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A Feminist Way to Unconditional Basic Income: Claimants Unions and Women’s Liberation Movements in 1970s Britain

  • Toru Yamamori EMAIL logo
From the journal Basic Income Studies


This article explores how the demand for an unconditional basic income (UBI) was discussed in the British Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) in the 1970s. A resolution for UBI was passed with a majority vote at the National Women’s Liberation Conference in 1977. However, this fact appears not to have been properly recorded in any academic literature. This is slightly surprising because it has been more than a decade since feminist academics started to argue either for or against UBI. The resolution was raised by working class women in the Claimants Unions Movement. This article records and analyses their feminist articulation of the UBI and the unfortunate fate of their resolution along with their intersections with other feminists. It is based mainly on oral historical interviews with ex-claimants women (128).

Appendix: Acknowledgement and the detail of interviews

This research could not be conducted without the kind support from interviewees who were (some still are) claimants and activists relevant to CUs. Here I would like to acknowledge them as well as explain the details of the interviews. I disclose the names here of interviewees who consent to this, but I didn’t disclose their name when I cited their interviews in the main text. The reason for this is that some interviewees think it would violate their collectiveness. Their movement was prefigurative: not only did they try to change the authoritarian and unequal society into one which was democratic and equal, but they also tried to be democratic and equal in forming their own organisation. They preferred anonymity and collective authorship, even though some people or groups of people eventually took on a more important role than others on many occasions. On the one hand, as an ex-activist of a similar minded movement, I respect this point and so try to avoid mentioning names in the paper whenever possible. On the other hand, it is necessary, as an academic, to identify who played a relatively important part in some particular proposals or actions. So in principle, I have identified but not disclosed names in this paper. The policy I adopt is: (1) If literature already discloses names, I also disclose those names. (2) Names that are only identified by my own research, I keep anonymous. I disclose their gender, race, class, or other details, when I think this information could be relevant to readers.

The first interview was held in March 2002 at Newton Abbot with former members of Newton Abbot CU, with kind help from Bill Jordan, former secretary of Newton Abbot CU. Following this the interviews with members of Edinburgh Claimants and former members of South Shields CU were held in August 2003. The latter was conducted with considerable help from Jack Grassby. Between 2004 and 2007, I interviewed some of those same people again along with other people who were involved in the claimants’ movements in Birmingham and East Anglia. Ed Emery, who was involved in the CUs movement, organised a conference in Cambridge in 2006, on the contemporary relevance of the Italian Autonomia movement and invited me to speak on the CUs. He and I held a workshop on an UBI and CUs in 2007 in Cambridge. Almost of these interviews (and conversations) are not cited in this paper, but they gave me a baseline knowledge of CUs.

In September 2009, with the invaluable help of Roger Clipsham, one of the founding members of the Birmingham CU, a series of interviews with former members of Birmingham CU (Margaret and Chris Tyrrell, Pat Randall, Susan Cooper), East London CU (Julia Mainwaring) and Newcastle upon Tyne CU (Lyn Boyd, Annette McKay, and Rosemary Robson) were held at various locations. Clipsham also helped me to interview Jane Downey (East London CU) in August 2012, and Susan Carlyle (North London CU) in September 2012. Julia Mainwaring (2009) and Jane Downey (2012) told me that their motion for an UBI was raised at NWLCs, and it was a starting point for the framework of this paper. I re-visited them in March, April, May and June 2014. John Barker kindly accepted and made time available for interview in June 2014. Jenny Fortune helped me by corresponding through emails. Clipsham, Mainwaring, Downey and Fortune also allowed me to access archival materials they have kept.

I acknowledge all people I have mentioned here.

Pauline Gift kindly agreed to be interviewed by me, but sadly passed away before I manage to see her. Other interviewees have frequently and affectionately mentioned her and sometimes I had an impression that I am sharing a collective memory of her. Susan Cooper, who kindly taught me the relevance of trade unionism to CUs, also passed away. This paper is dedicated to collective memories of Pauline Gift and Susan Cooper.

I also would like to acknowledge those people who encouraged me to conduct this research and to turn it to an academic paper. There is not an enough space to name all of them, but let me thank to Sue Bruley, Lucy Delap, Rebeca Echavarri, Cindy L’Hirondell, Barb Jacobson, Kaori Katada and Natalie Thomlinson.

The earlier and longer version of the paper was presented at a workshop held at Navarra Public University in Pamplona, Spain on 14th April 2014, then, at the 15th international congress of the Basic Income Earth Network, held at McGill university in Montreal, Canada during 27th and 29th June 2014, and at the Situating Women’s Liberation; Historicizing a Movement conference, held at the University of Portsmouth on 4th July 2014. I appreciate these opportunities the organisers gave me and the positive comments from participants. Any mistakes belong to me.


Materials from the CUs movement and the WLM, not formally published

Author(s) Anonymous (1972) Minutes of Conference on Guaranteed Adequate Income Campaign. Swansea 27/28 May 1972.Search in Google Scholar

Author(s) Anonymous (1979) Claimants Union, 3 pages document, on the sheets with the footer of “Citizens Advice Bureau”, with numbering “”, and dated in October 1979.Search in Google Scholar

Brapsstacks, B. (pseudonym) (1972) The Confusion of Swansea: A little light on the G.A.I.Search in Google Scholar

Federation of Claimants Unions (1981) Internal Bulletin, September, Handsworth CU.Search in Google Scholar

Federation of Claimants Unions (1985) Social Security and Women.Search in Google Scholar

Fortune, J., & Trescott, K. (c.1972–5) Women’s lives: A basis for struggle.Search in Google Scholar

James, S. (1972) Women, the unions and work, OrWhat is not to be done.Search in Google Scholar

Hackney Claimants Union (1973) National women’s claimants’ conference.Search in Google Scholar

Liverpool Women’s Action Group (c.1977) Guaranteed independent income for all women.Search in Google Scholar

National Federation of Claimants Unions (1970) Journal of the National Federation of Claimants Unions, 1.Search in Google Scholar

National Federation of Claimants Unions (c.1970–1) Unsupported mothers handbook.Search in Google Scholar

National Federation of Claimants Unions (1972) Address list of Claimants Unions as at 26 June 1972.Search in Google Scholar

National Federation of Claimants Unions (c.1977–8) Social security and women.Search in Google Scholar

North London Claimants Union (1972) GAI News: Broadsheet of the national campaign for a guaranteed adequate income, issued in April 1972.Search in Google Scholar

Ross, E. A., & Bearse, M. L. (edited by K. E.Boyle with the Oral History Project Advisory Group) (1996) Chronology of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain: Organisations, Conferences, Journals and Events, with a Focus on Leeds and Bradford 1969–1979.Search in Google Scholar

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Toru Yamamori is currently a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge, UK (until August 2015). Parts of the paper are based on the granted researches on Basic Income and Socialization of Care in Welfare Rights Feminism (MEXT KAKENHI no. 22710266), and on Gender, Race and Class on the Formation of “Fifth Demand” in British WLM (MEXT KAKENHI no. 26360054). This essay was awarded the Basic Income Studies bi-Annual prize for best essay presented at the Basic Income Earth Network Congress (held in June 2014 at the University of McGill, Montreal, Canada).

Published Online: 2015-1-15
Published in Print: 2014-12-1

©2014 by De Gruyter

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