While Mary Macarthur travelled the country winning support for the strike, Julia Varley and Thomas and Charles Sitch organised the action in Cradley Heath and the surrounding area. There were regular meetings and marches, deputations and demonstrations. Collections were made in the streets, in factories, outside football grounds, chapels and churches and at Labour Party and trade union meetings.
Julia Varley told how she called at the dwelling of a woman who appeared to be very poor herself. ‘When I saw her I was almost ashamed to tell her the object of my call. She said eagerly when I mentioned the chainworkers of Cradley Heath, “I must do what I can to help those poor women. I will give you what I have, though it is only a ha’penny.”‘
(Express and Star, September 1st, 1910)
Donations to the strike fund flooded in. Mary Macarthur reported that 20 people were working day and night acknowledging letters that were pouring in from all over the country. Gifts were also made in kind, including a collection of jewellery, lace from a lace-maker in Ireland, a van load of bread, and two hams for a tea for the women.
Members of the aristocracy and prominent business families also made contributions. For example, the Countess Beauchamp sent a cheque for £100. The Countess of Warwick contributed £25, with the promise of a further £25 in a month if necessary. George Cadbury pledged £5 per week for as long as the strike lasted. Novelist John Galsworthy, author of The Forsythe Saga, gave £10. Arthur Chamberlain – one of the powerful local family that included the Mayor of Birmingham and President of the Board of Trade, Joseph Chamberlain as well as future Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain – donated the hefty sum of 50 guineas (£52.50).
On 27 August, over 300 women chainmakers, all union members, met to receive their first week’s strike pay of 5s (25p) each. Those carrying babies were paid first, but it was soon noticed that the same babies were being brought forward by different women, neighbours having taken to lending each other their children to jump the queue.
As the strike fund grew, the amount paid to union members increased to 6s (30p) per week, and it became possible to pay non-union members 4s (20p).
Mary Macarthur had hoped that contributions would reach £1,000, yet by October nearly £4,000 had been collected.