Mary (‘Mai’) Clifford

(25/09/1913 - 11/03/1986)

Mary “Mai” Clifford, neé Hollingsworth, was a pioneering Irish trade unionist and laundress, celebrated for her tireless advocacy for workers’ rights and gender equality. She lived in Windmill Lane(now Road),Crumlin and later in Monasterboice Road, Crumlin.

Born in Phoenix Park, Glasgow, Scotland, Clifford’s upbringing was imbued with the values of solidarity and social justice, instilled by her parents who were fervent supporters of the renowned labour leader James Larkin. At the age of fifteen, Clifford joined the Irish Women Workers’ Union (IWWU) and swiftly rose to prominence as a passionate advocate for the rights of laundry workers. Her leadership during the historic strike of 1945, which secured a second week’s paid annual holiday for commercial laundry workers, marked a pivotal moment in Ireland’s labour movement. Throughout the fourteen-week stoppage, Clifford displayed remarkable resilience, supporting her family on strike pay while steadfastly championing the cause of her fellow workers.

Beyond her impactful grassroots activism, Clifford played a pivotal role in national trade union affairs, serving on the executive committee of the IWWU and later assuming the presidency from 1973 to 1975. Her unwavering commitment to gender equality was evident in her advocacy for equal pay and promotional prospects for women, both within the union and in broader society.

As the first woman president of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, Clifford continued to break barriers, leading the charge for income tax reform and spearheading the historic campaign of 1979-1980. Her fearless leadership culminated in the largest labour demonstration in Irish history, with hundreds of thousands of workers marching in Dublin and across the country to demand fair treatment for PAYE workers.

Despite facing opposition and controversy, Clifford remained resolute in her convictions, challenging elitism within the labour movement and advocating tirelessly for the rights of working-class women. Her legacy as a trailblazer and champion of social justice endures, inspiring future generations to continue the fight for a more equitable and just society. Mary “Mai” Clifford’s contributions to the labour movement will forever be remembered as a testament to the power of grassroots activism and the indomitable spirit of Irish working-class solidarity.

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