Mry Bamber, mother of Bessie Braddock, commemorated by the sculpture here, now housed in St George’s Hall, and the work of Carrie Reichard and Nick Reynolds. (Well worth looking at the links to them by the way!)
Born in 1874, to a prosperous, middle-class Edinburgh family, privately educated and living in one of the best parts of that city, Mary’s early life was, though, a world away from the poor of Liverpool she was ultimately to live among. However, when still a girl, her lawyer father took to the drink and one day walked out on the family never to be seen again. Her mother Margaret Little’s life up until then had been poor preparation for the rigours of single motherhood with six children to provide for. She worked hard charring and in other jobs to support her family, making a close
acquaintance with near destitution and, when her eldest son got a job with a printer in Liverpool, the family came with him.
The winter of 1906-7, with the usual misery of working-class subsistence exacerbated by severe trade depression, found Mary on the rota of women who made soup to sell at a farthing a bowl from a Clarion caravan parked on St. George’s plateau. She visited the sick, collected for the unemployed and kept open house for travelling socialists. She frequently spoke at outdoor meetings, often at Liverpool’s Hyde Park corner – the Wellington monument – but equally so on street corners or anywhere she could gather an audience. Sylvia Pankhurst described her as the
“finest, fighting platform speaker in the country”. In a city dominated by sectarianism, she refused any religious identification and was a regular heckler at both Catholic and Protestant political rallies.
It was, though, through her work as a trade union organiser that she became best known and where she becomes most visible. In the years leading up to the First World War, she worked tirelessly as an official for the Warehouse Workers Union. She travelled the length of the dock road, organising women from Johnson’s Cleaners and Dye Works in the North end to Wilson’s Bobbin Works in the South.
It was her attempts to organise those in the worst sectors of the female labour market, however, which perhaps command most respect. This was an incredibly difficult and thankless task. She was often up before dawn to catch bag women as they walked to work. They made and mended the millions of sacks used to contain and transport the products which passed through the port. Like employment in rope manufacture, which also drew Mary’s attention, this was heavy, filthy, poorly paid work often undertaken by only the most desperate – women caring for dependents, married women or those old and single.
Her work as an organiser though central to her politics was interwoven with other activity. She was present at the August 1911 Bloody Sunday demonstration. In 1919, she stood as the Labour Party candidate in the Orange stronghold of Everton. Accompanied by a bodyguard – hustings often ended in violence and the hurling of abuse; fruit, bottles and other missiles were common occurrences. Campaigning on everyday issues such as milk, education and municipal laundries, she won by a tiny majority. The same year, she became a founder-member of the local Communist Party and, in 1920, attended the Second Congress of the Third International in Moscow.