nearly 10,000 women marched in protest.