Studying Working Life in Jamaica


Yvonne Brown

Yvonne Brown, a visiting researcher/author from Canada, has spent the last four weeks in the TUC Library and The National Archives researching the history of her grand-father in Jamaica and the wider social, political and economic history for a biography.

I am very pleased to sing the praises of the Trade Union Congress Library Collection at the London Metropolitan University.  I came upon this rich source of colonial labour and economic history during a course on archival research that I took at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London.

For the period of my study in which I am writing a biography of Charles Archibald Reid an Afro-Jamaican who went from being a shoemaker to being thrice elected to the Legislative Council of the Crown Colony Government of Jamaica. This was a time during which labour conditions, unemployment and poverty stalked the land. The customary sources for studying this period are the National Archives and the Local Archives.

The TUC Library provides a rich complement to these two main archives with an emphasis, of course, on both the organization of labour unions and giving voice to the poor labourer. It was profound to read their actual words in the local patois. In stock are numerous reports, studies, cutting, position papers, posters, books, and pamphlets of the TUC, local colonial governments as well as the British parliamentary records of major decisions and their effects on people.

I was impressed by the scope and detail of the collection. My biography will have a much richer context for having explored some this collect. Thanks and appreciation to Jeff Howarth, TUC Librarian and James Goddard, Research Assistant for their guidance through this vast collection. One visit is of course not enough (I spent an unplanned four days there). I will be back! 


James MacDonald, trade unionist

Paula Bodington, great-granddaughter of James Ramsey

Paula Bodington, great-granddaughter of James MacDonald

Paula Bodington came in to investigate her great-grandfather’s role in the history of the labour movement and Labour Party. James MacDonald was born in Edinburgh in 1857, he moved to London and trained as a tailor. He was was an exceptional activist, secretary of the London sector of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and secretary of the London Society of Tailors and Tailoresses. He was also secretary of the London Trades Council for 11 years, and active in the Social Democratic Federation (former members included William Morris, George Lansbury and Eleanor Marx) and the Independent Labour Party.

There were a number of references to James, a particularly exciting one of which Paula discovered in the 1900 Labour Representation Committee Conference Report where James, representing the SDF,  proposes the establishment of a Labour Party in Parliament -

That the representatives of the working class movement in the House of Commons shall form there a distinct party, with a party organisation separate from the capitalist parties based upon a recognition of the class war, and having for its ultimate object the socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

James MacDonald, trade unionist (not James Ramsey MacDonald)

She also confirmed a family suspicion that James Ramsey MacDonald’s success was certainly initially to do with the existing popularity of Paula’s great grandfather and his sharing an almost identical name.


From the Archives: Songs of Faith, Nature and Comradeship, 1927


This pamphlet, “Songs of Faith, Nature and Comradeship”, is part of the Workers’ Educational Association archive, held at the TUC Library. Published by William Morris Press, 1927, it contains a collection of traditional songs and hymns on pastoral and fraternal themes, including classics such as ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

From the frontispiece:

Sing them upon the sunny hills,
When days are long and bright,
And the blue gleam of shining rills
Is loveliest to the sight:
Sing them along the misty moor,
Where ancient hunters roved,
And swell them thro’ the torrent’s roar,
The songs our fathers loved.”
- Felicia Hemans




1970s Industrial Relations Poster


Industrial relations poster, 1970s

We recently discovered this poster in the library. We think it is from the campaign against the Industrial Relations Bill 1971, or possibly from the campaign to release the “Pentonville Five” in 1972 (see a previous blog post for more information on the 1971 Bill and the Pentonville Five).

If you have any information that could shed light on the poster and when it was produced, get in touch with us at, 020 7133 3726.


On This Day: 1889 – Start of the Great Dock Strike


The London Dock Strike Finance Committee, including Ben Tillett, John Burns and Tom Mann. 1889

On August 14th 1889 the London Dock Strike began, precipitated by the Tea Operatives’ and General Labourers’ Association led by Ben Tillett, and quickly supported by larger and stronger unions representing many different trades on the docks.

In combination with the highly publicised Matchworkers Strike of 1888, this became a period known as “New Unionism”, when a series of industrial disputes took place across the country and a large number of new unions were formed.

Ben Tillett (1860-1943), founder and secretary of the Tea Operatives’ and General Labourers’ Union during the Great Dock Strike


Bernie Passingham (1925-2015), union convenor at Ford Dagenham dispute


We’re sorry to hear of the passing of Bernie Passingham, who was an influential union convenor during the 1968 Ford sewing machinists’ strike at Dagenham. Bernie’s obituary appeared in The Independent this week.

Bernie is interviewed in one of the videos on our Winning Equal Pay website, sharing his memories of the strike. You can view the video and download a transcript here:


New book: Workplace Equality in Europe


We’re very pleased to have just received a new book written by colleagues at the Working Lives Research Institute at London Metropolitan University. Workplace Equality in Europe: the Role of Trade Unions is written by Anna Paraskevopoulou and Sonia McKay and published by Ashgate Publications:

Drawing on data from a Europe wide project, together with existing data on equality and diversity initiatives, this book explores the work of trade unions in supporting equality and anti-discrimination policies across Europe and, in particular, the processes and collaborations involved in incorporating equality and diversity policies into trade union agendas. It considers theoretical issues of equality and diversity, the role of EU legislation, multiple discrimination and exclusion and disadvantage in the labour market in relation to the role of trade unions, and addresses central questions about the actions and challenges faced by trade unions in promoting equality in the workplace and in implementing anti-discrimination policies at local, national and European levels.

With research spanning 34 European countries and extending to over 250 interviews and 15 case studies, Workplace Equality in Europe examines the impact of a period of economic crisis on workplace diversity, exploring forms of inter-union cooperation at European and international levels and shedding fresh light on the processes that lead some trade unions to adopt equality policies while others remain reluctant to develop or expand policies in this area.

A detailed European study of trade union activity and workplace diversity, this book will be of interest to scholars of the sociology of work and organisations, labour relations and workplace diversity.”

To see the book, or get in touch, visit us at: