We’ve moved! – TUC Library moves to new home in Aldgate


The TUC Library has completed its move to a new building and Reading Room at London Metropolitan University’s Old Castle Street building at Aldgate in the City of London. The building, known as The Wash Houses, retains the exterior of the old Whitechapel public baths which were in use since the 1850s.

The TUC Library now shares the building with the University’s other Special Collections, including the University archive, the Frederick Parker furniture making collection, and the Archive of the Irish in Britain.

Access to the new Reading Room is from the university entrance at 16 Goulston Street (see map).

Our new contact details are:

TUC Library Collections
London Metropolitan University
Special Collections
CC2-01 The Wash Houses
Old Castle Street
London E1 7NT
Tel: 020 7320 3516
Email: tuclib@londonmet.ac.uk

Nearest tube stations are Aldgate (Circle and Metropolitan Lines) and Aldgate East (Hammersmith & City and District Lines).

Our opening hours remain unchanged – Monday to Friday, 09.00 – 17.00 – as do all our other services. Stay tuned to the blog for future updates about the activities of the Special Collections.

For more information, or to arrange an appointment to visit the library, get in touch.

Living Wage Week – history of campaigning for decent pay


This week is Living Wage Week (30th October – 5th November), organised by the Living Wage Foundation. The Foundation raises awareness about the importance of a living wage throughout the UK that meets the real cost of living. Every year at the start of Living Wage Week the independently-calculated living wage for London and the rest of the UK is announced. You can see the figures here.

The TUC Library holds material that documents the long struggle by working people for a minimum, and a living, wage. The document below is from 1906, when a minimum wage conference was organised by The National Anti-Sweating League. This reminds us that in many ways the existence of insecure, low paid work, based on piece rates or long hours, is nothing new.

In the 1940s the same issues prompted the article below – “How do girls manage?” – from the postal union journal. The article discusses how a young woman, living alone, can meet the rising costs of living.

It was also an issue that concerned apprenticeships during that period, as shown in the newspaper cutting below. In 1941 apprentices won a large pay rise, negotiated by the various engineering unions and the Engineering Employers’ Federation.

A fair and equal wage for women also became an important campaigning issue in the post-war economy, culminating in the passing of the 1970 Equal Pay Act. However, as our Winning Equal Pay website shows, equal pay for women in many sectors is still an issue today.

In the 1970s there were increasing disputes between unions, employers and the Government over the issue of prices and incomes policy and the straining of the Social Contract. The image below is from a strike by domestic staff and cleaners, demanding a living wage, at an Oxford University college in 1972.

By 1979 the disputes over what constituted a fair pay rise and a living wage culiminated in the “Winter of Discontent”, particularly affecting low paid workers in the public sector.

To find out more about any of the items, or any other material held in the library, get in touch.




Grunwick strike 40th anniversary celebrated in new exhibition


The TUC Library has contributed some items to the new exhibition “We are the lions” at Brent Museum and Archives, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick strike 1976-78.

Staff from the TUC Library attended the packed launch event in Brent last night and the exhibition opens today (19th October) and runs until March 2018. The exhibition has been created by the Grunwick40 group, combining the Brent Museum and trades council and with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Grunwick strike was an influential period of industrial action involving mainly Asian women workers at a film processing plant in Brent. The TUC Library holds a significant collection of material relating to the strike, including a number of posters and photos that can be seen on our history website here, here and here.

Guests at the launch event viewing the exhibition

For more information about what the TUC Library holds on the strike, get in touch.


“They shall not pass” – Battle of Cable Street anniversary


Last week saw the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, 4th October 1936, when thousands of Londoners prevented the march of Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts down Cable Street in the East End.

The rise of fascism across Europe in the early 1930s was of great concern to the TUC and the trade union movement, and they campaigned actively against it.

The cartoon below featured in an issue of the journal of the General and Municipal Workers Union in the 1930s. A blackshirt is showing a trade unionist the “unity” of the fascist cause, and the unionist replies “I seem to remember it isn’t reeds you tie up, but trade unionists..”.

Anti-fascist cartoon from the GMWU journal, October 1933.

In 1933 a series of marches and demonstrations had been organised by the TUC and unemployed workers organisations to highlight the issue of unemployment and the relationship between economic hardship and the rise of fascist sympathies. The poster below was produced by the Joint Council (TUC and the Labour Party) for the February 1933 National Unemployment Demonstration.

The National Unemployed Workers Movement produced a number of pamphlets on the relationship between unemployment and facsism, such as the one below entitled “Fascist Danger and the Unemployed”.

The TUC Library is in the process of relocating to a new building quite close to Cable Street in Tower Hamlets. Our collections will soon be moved to a London Metropolitan University building on Old Castle Street, between Aldgate and Aldgate East tube stations. Please refer back to the TUC Library webpages for updates about the progress of the relocation.

For more information about the items featured in this post, or any other TUC Library material, get in touch at tuclib@londonmet.ac.uk or phone 020 7320 3516.



Turn of the century union banner saved


Southampton Boilermakers and Shipbuilders Union Banner

Guest blogger Michael Walker, Unison regional Officer tells us the story of how he saved a rare turn of the Century union banner from being sold into private hands.

Soon after visiting the Labour History Museum in the early 1980′s then at the old Limehouse town hall, I secured a copy of the late John Gorman’s “Banner Bright”. The rich history and illustrated pictures of banners through the ages left a major impression upon me and so many others. The most beautiful and striking banners illustrated in Banner bright were those executed by George Tutill of 83 City Road, London.

Tutill banners are of such rarity they are talked about in almost hushed tones and people come from around the world to see them at the Peoples History Museum in Manchester. Tutills banner are exhibited as works of art in their own right.

The odd Tutill banner would turn up from time to time.

However, little did I imagine that I would play a part in uncover another Tutill trade union banner

In August I began to hear rumours of what looked like a freemasons lodge banner recently retrieved from under the stage of a workingmen’s club in Woolston, close to the old shipyards in Southampton

I soon established that this was infact a Boilermakers Lodge (Union) banner, but before I could investigate further, I heard alarming news that the owner was thinking of auctioning the banner. Thus entering the murky world of a friend of a friend a message was communicated to the owner, and despite what seemed to be long periods of email silences, when I feared for the worse that the banner would be snapped up by a private collector or the owner had decided not to sell, I was relieved to get a message that he agreed to sell the banner to us (thank you Bromley Hospitals UNISON branch) for an undisclosed “finders fee” which was significantly less that the true value of the banner, on the condition that it went to an appropriate “good home”.

We were warned that the banner was in a fragile state but on the up side it was in a 15 foot wooden banner box.

Getting a 15ft banner into a vehicle is difficult and we had to hire a van especially to collect the box,

We left destined for Southampton in a truck not really sure if the owner had had second thoughts regarding the banner, but when we arrived the banner was ready for collection and in its box. After opening the four metal catches we discovered inside a tightly bound brightly coloured blue and red banner and visible immediately in-between the fringe of tassels the trade mark hand painted stamp of G.Tutill 83 City Road, London, clearly visible, also in the box was one set of Tutill banner holders and ceremonial toppers for the top of the banner poles.

Trade mark hand painted stamp of G.Tutill 83 City Road, London

Interestingly the newspapers surrounding the banner were Daily Herald’s from 1928 suggesting that possibly the banners last outing had been in that year,

Getting the banner into the truck still proved difficult and had to be carefully positioned at an angle to fit in the van. But thanks to the patience of my colleague Allen Reilly the banner was strapped into the van and brought back into the arms of the Labour Movement.

When opportunity allowed we unraveled the banner revealing the beautiful silk golden swirl designs and brass tags so distinctive of Tutill banners, Prominent on one side is the ship the Tynemouth Castle and on the other side the ceremonial emblems of the Boilermakers, Steel, Iron & Shipbuilders Society with the legend Southampton Branch. This organisation became the Boilermakers union and would end up merging into what is now the GMB in 1982.

A major strike took place in the Southampton shipyards in 1890 and I suspect the banner dates from around 1900.

The banner is presently in a very fragile (please note I have digitally enhanced the border which is damaged in places) We are obviously very keen for it to be assessed by the textile conservation at the Peoples History museum.

Hopefully, funding will be forthcoming for its proper preservation , especially as this is the only Tutill banner from Southampton’s proud trade union history, I am aware of that has survived to-date.

The moral of this story should be never give up searching for those trade union banners, not all will be Tutill’s but they remain an important part of our Movements history

Michael Walker
Unison regional Officer
September 2016


TUC annual Congress in Brighton


Clement Attlee (second left) with General Secretary of the TUC, Vincent Tewson (second right), at the 1946 Congress in Brighton.

The annual TUC Congress takes place in Brighton next week, from Sunday 11th – Wednesday 14th September. The TUC has a long association with the seaside town as a conference venue. It first held its Congress in Brighton in 1933 and, particularly from the 1950s onwards, has regularly held its Congress there.

In 1946 the newly elected Labour leader Clement Attlee attended the TUC Congress in Brighton (see photo above).

The photo below shows a card vote during the 1963 Congress in Brighton, a congress that discussed motions on topics such as: trade union recognition; private contracting in public services; equal pay; training of apprentices and youths; workers’ participation in management.

Voting at the 1963 TUC Congress in Brighton.

At the 1976 Congress in Brighton motions discussed the Health and Safety at Work Act which had been passed by Parliament in 1974. Outside the Congress a lobby took place of c.1000 workers from the Grain Power Station in Kent, who were objecting to the use of asbestos at the site (see photo below). Many of the workers had been sacked by a company at the Power Station for refusing to work with asbestos without protective clothing. The dispute eventually ended six months later with the intervention of the Health and Safety Executive. Coincidentally, the Grain Power Station in Kent was demolished in a controlled explosion yesterday (September 7th).

Asbestos lobby at the 1976 Congress in Brighton.

To find out more about the history of the TUC and the labour movement, visit our websites or get in touch.



The Poplar Rate Strike – September 1921


A group of the Poplar councillors following their release from Brixton Prison.

This month marks the 95th anniversary of the imprisonment of the councillors during the Poplar Rate Strike. In March 1921 the borough of Poplar in the East End (now part of Tower Hamlets) was told to implement a large increase in its rates by the London County Council. The rates were an early form of what is now known as Council Tax. The rates were calculated on the rental value of properties and as Poplar was one of the poorest areas of London it generated a low value of rates in comparison to wealthier boroughs. Each borough also had to pay a precept to pay for city-wide services, such as the Metropolitan Police. The Poplar councillors argued that the system for calculating the contribution of each borough was unfair and that such a large increase would disproportionately hit the poor of the borough. They refused to make the increased payments to the London County Council and were imprisoned for contempt of court in September 1921.

The leader of Poplar council was George Lansbury, who would later become leader of the Labour Party. The imprisonment of the councillors created a scandal and a huge outpouring of public support. Some local councils, such as Stepney (whose council leader was future Labour Party leader, Clement Attlee), threatened similar action. After six weeks of campaigning the LCC and the Government relented and the councillors were released from prison (see picture above, with their lawyer W.H. Thompson who founded Thompsons Solicitors). The Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act was rushed through Parliament, which essentially equalised the tax burden between the rich and poor boroughs.

At the 1922 General Election Lansbury won a landslide victory as Labour MP for Bow. “Poplarism” has sinced passed into the political lexicon to describe an act of defiance by local government, particularly in defence of the poor.

To find out more about what the TUC Library holds on the subject of the Poplar Rate Strike, or any other subject, get in touch.


Trade union campaigns for rights of pregnant women


A selection of publications on the subject of pregnancy and maternal rights, from the 1990s to the present.

The TUC has today commented on the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission findings of discrimination against pregnant women on an “industrial scale”.

As the image above shows, the TUC and wider trade union movement have been campaigning against discrimination of pregnant women for decades and have had many successes in securing increased rights for mothers.

The TUC Library documents these campaigns, with publications from a broad range of organisations, including the TUC, unions, the Fawcett Society, the Health and Safety Executive, the EHRC and many academic studies into the issue.

For more information about these items or anything else the TUC Library holds, get in touch.


History of campaigning against sexual harassment at work


A range of material from the TUC Library on the subject of sexual harassment, 1980s-present.

As the media today highlights research undertaken by the TUC that more than half of women report having been sexually harassed at work, the image above shows that it is an issue the trade union movement has been campaigning around for many decades.

The TUC Library contains a collection of reports and leaflets on the subject that date back to the 1970s, when it began to be taken more seriously as a campaigning issue. Our material includes leaflets from the TUC, unions, government departments, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, etc. It also contains other material, such as posters (like this poster from the Local Government Officers union in the 1980s).

We also have the most recent publications from the TUC on the subject, such as this Protection from Sexual Harassment: Know Your Rights guide published earlier this year.

To find out more about the material in the TUC Library, get in touch.


BBC journalists strike – August 1985


Journalists on strike at BBC Television Centre, August 7th 1985. Copyright: TUC Library

This Sunday (7th August) will mark the anniversary of the National Union of Journalists strike at the BBC in 1985. Journalists walked out on strike in opposition to the decision of the BBC Board of Governors to ban the broadcast of a Real Lives documentary on the issue of Northern Ireland. The NUJ argued that the decision was overt censorship following pressure from the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan. The programme was eventually broadcast with several amendments. The strike included some journalists working at ITN, who struck in solidarity with their BBC colleagues.

The photo above shows (from left): the broadcaster Claire Rayner, radio DJ Mike Smith and BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman, amongst others.