May Day 2016 – International Workers’ Day


Sunday 1st May will be International Workers’ Day. Since the 19th century the traditional spring festival of May Day has also become associated with the labour movement, as a celebration of the contribution of working people.

Leaflet from May Day 1938


Our blog post from May Day 2015 contains a number of May Day images and documents from the TUC Library collections. You can also see a selection on our May Day Pinterest page.

“The Co-operative Commonwealth” by Walter Crane, May Day 1926.

For more information about these items or our other May Day collections, get in touch.



Workers’ Memorial Day 2016


Today (Thursday) is Workers’ Memorial Day. This annual event is celebrated on April 28th to commemorate all the workers who have died at work. Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. The day aims to “remember the dead, and fight for the living”.

The theme of this year’s event is “Strong laws – Strong enforcement – Strong unions”. The history of union campaigning for health and safety at work is documented in the TUC Library collections. From the Industrial Revolution onwards, workers have organised to improve factory and workplace conditions. Many of the demands for safety legislation have been prompted by major industrial accidents (such as in the photo below) or strikes over conditions (such as the 1888 matchworkers strike over the use of toxic phosporus).

Explosion at Roberts, Dale and Co. chemical works, 22 June 1887

The TUC Library charts the development throughout the 20th century, to the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, and beyond.

Government poster, 1941

Health and safety, rather undeservedly, often gets a bad press. But it prevents injury and saves lives on a daily basis. Health and safety is also a useful organising issue for union reps, as shown by one of the most recent TUC publications.

To view these items, or anything else in the TUC Library, get in touch.



Second World War “Fight for Freedom” publications


Collection of Fight for Freedom publications, c.1943-45

Today we discovered a collection of books from the Second World War, produced by the “Fight for Freedom” group and published by Hutchinson & Co. Most of the books date from 1943-45. The “Fight for Freedom” group were a collection of German exiles living in Britain, who published a number of works on the progress of the war and their hopes for German reconstruction following an (assumed) Allied victory. Many of the books contain a hand written note from the author to Herbert Tracey, who worked in the Publicity Department of the TUC during WWII.

To find out more about these items, or anything else the TUC Library holds, get in touch.


Back to the land! History of the allotment movement and campaigns for a Land Value Tax


“Allotments for all”, 1918

The TUC Library contains a unique collection of pamphlets on the subject of the allotment and smallholdings movement, and demands for progressive land reform. The modern allotment movement dates from the 1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act, which placed a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments to meet demand. Further Allotments Acts followed in 1922 and 1925.

A guide to the 1908 Act, published by the Independent Labour Party.

Mass unemployment in the 1930s prompted a renewed interest in the provision of land for the unemployed to grow food.

Leaflet produced by the Central Allotments Committee, 1931

An account of Spade Clubs established by the Sheffield Allotments for Unemployed Committee, 1931

There was also some resistance to the “Back to the Land” mentality, which was seen as too simplistic in a modern economy. In the 1920s and 1930s the Homecroft Movement called for workers to remain in their factory and industrial occupations, but find ways to grow food and work a smallholding in their leisure time.

Pamphlet explaining the Homecroft Movement, 1929

The campaign for smallholdings also merged with wider progressive movements for the redistribution and taxation of land. The leaflet below was published by the United Committee for the Taxation of Land Values. It called for wider powers for local authorities to acquire land and the introduction of a land value tax, separating the taxation of the land itself from the improvements made upon it.

Small holdings and Land Valuation, c. 1907

Many such reformers were known as Georgists, as they were inspired by the economist Henry George who had advocated a Land Value Tax in his influential book Progress and Poverty (1879). The pamphlet below, Land Values: Why and How They Should be Taxed, by Josiah Wedgwood MP, explains the reasoning behind the system. It starts with a parable:

There was a Sultan in Egypt, and he taxed the people. For each fig-tree he took payment of ten dinars. So it came to pass that the people cut down their fig trees. Then another Sultan arose, and he took the tax off fig-trees, and taxed instead the soil from which all good things grow. And behold the people planted fig-trees with diligence, and the land flourished exceedingly.

“Land values: why and how they should be taxed” by Josiah Wedgwood MP, 1911.

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