Club women win fight for equal rights at last

A CAMPAIGN which began in West Yorkshire almost 30 years ago has finally succeeded in winning equal rights for women in thousands of workingmen's social clubs in Britain.

For decades the organisation representing the clubs, the Club and Institute Union, refused to give full voting and participation rights to women.

They could not take part in the running of the union or its decision-making process.

Individual clubs were able to give full membership to women enabling them to take part in the running of a particular club, but many clubs retained a ban on full membership for women and they remained barred from CIU membership, which gives individuals the right to use any club affiliated to the CIU.

The campaign for equality began at Wakefield City Workingmen's Club back in 1978 – sparked by one woman's desire to play snooker there.

Sheila Capstick was a regular player, but the club's men-only committee decided women should not be allowed to play.

Mrs Capstick, now 64, said: "Me and my husband Ken used to go in regular and we'd have a game of snooker. Not that I was a good player, but I enjoyed it.


"We were playing one night when a bloke came in and said he was going to have women stopped from playing snooker.

"The next thing a sign went up banning women from playing. I complained to the committee but nothing happened."

Mrs Capstick, whose husband Ken is an activist in the National Union of Mineworkers, launched a campaign against the decision.

With friends she picketed the club. Signatures were gathered for a petition which was handed in at the club. It was ignored.

The campaign, "A Woman's Right to Cues," quickly broadened into a demand for equal rights for women in all workingmen's clubs, and full CIU membership rights. The campaign was called ERICA – Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action.

The campaigners won the support of many professional snooker players. "I got lots of letters in support," said Mrs Capstick.

Year after year the campaigners picketed the CIU's annual conference in Blackpool, where delegates from progressive clubs regularly proposed resolutions calling for equal rights. The resolutions were defeated every year.

But delegates at the CIU's annual conference in Blackpool this year finally voted in favour of equal rights for women.

Mrs Capstick said today: "It's not before time. We have got justice at last. I feel justified after all these years."

Wakefield City Workingmen's Club gave women full membership rights some years ago.