Evidence of the The Pitmen Painters in the WEA archive


Inspired by a recent visit to see a performance of The Pitmen Painters, we thought we would see if we have anything in the library relating to the play. The Pitmen Painters is a play written by Lee Hall, writer of Billy Elliot. Based on William Feaver’s book, it tells the true story of a group of miners who took up painting as a hobby in the 1930s and went on to receive international critical success. The group of miners were part of the “Ashington Group”, a branch of the Workers’ Educational Association in Ashington, Northumberland.

The WEA had been founded in 1903 to give working people an opportunity to undertake lectures and evening classes, opportunities previously available only to a small section of society who had the ability to purchase further and higher education.

The archive papers of the WEA are held at the TUC Library Collections and the annual report for 1936 lists the Ashington branch as having their first “Appreciation of Applied Art” class, which first inspired the pitmen to take up painting (see below, marked with a red arrow):

The first “Appreciation of Applied Art” class held at the Ashington branch of the WEA, 1936

The annual report for 1938/39 also lists the “Appreciation of Applied Art” class and names the tutor as R. Lyon (see below, marked with red arrow). The report also states that 24 classes took place that year, with 18 students enrolled. Also that year the Ashington branch had classes in Political Philosophy and Old Testament History.

The entry in the WEA Northern District annual report, 1938/39

For information on the WEA archive and how to make a visit, get in touch.


Government reforms right to strike and restrictions on picketing – 1927


Copyright TUC

As the Government today publishes its Trade Union Bill – to reform unions and the right to strike – we look back at a similar campaign in 1927.

The Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act 1927 banned civil service unions affiliating to the TUC, banned general strikes and sympathetic strike action, forced union members to contract-in to the political levy and placed restrictions on picketing.

The TUC and the Labour Party opposed the Act, producing leaflets and cartoons such as the one above. They also formed the National Trade Union Defence Committee to campaign against the passing of the legislation. The Committee produced a number of publications, such as the leaflet below, and organised a mass demonstration in Hyde Park on June 26th 1927. The Act was later repealed by the Attlee Government in 1946.

Copyright TUC/Labour Party

To find out more on the subject of unions and the right to strike, use the Timeline section on our history website.


Nelson Mandela Day – July 18th


Saturday 18th July is International Nelson Mandela Day, a celebration of Mandela’s life and legacy in fighting apartheid and social injustice.

The UK trade union and labour movement were heavily involved in campaigning against the apartheid regime in South Africa and for the release of Mandela from prison. As a result, the TUC Library contains a large collection of material documenting the activities of the TUC, unions and other groups. The image above shows just a small selection of the pamphlets, leaflets and flyers in the collection.

The document below was one of many produced by the TUC in the 1980s on the subject. “Beating Apartheid”, published in 1986, set out the TUC’s plans to organise campaigns and demonstrations, boycott South African goods, support victimised South African trade unionists and campaign for British companies and pension funds to disinvest from South Africa.

Publication from the TUC, 1986, setting out its campaign plans for opposing apartheid.



Radical paper The North Briton, 1764


The image above is of the radical paper The North Briton, 1764, one of the oldest items in the TUC Library collections.

The North Briton was also the pseudonym of the paper’s author, John Wilkes. This volume includes the famous “Issue No. 45″, which criticised the King and for which Wilkes was charged with seditious libel and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The subsequent court cases, which Wilkes ultimately won, were notable for Wilkes’ defence of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

You can see more info on The North Briton here and here.



New books in July!


We have acquired a number of new books this month, including: the new revised edition of Sarah Boston’s Women Workers and the Trade Unions; The Future of Union Organising edited by Gregor Gall; Safe at Work? by Dave Putson; The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz and Making Employment Rights Effective edited by Linda Dickens.

To find out more, or make an appointment to consult these books, get in touch.



Holidays with Pay – July 1938


TUC pamphlet, Holidays for All, 1937

If you’re off on your holidays soon, spare a thought for those who lived prior to 1938, when there was no statutory entitlement to a holiday in the UK.

In July 1938 a Committee of Inquiry report recommended the gradual introduction of a statutory right to a holiday. This became the Holidays with Pay Act 1938.

The TUC had been campaigning for paid holidays since 1911. In 1936 an International Labour Convention on holidays was passed by the ILO, which prompted the UK government to establish the Committee of Inquiry.

The TUC pamphlet above, Holidays for All, contains the TUC’s submission of evidence to the Commission. The Holidays with Pay Act introduced the right to a one week holiday for those workers whose minimum rates of pay were set by Trades Boards. The TUC was disappointed with the legislation, as it had been campaigning for a two week holiday.

TUC pamphlet, 1939