When councils choose names for our streets, parks and libraries, the radical past and present is often ignored. With this in mind, Focus E15’s newly acquired office/organising space has been named ‘Sylvia’s Corner’ after the militant suffragette and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst. The space will be used as a base for Focus E15 campaign to organise from and will be available for other progressive groups in the area to use. If you can make a small regular donation to help fund the space for housing activists to use -there are some links at the bottom of the page.
Please read on to find out more about the life of Sylvia Pankhurst.
Sylvia Pankhurst was an active socialist and suffragette organiser in the East End of London. She organised with working class women, speaking to 1000s of people in mass meetings about women’s rights. Throughout her life she was an outspoken critic of the British Empire and she formed links with the struggle for a free and independent Ireland. She was an early communist, inspired by the Russian Revolution and later on in her life became an anti-fascist organiser. She was known in the East End of London, amongst working class women as ‘our Sylvia’.
Sylvia Pankhurst purposely broke away from the elitism of the Women’s Social and Political Union that was led by her Mother, Emmeline and her sister Christabel – who were chiefly interested in respectable upper class women gaining the vote. They did not think working class women should be leading the suffrage movement.
In response Sylvia Pankhurst formed the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1912. She believed in the power of mass action from below and that the movement for women’s suffrage should be led directly by working class women. Sylvia explained that women should be “revolting against the hideous conditions about them and demanding for themselves and their families a full share of the benefits of civilisation and progress”. Sylvia forged links with unions and inspired local community resistance when she came under attack from the police.
She launched a newspaper called the Women’s Dreadnought in 1914 to amplify the voices of working class women. Housing issues were often written about and discussed inside its pages. At one point 20,000 copies a week were printed and handed out across the East End of London. During the First World War which Sylvia opposed, she renamed her newspaper ‘The Workers Dreadnought’. She helped to organise various social centres across east London so that women could come together to talk about their lives and base the politics on their lived experiences.
Despite these remarkable achievements and commitment to the struggle, Sylvia Pankhurst has often been ignored and her importance downplayed in the official histories of the Suffragettes – as well as out of the history of radical ideas.
Focus E15 campaign was started by young mothers in the East End who were fighting for decent housing. They were prepared to challenge the system and confront authority. Therefore calling the campaigns newly acquired space Sylvia’s Corner directly links the current struggles led by todays militant women to the inspiring revolutionary struggles of the past.
Please help Focus E15 Campaign keep a base from which to organise from. Help us keep Sylvia’s corner -an independent, political and community space in the East End of London.
Thank you for your support. Housing is a human right! No social cleansing!