Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘trade unions’

Badges of honour – mementoes of campaigns gone by, and causes still being fought today

Posted by wcmlibrary on March 17, 2015

Badge display

We had a visit the other week from Roy Jones, former Morning Star reporter.  Roy, also known to his colleagues as Arthur Roy, served as the paper’s industrial reporter from 1982 to 1995, so covered the miners’ strike as well as many other major struggles of the ’80s and ’90s.  The Industrial Reporters’ Group of the National Union of Journalists presented him with this display case of badges on his retirement – and he in turn has presented it to us.  How many of these do you recognise from your own collection?


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Additions to @archiveshub, by our man on the Benny Rothman express…

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 30, 2013

The Archives Hub provides a gateway to many of the UK’s richest historical archives. The team is based at Mimas, in The University of Manchester.  It has nearly 200 contributors from all across the UK, including higher education, research centres and specialist repositories.

The Library had already posted descriptions of 23 of our collections of rich and varied material to this invaluable research web site, including our holdings about the Spanish Civil War and International Brigades, various unions including the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers, and the Greater Manchester and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  Now descriptions of the Benny Rothman collection, the Lancashire Women against Pit Closures and Manchester and Salford Film Society archives and our Unity Theatre material have also been added, alongside five other collections, to flag up to researchers more about what we can offer. You can find them at

Ken Whittaker, volunteer (who, splendid to relate, travelled to the Library, on the day he wrote this piece, on a train called ‘The Benny Rothman’!)

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Tailored Trades: clothes, labour and professional communities

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 16, 2013

Items from the collection at the Working Class Movement Library feature in a virtual exhibition that has been launched at  A notebook (c.1907)  kept by a tailor, containing various patterns and plans for garments, features in the ‘Sweated Industries’ exhibition.

Tailor's Notebook pages









A National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers (NUTGW) pamphlet, produced in 1947, features in the exhibition on ‘Professional Identity and the Textile Trade’. This pamphlet discusses the Tailors’ Union from 1885-1909 looking back at the “nationwide agitation” on sweated trades following the Daily Mail exhibition in 1906.

Tale of the Tailor's Union












The online exhibition was developed by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Northumbria. Their Research Network Clothes, Labour and Professional Communities 1880-1939 focuses on topics such as hand versus mass-production of clothing; the Arts and Crafts movement; the Dress Reform Movement; work in the textile industry; and the place of women in the new workforce.

Nicole Robertson, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Northumbria

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A lovely donation of lovely union membership cards

Posted by wcmlibrary on March 20, 2013

Yesterday we received a parcel of union membership cards for a Mr Leonard Roe who joined the London Society of Compositors in August 1912, and left the National Graphical Association in 1969 presumably on his retirement.

There are cards for 1912-1955 for the London Society of Compositors, cards for 1956-1966 for the London Typographical Society and cards for 1967-1969 for the National Graphical Association – 57 years worth in all.

As you would expect from a typographical/graphical trade union the cards are quite distinctive, although the National Graphical Association cards are a bit plain – as you can see below.

We particularly liked the art deco ones from the 1930s.

A big thank you goes to Michael Wood who donated the cards to us.

Leonard Roe membership card 1912Leonard Roe membership card 1934Leonard Roe membership card 1969

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Sassy sashes – glad to have been of help to our friends @PHMMcr

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 25, 2013


We were delighted to be able to lend one of our sashes to the People’s History Museum for their Stunning Sashes half-term workshop last week.  It’s an early one from the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers, and is made of heavy fabric with even heavier metal motifs and badges on it, such as a pressed metal badge depicting a handshake plus the motto “United we stand, divided we fall”.


13 adults and children attended the workshop, and the feedback was very positive.  The workshop leader said that it really helped to illustrate what a sash actually is, especially the weight of it, and that there were lots of talking points for both adults and children.  A  particular point of interest was the beehive motif, which was said to look like a jellyfish!Sash1


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What’s the collective noun for trade union emblems?

Posted by wcmlibrary on December 14, 2012

We certainly feel we have a cornucopia of them.  Recently arrived from Tenerife, the collection of Peter Carter has been divided between ourselves and the People’s History Museum, and our share arrived in the Library last week.

From the Railway Women’s Guild to the Hebdenite proudly surveying a marvellous piece of engineering (pictured), the organisations and individuals represented by this material are extensive, and we are delighted to offer it a home.  Nineteenth century trade unions certainly took their membership certificates seriously, and the visual imagery in these items is rich in detail.

Peter’s collection was many years in the assembling, and though we’re sure it was an enormous wrench for him to part with it we are enormously grateful to him for sending it to Salford/Manchester.


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Book review – ‘At the coalface: my life as a miner’s wife’

Posted by wcmlibrary on November 23, 2012

At the coalface: my life as a miner’s wife by Catherine Paton Black  ISBN 978 -0-7553-6325-4  Headline publishers.

Many books have been written about the Miners’ Strike 1984-85,  but few have been written by the wives of the miners. Catherine Paton Black’s book is important, not just because of her husband taking part in the strike but because she was one of the few women who were NUM members and became official pickets during the strike. It is also the story of why those mining communities had such a sense of solidarity during the strike: they realised that, without those jobs and their union, their lives would be one of poverty and instability. This is why they put up such a fight for their jobs and communities and why they were such an inspiration to people in Britain and across the world.  It was also the reason why they were dubbed “the enemy within” and why Thatcher was determined to destroy them.

Catherine was born in 1946 in Hamilton, near Glasgow. She came from a poor background.

 My father, George was a drunk gambler, always looking for a quick buck to pour down his throat, and my mum suffered a heart condition all her life and struggled to cope. Luckily my grandparents stepped into the breach and became my heroes.

At an early age she was aware of her future:

 From a young age us girls knew our fates. We’d grow up to be wives and mothers like our mums and maybe get a job in a factory if we had to. That was our lot in lives and we didn’t know any different.

Catherine left school at 15,  got a job in a factory and spoke out when she realised that they were earning very little in comparison to the profits the company was making:

 The strike never happened, but the seed had been planted. Even the lowliest paid worker had a voice if they wanted to use it.  Little did I know that was a principle I’d stick to much later in life.

Tradition in those small communities wasn’t just about what women did and what men did, it was also about who you married. Catherine meets Doug and when he comes to meet her granddad he asks Doug straight away “What colour are you?”,  referring to religion.   Catholics and Protestants did not mix,  so her granddad was relieved when he found out Doug was “blue” ie Protestant.

Through her relationship with Doug she gives the reader an insight into the horrors that his father and brothers experienced as miners:

Working conditions in the pits in the 40s and 50s were primitive. Before the modern machines arrived Doug’s father and brothers were at times quite literally going at parts of it with a pick axe…They were all injured at some point.

If young men didn’t want to go down the coalmines they had few other choices and for Doug that meant going in the Army.  In 1968, when she had their first child,  he left the Army and took the only other alternative, a job in a pit in Nottingham in England,  but as a surface worker. There were other advantages, as Catherine says,  after  living in a tenement in Glasgow they now were given

a smart new Coal Board house, with clean red bricks, it really did feel like a piece of heaven after where we had been living. The village, pronounced “Renoth” by locals, had been built especially for the pit and had some lovely rolling green fields, farmland and lake areas nearby.

Catherine was also now living near her Mum and sister,  who had moved south several years previously. Catherine and Doug had five children. His work on the surface did not pay enough to keep the family so she went  back to work.  Eventually Doug went down the mine to improve his wages while  Catherine joined  him in the colliery canteen (and joined the union).  Unfortunately he had an accident in the pit, injured his back and could not go back underground,  so the Coal Board found him another job at the pit:

 So Doug started a new role on the surface in an office alongside two poor fellas who’d lost their legs in terrible accidents.

During the Miners’ Strike of 84-85 the  Nottinghamshire coalfield  had many miners who did not support the strike and Catherine believes that this was because:

the mines in Notts employed lots of people from all parts of the country so fewer people felt a sense of loyalty to the area.

Controversially pickets from Yorkshire visited their area to try and get them to join the strike. Catherine did not support this:

As much as I supported the strike, I resented this. We didn’t want or need people from another county telling us what to do, but I did just wish more Nottingham communities were joining in.

Like many people from the coalfields she could see the government’s strategy of provoking the miners into striking at a time when they had been stockpiling coal at the powerstations. As she puts it:

It all seemed terribly cynical, like open war had been declared on miners. Yet they were decent, hard- working people who just wanted to protect their jobs and communities.

Many miners’ wives got involved with the strike,  but Catherine was different because she was an NUM member and she could officially join the picket line. Her husband didn’t want her to so  she went one  morning with her daughter:

after shinning down the drainpipe, we walked into the street, where we spotted other people coming down the road.

The other women commented:

We’re off to find a demonstration. We can’t just sit at home cooking and cleaning while all this is kicking off.

Catherine throws herself completely into political activity. She organises the soup kitchen and attends pickets and demos, travels around the country and comes across other people’s ways of life that she never knew existed. But she wasn’t interested in the bigger politics of the strike as she comments:

We had them all up here, including Scargill, but I never took time to listen. I wasn’t interested. …I was too busy to think or consider any further issues or the politics of it all.

For many miners’ wives (and miners) the strike showed them different ways of life and some of them took the opportunity to get an education and jobs and move away from the coal mining communities. Catherine was happy with the life she had,  and after the strike ended  she returned to her husband and family. And her feelings today about the strike?

Echoes of its legacy lives on. We’ll bear both the scars and the memories forever.

In 2012 with growing dissent about energy costs it is even clearer that the demise of the coal mining industry was not just a defeat for the NUM and its members,  but has left this country now hostage to large energy companies with a government that has no sympathy or concern  for poor families.

At the coalface is a reminder that communities and trade unions can work together to campaign for a better society and we need to remember those lessons now.


Bernadette Hyland

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There’s got to be a thesis in this for someone…

Posted by wcmlibrary on November 22, 2012

We are fortunate in having acquired, through the good offices of former UNISON NW Regional Secretary Frank Hont, a full set of the reports of the NALGO/UNISON National Delegate Conferences from 1989 to 2011, plus related papers.  The Conferences have a vibrant life and culture of their own. The various newsletters representing regional, factional and minority groups add to the sometimes carnival atmosphere.

Two items captured my attention:

  • A North West newsletter with a photograph of WCML’s current Treasurer Dennis Maginn on it, dating from 1993!
  • And a spoof report called Tiny Trot, which purports to be a report from a playgroup infiltrated by Trotskyite activists…

Alain Kahan

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Job seekers from eighty years ago…

Posted by wcmlibrary on May 25, 2011

Report in the Blackburn Times for Saturday May 2nd  1931:

Weavers as Servants

Clitheroe Association’s letter to Miss Bondfield

The executive of the Clitheroe Weavers’Association have written to the Minister of Labour (Miss Bondfield) deploring that “young girls are being compelled to take up work as domestic servants, or otherwise be deprived of their unemployment benefit”.

Miss Bondfield is asked by the executive to ascertain why employment exchanges at Salford,ManchesterandLeedsshould deem it necessary to fill vacancies in their areas from weavers at Clitheroe, when in those areas there is a total of 35,000 signing for employment and anxiously seeking work.

The letter, which is signed by Mr George Brame, secretary, proceeds: “My executive wish me to inform you that within the last few weeks several of our members have been asked if they would accept positions of domestic service at the same addresses in Salford  and Leeds, and because they refused to consent, owing to the distance from their homes, the Court of Referees has subsequently disqualified them from receiving benefit for a period of six weeks.

My executive would like to draw your attention to the fact that on the dates those young girls were asked to go to these cities there were, according to the figures published in the current Ministry of Labour Gazette, the following unemployed women in the cities mentioned: – Salford, 7,857; Manchester, 20262; Leeds, 7,840  signing on at these exchanges. It would appear from these statistics that to send a girl from Clitheroe to fill a vacancy in the places referred to is a travesty of the spirit for which the employment exchanges were established. My association await your observations with deep concern”.

Newspaper cutting found in the Library collection by volunteer Eleanor, May 2011

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Railway Review in 1941

Posted by wcmlibrary on May 10, 2011

The Library has a long run of this National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) journal – from 1880 to 1969.  Browsing the volume for 1941 in search of some family history information, Alain was interested in the huge range of the topics it was covering at that time.

Included are:

Articles by leading Indian independence activists including Mahatma Gandhi, and debate in the correspondence columns on the same issue

Debate on the Popular Front, especially given the recent entry of the Soviet Union into the War

Debate on the Labour Party, Communist Party of Great Britain and trade unions.  (The leadership of the NUR were hostile to the CP after their volte face at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact).

A campaign for a minimum wage of £3000

Reports on women in ‘men’s jobs’

Reports on victims of the Blitz including railwaymen at work, and articles on rationing and food shortages

Also articles on reconstruction, evidence of thought about after the war eg nationalising the railways

Regular columns on gardening, health and sport.

Whenever you open a volume round here there’s always a surprise or two inside!

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