Marion was enjoying a quiet afternoon in the White Library with a set of novels she had bought on Elbrach Prime. They were written in the style of the old Icelandic Sagas and dealt with the ordinary lives of the people who first settled on Elbrach, much as the Norwegians first settled on Iceland. They were about hardships overcome and relationships blooming among the first generations to live on the new planet.

She found the books entertaining as well as informative and was a little annoyed when she heard a car landing on the driveway followed by the doorbell ringing. She hadn’t expected visitors and would have preferred not to have any on an afternoon she wanted to spend by herself.

But Caolin didn’t show anybody into the White Drawing Room and she lost herself in the books again for another half an hour.

She looked up from her second hand adventure on Elbrach Prime when Caolin quietly entered the room and cleared his throat to attract her attention.

“Madam, may I beg you to speak to my wife in the main drawing room? She has something she needs to discuss with you.”

“Rosanda? Of course I will speak to her. The visitors who just left… were they for her?”

“They were. Lady Argolan and Lady Arpexia. I took the liberty of presenting them in the main drawing room rather than our own quarters. Please forgive any impropriety.”

“There is nothing to forgive. I will go to Rosanda at once.”

She left her books and hurried to the place where she and Kristoph as master and mistress of the house would meet guests together. On afternoons like this when it was ladies of her own social circle Marion always used her own suite of day rooms which she had furnished and decorated for herself.

It felt a little odd to step into that room and find Rosanda sitting there by the fireplace. She almost felt as if roles and status had been reversed. Rosanda clearly thought so, too. She stood to meet her awkwardly.

“Please do sit down again,” Marion told her. “And tell me what is troubling you.”

“Many things,” Rosanda answered. “All of them connected. “First of all, I have to tell you that I cannot complete your gown for the summer ball – or, indeed, any other commission.”

“Well… that’s disappointing, but all right. Why is that? Did you get more urgent work from the two ladies who visited just now?”

“They came to ask me, but I had to decline.”

“I don’t understand,” Marion said. “Surely two aristocratic ladies bringing work to you is just what you need. Word is spreading of your talent.”

“No,” Rosanda insisted. “They came because none of the couturiers in the Capitol could take their orders. But I had to say no because it would be wrong of me to take advantage. Marion… the seamstresses in the Capitol are on strike. Nobody is making anything just now. And if I was to take any commission – even for you - even a dress for Rodan - I would be insulting the women who work such long hours for such very poor pay, and who are demanding better terms of employment.”

“Oh, I see,” Marion answered. “Yes, I understand completely. Of course you must not do anything like that. Even my gown for the Summer Ball must be laid aside in such circumstances. If I was seen in a new creation it would be obvious that you had broken the strike.”

“You are sympathetic to the women’s cause, then?”

“I am absolutely in sympathy with them. And I am glad that you are, too. But what has brought this on? Have conditions in the Fashion Houses deteriorated in recent times?”

“No, madam. But the women have been made aware of certain facts about their employment.”

Rosanda was clearly uncomfortable talking about such things, but she did her best to explain how an element of trade unionism had been introduced amongst the seamstresses. They had learnt that they should not work more than a certain number of hours without being paid extra, that they should expect a minimum wage for the hours they do work, and to paid holidays when they choose.

Marion was appalled for two reasons – first, that rights established on her world long before she was born were not guaranteed to workers on Gallifrey, and second, because she had lived here for so many years, and used the Couturiers of the Capitol so often, without ever considering the working conditions of the seamstresses. Indeed, she rarely even saw these who did the mundane work of sewing seams and hems, basting collars, or even the more skilled work like making and applying lace or sewing on those hundreds of diamonds to wedding gowns, work that must make their fingers cramp and their backs ache.

“There are Guilds, aren’t there?” she asked.

“Yes, but those are for the Couturiers, the designers who present the finished gowns to the Ladies. They decide prices and terms of contracts, and to some extent the colours and fabrics, the cut of the season’s fashions. They don’t represent the girls who do the hard work, and they don’t CARE about their working conditions at all.”

“I see,” Marion replied. “Oh dear, I wonder where this will end? On my world, when poor people went on strike it often caused them great hardship. I hope the Capitol doesn’t become a place where families are starving and soup kitchens have to be opened to feed hungry children.”

Rosanda had never heard of such things. Marion told her a little of the great struggles for workers’ rights in her own country’s history, the General Strike of 1926, the industrial action of the 1970s that brought down governments, the Miner’s Strike of 1984 and the bitterness about that which still raged when she left Earth in the early 1990s.

“Is that going to happen on Gallifrey?” Rosanda asked. Her expression was one of absolute horror. “All because the girls want to be paid fairly and not have to work until they’re exhausted.”

“I hope we can avoid it,” Marion promised. “I shall talk to Kristoph. He will know about this already, I am sure. And I will be very shocked if he is not on the side of the seamstresses.”

Kristoph HAD heard all about it, and he was not entirely pleased about having to talk about it all again before his dinner, but he listened to what Marion had to say.

“Rosanda was right,” he agreed. “It wouldn’t be right for her to take those commissions. I’m glad she is showing solidarity with her fellow workers. This is a difficult situation, though. I hope it can be settled quickly.”

“It can be settled straight away by giving the seamstresses what they want. Their demands are all perfectly reasonable.”

“Yes, they are. But if I rule that they should have fair hours, minimum wage, overtime pay, statutory holidays, where will it end? What happens when the kitchen workers in the Conservatory and Valentins ask for the same, then the miners and diamond sorters?”

“I should hope they will ALL have a chance to unionise and demand all of those perfectly reasonable concessions. WE employ miners, and I didn’t think we were slave drivers.”

“We’re not,” Kristoph answered her. “OUR workers have all those kinds of benefits. But there is no legislation guaranteeing them to every worker. It is entirely at the discretion of the employer.”

“Then it is time you DID have legislation, protecting every unskilled worker who isn’t in a Trade Guild, and it is up to you to as Lord High President to see to it.”

“If it were really that easy….” Kristoph sighed. “It would have happened before now. What really puzzles me is how the seamstresses heard about the idea of collective action. Who organised them into a union?”

“Don’t look at me,” Marion answered quickly. “I didn’t even know they DIDN’T have unions. If I HAD known, I’d have been their shop steward.”

“That’s not funny,” Kristoph answered rather more sharply than he meant to be. “Marion, I will do what I can to alleviate this situation, but there will be strong opposition to any blanket legislation of the sort you have in mind. It will be difficult. In the meantime, I need you to act as a Lady of Gallifrey. That means no throwing in your lot with the strikers. By all means sympathise, but not in any practical terms.”

“Do you mean that I should behave as if the most important thing in my life is some new dress to go with the dozens I already have?” Marion’s tone was sharp, too. “No, I won’t do that. It is about time some of the ‘ladies’ of Gallifrey woke up to reality. There are far more important matters than being seen in the latest fashions.”

Kristoph began to say something else, then stopped himself. He reached out and grasped his wife’s hands, kissing them tenderly.

“We almost fought about this matter. That cannot happen. We are on the same side, Marion. But you must let me handle this politically. You cannot act unilaterally.”

Marion laughed. She never expected anyone, least of all Kristoph, to accuse her of doing anything ‘unilaterally’. It was a word she associated with countries, not people.

But it was difficult in the days to come to remain impartial or even to agree with her high born friends. Many times she received ladies in her drawing room for lunch and found it impossible to reason with them about the seamstresses strike. They saw it as nothing more than an inconvenience and complained about having to wear an old gown to the Summer Ball.

“As if it really matters!” Marion retorted when she had heard enough about it from Lady Arterion. “If we’re ALL wearing old gowns that have been seen before, then nobody is going to look out of place. But if you REALLY want to wear something new, then sew it yourself. Perhaps after a few hours hard work you’ll realise why the seamstresses want better conditions.”

Lady Arterion was startled by the idea. So were her other friends.

“Well, surely you all know HOW to sew?” Marion asked them.

“Well… yes… tapestry and embroidery. They are suitable activities for ladies,” said Lady Gyes’ eldest daughter, Natolia. “But dressmaking is Caretaker work.”

“Then pay your dressmakers a fair wage. That’s the alternative.” Marion remained firm on the subject. Her friends were surprised by her fierce defence of the workers’ cause, but their own aristocratic upbringing made it impossible for them to see things her way. The luncheon broke up rather unsatisfactorily. Marion wondered if she could ever meet with that particular group of friends again without feeling uncomfortable. She seemed to have achieved nothing other than reminding them of her alien and non-aristocratic origins.

Kristoph wasn’t happy about the situation, either. What he hated most was that he couldn’t talk to Marion about it. Their opinions about the strike were not exactly opposed, but she simply would not hear his reasons why it was not a simple matter of passing legislation. She had not sat listening to High Councillors talking all day about why a minimum wage and maximum working hours would be the downfall of the economy.

By the time the strike entered its third week, there was still no sign of resolution and the likelihood that other workers in other Gallifreyan industries joining the seamstresses’ protest. Kristoph had narrowly fended off the idea of sending troops to Polafrey and Karn to prevent the workers on those planets from picketing the mines and factories.

Marion had given up inviting her friends to her house. She was tired of their complaints. But she was quite happy when Aineytta and Thedera came unexpectedly one afternoon. They brought with them a box containing a dress of tulle and satin that still needed several yards of lace and three pounds of diamonds sewing on.

“It is a wedding dress for Lorelei de Máscantaen,” Thedera explained. “My husband’s niece. Her big day is only two weeks away and she MUST have a dress.”

“So you’re doing it for her,” Marion observed. “Well, that is quite all right. Let me wash my hands thoroughly so that the lace won’t be spoilt and I will join you at the work.”

They all washed their hands regularly. They had to avoid getting perspiration on the lace. But with steady and persistent work they covered the wedding dress with diamonds.

Marion was surprised when Rosanda came to join them in the effort.

“This is not for money,” she explained as her nimble fingers skilfully attached a rosette of diamonds and lace. “This will not betray my sisters who are holding out against their employers.”

“Quite right, too,” Aineytta agreed. “It is high time somebody did something about their working conditions. It’s quite disgraceful that we swan around in dresses made by virtual slave labour.”

Marion was glad to hear her mother-in-law speak that way. She had begun to think she was the only one who thought the seamstresses deserved any consideration.

None of them guessed just how deep the problem was going to get until Kristoph returned home at the end of a very long session of the High Council’s deliberations in the Panopticon.

He came into the drawing room accompanied by Caolin who looked as worried as his master. Rosanda saw her husband and immediately ran to his side. Marion put down the piece of lace she was in the process of pinning to the wedding gown and looked up at Kristoph fearfully.

“Marion, mama, Aunt Thedera, please don’t go to the Capitol, tomorrow, any of you. Nor you, Rosanda, though it is not for me to instruct you in any way. There are protest marches planned. The seamstresses are the least of the problem, now. The goldsmith’s and silver workers’ apprentices are striking, too. They intend to surround the Citadel. I have been urged to meet them with force.”

“Kristoph!” Aineytta was the only one of the three of his female relatives who found a voice. “No. You must not… to oppose unarmed working men and women with guns….”

“I vetoed the idea,” he assured her. “But I have had to order extra guards within the Citadel. We must keep order.”

“Where will this end?” Thedera asked.

Marion had an idea where it would end. She knew a bit more about what happened when working people rose up in force than any of her friends on Gallifrey where the status quo had never been challenged before.

It was not a happy thought for anyone.