European Referendum – 2016 vs 1975


Campaign leaflets from the Yes camp (Britain in Europe) and the No camp (The National Referendum Campaign)

As the country comes to terms with the implications of the historic decision to leave the EU, it’s useful to compare the referendum campaign debate with that of the 1975 referendum on continued EEC membership.

Official Government leaflet sent to every household in the UK, 1975

The TUC view on the referendum, April 1975. The document did not officially back either the Yes or No camp, but raised various concerns with the EC renegotiation and leant towards the No position.

The TUC Library contains a unique collection of material from the 1975 referendum, including the original legislation, the campaign literature from the Yes and No camps, and the official view of organisations such as the TUC, the trade unions, the Government, the Labour Party, etc.

As with the current referendum, there were big differences of opinion on both sides of the Yes and No campaigns in 1975. The TUC had opposed joining the EEC in 1973 and during the referendum leant towards the leave camp. Many in the wider labour and trade union movement also wanted to leave the EEC, although the official view of the Wilson Government was to remain (see above). But there were also divisions within the left, particularly on demographic lines. The organisation Young European Left campaigned for a decisive vote to remain, as it believed it was in the best interests of Britain’s young people (see below).

Leaflet produced by Young European Left, 1975

For more information about the items featured, or any other material the TUC Library holds, get in touch.


TUC Library exhibition at the Radical Histories conference, 1st – 3rd July


The TUC Library’s recent exhibition “Solidarity and the Miners Strike, 1984-85” will be on display at the Radical Histories/Histories of Radicalism conference at Queen Mary, University of London from Friday 1st – Sunday 3rd July 2016.

Themes include: the history of radicalism; utopian and protest movements; radical education; politics of housing; radical art; peace activism.

More information about the conference and how to register to attend can be found here.


1982 – miners strike in solidarity with NHS workers


National Union of Public Employees (now UNISON) poster during the 12% pay campaign, 1982

On this day in 1982 (16th June) miners in the South Wales collieries went out on strike in solidarity with NHS workers who were campaigning for a 12% pay rise. For several years prior the inflation rate had been running at 12% or above and the miners felt they were involved in a similar battle with the Conservative government over pay negotiations.

The pay demands continued throughout the summer and in September the TUC organised a “Defend the NHS” rally and Day of Action. With the intervention of ACAS an agreement was eventually reached later in the year.

TUC poster promoting the 22nd September Day of Action

TUC poster promoting the 22nd September Day of Action

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


All to Dorchester! The Tolpuddle Festival, July 15th – 17th


In a month’s time the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival begins in the village of Tolpuddle, near Dorchester, Dorset. The festival commemorates the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of agricultural labourers arrested and transported to Australia in 1834 for forming a trade union. This year’s festival takes place between Friday 15th – Sunday 17th July and will include the usual assortment of live music, talks, workshops, family events and rallies.

There have been a number of events held in Tolpuddle to commemorate the Martyrs since the late 19th century, but a regular festival has taken place ever since the TUC organised a large-scale celebration to mark the centenary in 1934.

“All to Dorchester”, TUC leaflet advertising the 1934 centenary celebrations at Tolpuddle.

The TUC Library contains an extensive collection of material on the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the history of the festival. To find out more, get in touch.


History of football players’ unions


As the European football championship kicks off later today, we thought we would take a look at the history of Britain’s football trade unions.

The Professional Footballers’ Association is rather unusual and in many ways is one of Britain’s most successful trade unions. Though still overwhelmingly drawing its members from the working classes, the PFA has helped to establish its members as some of the most highly paid and well protected (in terms of collective bargaining) of all workers in Britain.

Founded in 1907 from a meeting in the Imperial Hotel in Manchester by footballers Billy Meredith and Charlie Roberts, it was originally known as the Association Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union (or more commonly as simply The Players’ Union).

Union rule book, 1957

Unions are often stereotyped as wanting to secure various restrictions and regulations for their members, but the Players’ Union was formed with precisely the opposite intention. It wanted to liberalise players’ terms and conditions, in particular by abolishing the “retain and transfer system” that then existed, which made it very difficult for players to terminate a contract of employment with one club and move to another. The union also sought to abolish the maximum wage that was imposed in the Football League. Disagreement between the Players’ Union and the FA almost resulted in a strike of football players in 1909, as the FA de-recognised the union and banned players from affiliating to it.

Membership dwindled, but the union continued the fight during the inter-war period, and the 1950s saw a period of modernisation. Jimmy Hill became General Secretary of the union in 1956. Hill changed the name of the union to the Professional Footballers’ Association and made numerous influential reforms to the modern game of football (see this excellent summary on the BBC website). In 1961, threatening a strike, Hill successfully negotiated the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers. Further legal challenges to the transfer system liberalised the movement of players between clubs.

PFA rule book, 1970

The TUC Library holds a copy of John Harding’s official history of the PFA “For the Good of the Game” and a number of rule books and other documents. For more information about what we hold, get in touch.

History of the PFA produced for an exhibition at the National Museum of Labour History, 1991