As the orgy of consumption rages on a capitalist Black Friday, hardly known on these shores till a few years back, our own November Black Friday is largely forgotten. In a discussion with young people about the frenzied pursuit of a bargain it might be possible to throw in an alternative reading of the significance of Black Friday and the irony of this week’s Amazon advert : BLACK FRIDAY, BUY LOW PRICE SYLVIA PANKHURST! Worth a try?
Black Friday, police violence and the cover-up
On 18th November 1910 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the main militant suffragette organisation, had called a ‘Women’s Parliament’ to challenge the legitimacy of the Westminster Parliament which excluded all women.
They had recently discovered that the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, who was deeply hostile to women’s suffrage, had announced that no more time would be given to a Bill which would give the vote to some women.
In response the ‘Women’s Parliament’ sent a deputation of 300 women to the House of Commons where they were met with ranks of police. For six hours women were batoned, beaten, punched, thrown to the ground, kicked on the floor and had their faces rubbed against railings in full view of the House of Commons. There were also widespread reports of police sexually abusing the demonstrators. They repeatedly pinched and twisted their breasts, lifted their skirts, groping and assaulting the women for hours.
Sylvia Pankhurst said of Black Friday that many women were “subjected to ill-usage” and that “the cry went round: ‘Be careful; they are dragging women down the side streets!’ We knew this always meant greater ill-usage”.
The true cost of Black Friday would only be known some time after the event. At least two women died as a result of their injuries that day. Another woman who had been badly treated by the police and was arrested for stone throwing a few days later died after being released from prison on Christmas Day 1910 – she was Emmeline Pankhurst’s sister, Mary Clarke.
The cover-up followed swiftly after. When the Daily Mirror published a photograph of suffragette Ada Wright lying collapsed on the ground, her hands clutching her face, the government tried to stop the newspaper being sold and ordered the negatives to be destroyed.
To add further shame to the government’s record, the Home Secretary, one Winston Churchill, refused to permit a Government inquiry into the events of Black Friday.
For a fuller account see The Suffragettes and Black Friday