Muriel Rayment was a leading Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU) shop steward at EMI, Hayes, West Middlesex, which had become well-organised during the 1930s. A member of the National Committee of her union’s Engineering trade group, Muriel took a leading role in organising the women workers of EMI into the union.
She is credited with many who know the internal history of the T&G as being the missing link in the union’s women’s work that resurfaced only with the independent organising approaches of the 1930s to the `new’ industries that were so typical of West Middlesex, amongst other locales, and the renaissance that begun only slowly from the 1960s and took until the late 1980s to even begin to take effect.
A personality of outstanding attractiveness, Muriel was virtually a one-woman show in the struggle to stand out against the dead-hand of conformity that crippled the internal life of the T&G from the struggle with the London busworkers in the 1930s until the rise of Frank Cousins in the mid-1950s. Even some 50 years after her period at the top of her union, her name still echoed in some quarters. Muriel is remembered as a colourful, hard-swearing, and larger than life character, who made a point of never allowing a man to say that he could do something she would not or could not!
She was a nationally recognised campaigner in the fight for Equal Pay. She spoke for the union at the TUC congress in October 1946, only to condemn the General Council for failing to deal with the reasons why women left industry after the war. For her part, she was quite clear that the key reason was the lack of equal pay, coupled with the closure of wartime day nurseries.
Communist women engineering workers were a major force in the labour movement from the late 1930s and until the Cold War. Muriel worked with other leading women Communist shop stewards in engineering and allied workplaces, such as Peggy McIlven (Standard Telephone), Nell Coward (Liverpool Royal Ordnance Factory), Agnes MacLean (Rolls Royce plants in Scotland), Anne Wheeler (London) and Flo Mitten (Manchester) and Peggy Stanton (Convenor, West London Aircraft) who may also have been a Party member. The Communist-led Shop Steward National Council called the first ever conference of women union stewards in London on 5th October 1941 and another in Birmingham in April 1942.
In 1948 Muriel Rayment was elected as one of the first women to sit on the general executive council of the TGWU, representing her trade group. She also stood as a Communist Party candidate in the 1946 local elections for Hayes Urban District Council elections and, in 1947, was elected to the Executive Committee of the Communist Party.
In common with a large number of members of the T&G GEC, and many full-time officials, Muriel refused to sign a document [`The Declaration of Non-Membership of the Communist Party], imposed by the cold war bans ushered in by Arthur Deakin, the T&G General Secretary, after an ambiguous discussion at the union’s conference July 1949 conference. Muriel Rayment thus lost her seat in the union’s highest council from 1950, simply because she refused to leave the Communist Party.
Her involvement diminished considerably after this heavy blow but she retained a commitment to union work locally where she could and became an inspirational figure for many women who entered a much less lively and much more male-dominated T&G in the next two decades, to the extent of influencing new aspirations for equal pay struggles in the engineering and automotive industries, especially in the union’s London and south-eastern region.
Michael Walker and Graham Stevenson
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