Guest blog: Prof Jerry White on his recent research using the WWI material in the TUC Library



A London Trades Council minute book of July 1914

Jerry White, Professor in History at Birkbeck, University of London, has recently been visiting the TUC Library to consult our First World War material. Jerry writes:

The TUC Library has a fabulous collection of First World War trade union material. I focused on three collections.

1.       The London Trades Council was the representative coordinating council for London trades unions, including some TU branches that subscribed in addition to the relevant TU headquarters, some local Trades and Labour Councils, organised on a borough basis, and a number of Labour and Cooperative MPs. The library has the manuscript and printed Executive Committee minutes and the manuscript minutes of the monthly Delegate Meetings of the Council, frequently involving 70-100 delegates. A wide range of war business was discussed, including attitudes to the war, conscription, food and coal shortages, the work of the London Food Vigilance Committee (formed with the London Labour Party), strikes (including the Police Strike of August 1918), etc.

2.       The Dockers’ Record and the Annual Reports of the Dock, Riverside and General Workers of Great Britain and Ireland provide an overview of the work nationwide of the main dockers’ trade union. There is a complete run of the Annual Reports and numerous issues of the Record. The union was active from 1917 in organising women munitions workers and other women working in manufacturing around the country. The TU’s General Secretary, Ben Tillett, was an active patriot on recruiting platforms.

3.       The National Sailors’ and Firemen’s Union published a fortnightly journal, The Seaman, of which the Library has a complete bound run for the war years and beyond. It gives a glimpse of the rhetoric of the most patriotic, anti-German and anti-pacifist union of the war years. It was also a rabidly xenophobic union, decrying the use of Chinese and ‘coloured’ labour to replace the shortages of home-grown labour, especially from 1917 on.

To find out more about the material we hold relating to the First World War, get in touch:, 020 7133 3726


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