Material on the subject of theatre and the arts


The trade union and labour movement have long campaigned for access to culture and the arts to be available to the many, not just the few.

At the 1960 TUC Congress Resolution 42 on the subject of ‘Promotion and Encouragement of the Arts’ stated:

Congress recognises the importance of the arts in the life of the community, especially now when many unions are securing a shorter working week and greater leisure time for their members. It notes that the trade union movement has participated to only a small extent in the direct promotion and encouragement of plays, films, music, literature and other forms of expression including those of value to its beliefs and principles. Congress considers that much more could be done and accordingly requests the General Council to conduct a special examination and to make proposals to a future Congress to ensure greater participation by the trade union movement in all cultural activities.

The motion was carried by the Congress and its subsequent implementation produced the Centre 42 cultural group and theatre company. The TUC Library contains a collection of material related to Centre 42, including event programmes, flyers and photos. The group arranged a number of trade union festivals in the early 60s, including music performances from the FortyTwo jazz orchestra.

Programme from the Centre 42 Bristol Trades Union Festival, 1962

The Centre 42 Jazz Orchestra performing at the Nottingham Trades Union Festival, 1962

In 1964 Centre 42 acquired a train shed, the Circular Engine House in Camden, London, and turned it into an arts and theatre venue. Today the venue is better known as the Roundhouse.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, in response to rising unemployment, the TUC organised the Campaign for Economic and Social Advance. The campaign included a rally at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, entitled “Bread and Roses: Rally in Defense of Education and the Arts”. The name referred to the claim, associated with a textile strike in the USA in 1912, that unions campaign not only for the maintenance of basic living standards – ‘bread’ – but also for working people to have access to the ‘roses’ of culture and the arts.

Flyer for the TUC-organised Bread and Roses rally, 1980

The TUC Library also contains extensive collections of material from the major unions representing workers in the arts, notably Equity representing actors, BECTU respresenting technicians, the Musicians’ Union, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, etc.

An issue of “The Performer”, 1922, journal of the Variety Artistes’ Federation, a predecessor union to Equity.

To find out more about these collections, or arrange an appointment to visit, get in touch.



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