F

Flannery Blanche

Blanche Flannery

Blanche was born in 1921 as Blanche Howson. The family loved in Sheffield, where her mother was an office cleaner for a steel firm. The Howsons lived in John Street, Sheffield, which was the entrance to Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United Football Club and for many years host to Yorkshire County Cricket Club. She had a lifelong love of cricket, but her footballing allegiance was to Sheffield Wednesday.

Her father spent much of his life unemployed and was strongly political conscious himself. He took Blanche and her sister Marie to political meetings and rallies in the 1930s. Blanche joined the Communist Party after attending a rally in Sheffield. She did administrative work for steel firms and various trade unions, and for many years was a parliamentary PA to her husband Martin Flannery (see separate entry), MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, whom she married in 1949.

Blanche attended Duchess Road School, where she was head girl and the school's May Queen. She left when she was 14 to work as a telephonist for a local steel company, Cravens, the first of many such firms in the city where she did administrative work. She worked in such a capacity for a number of trades unions, including the technical union, ASTMS and the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers. Blanche was a member of the appropriate union, now the Apex section of GMB. .

During and after the second world war, she campaigned for the establishment of the National Health Service and state nursery facilities for young children. In the 1960s and 70s she was involved in campaigns for women's rights in the workplace. As well as being involved in National Assembly of Women marches in the 1970s, she was an advocate for women's reproductive rights, maternity rights and the right to health screening tests. She was an active member of the anti-apartheid movement and CND.

Blanche was involved in establishing the women's sub-committee in the Sheffield Trades Union Council and in the 1980s became that body's first and only female president. She worked to set up the Sheffield Centre Against Unemployment and played a crucial role in the steelworkers' and miners' strikes, as well as many other industrial disputes.

During the many years that Blanche was the President of the Sheffield Trades Union Council she always insisted that the Council gave support to the struggles of ordinary working people irrespective of their country, ethnicity,colour, or nationality.

 

Immediately, following the commencement of the NUM Strike of 1984-5, Blanche, along with Sheffield Trades Union Council Secretary Roger Barton, set up a Miners` Support Group to co-ordinate all action in the Sheffield Area. The Group functioned without break during the whole of the 12 months long strike plus seven weeks following the end of the strike.

 

On one occasion the Group, led by Blanche, organised a Sheffield Trades Union Council led convoy of twenty bus loads of people taking with them £1,000 worth of goods to Selby and on a later occasion organized a City Hall gathering where a food mountain was built for donation to various pits on the following day.

 

During the NUM Strike, under Blanche’s Presidency, every Monthly Delegate Meeting of the Sheffield Trades Union Council, often attended by over 100 Delegates, discussed at great length ways and means of giving assistance to the striking miners and their suffering families.

 

In co-operation with the Sheffield Trades Union Council the Labour controlled Sheffield City Council (opposed by the Conservative minority Councilors) donated one hundred thousand pounds in the form of food vouchers to relieve the hardship suffered by the families of the 1,500 miners then resident Sheffield.

 

It must not be forgotten that during this very difficult period Blanche, supported by a number of Sheffield women trade union members, built long-standing links with Women Against Pit Closures who played a very important part in giving solidarity and support to their men folk.

 

Blanche, being a progressive political thinker and activist in her own right, was a tower of strength and support to Martin, her husband, particularly during the period that Martin was Member of Parliament for the Penistone Constituency. This was a very effective partnership in which Blanche made a valuable contribution.

Although she retired in 1992, Blanche continued to play an active role in politics. She attended the huge demonstration in London against the Iraq war in 2003 and demonstrations in Sheffield supporting the Palestinian struggle. She was also involved in the management of Northern College, an adult education institution established by the labour movement, until 2009. When she was no longer able to attend meetings and demonstrations, she continued her political activity by donating money and letters of support to many causes close to her heart.

Blanche Flannery died aged 89.

 

Sources: Bill Ronskley, Sheffield TUC; Guardian 22 December 2010; Yorkshire Post 5th November 2010; Sheffield Star 9th November 2010