Material on wages in the TUC Library Collections


A selection of boxes on the subject of wages, from 1893 to the present.

The New Year has seen a number of news stories about wages in the UK – from the High Pay Centre’s statistics that by 4th January 2017 CEO’s had already amassed the same wages as the average Briton’s salary for the whole year, to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a maximum wage cap.

The TUC Library contains collections on Britain’s wage rates since the late 19th century, as can be seen in the photo above which shows just one of our many shelves on the topic.

We also have contemporary material from the High Pay Centre, the Low Pay Commission, the Incomes Data Service and a broad range of think tanks, charities, government departments, academic studies, and of course from the TUC and unions.

A small selection of recent publications on wages

To find out more about what the library contains on this or any other topic, or to arrange an appointment to visit, get in touch.


TUC Library Christmas opening hours


The December 1930 issue of the General & Municipal Workers’ Union journal.

The TUC Library will be closed from midday on Friday 23rd December 2016 and will re-open at 9am on Tuesday 3rd January 2017.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our users and supporters.


Workers’ representation and industrial democracy


A selection from the book shelves on industrial democracy

Following on from our previous post that mentioned the recent debate about workers on company boards, we thought we would turn the spotlight on the material in the TUC Library on the subject of industrial democracy.

From the period of the establishment of the TUC in the late 19th century, the issue of workers’ representation and control over their work process has been a central demand of the labour movement. The developments of “new unionism“, anarcho-syndicalism, workers’ cooperatives, and guild socialism, were all hotly debated in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Following the Second World War the TUC attempted to influence the economic reconstruction and industrial relations environment by lobbying for more workplace democracy, planning and co-determination (as can be seen in this document here), a structure that became the model in Continental economies such as Germany.

By the 1960s and 1970s this model was coming under strain in the UK, exemplified by the document In Place of Strife issued by the Wilson Government and the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations (known as the Donovan Commission) in 1968. Continued industrial strife in the 1970s led to the 1977 Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Industrial Democracy, chaired by Lord Bullock, a report that recommended radical reforms to company board structures to embed employee representation. The recommendations were never enacted, however. The TUC Library contains not only the Report itself but a wide variety of publications and commentary from the period. The TUC continued to lobby for increased workplace democracy into the 1980s and 1990s.

The TUC Library copy of the Bullock Report.

A selection of TUC publicaions on industrial democracy from the 1970s and 80s

The TUC continues to produce material on the subject and published a number of reports in recent years, prior to the government of Theresa May putting the issue back on the public agenda. You can view online versions of the publications shown below here, here, here and here.

TUC publications on the subject of workplace democracy (2013 – 2016).

For more information about this topic, or any of the items featured, get in touch.



Spotlight on the Tavistock Institute archive project


A pamphlet box from the TUC Library, containing material published by the Tavistock Institute.

Following our recent participation in the Senate House Libraries & Research History Day, we discovered a fascinating project by the library of the Wellcome Trust to catalogue the archives of the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations.

The Tavistock Institute was founded in 1946 and studies organisational behaviour, workplace relations and management psychology. Their archive collections therefore share a great deal in common with those of the TUC Library.

You can follow the progress of the project at

The TUC Library holds a number of publications from the Tavistock Institute, including some of their annual reports and a run of their journal Human Relations.

There are also one-off publications such as this statement of the Institute’s aims and organization.

There are also publications with a more topical relevance, such as this report from 1970 into the issue of workers’ participation on management boards (from a case study of British Rail employees):

“Worker participation in management” report by the Tavistock Institute, 1970.

For more information about what the TUC Library holds from the Tavistock Institute, or any of the wider subjects such as workplace relations and psychology, get in touch.


We’ve moved! – TUC Library moves to new home in Aldgate


The TUC Library has completed its move to a new building and Reading Room at London Metropolitan University’s Old Castle Street building at Aldgate in the City of London. The building, known as The Wash Houses, retains the exterior of the old Whitechapel public baths which were in use since the 1850s.

The TUC Library now shares the building with the University’s other Special Collections, including the University archive, the Frederick Parker furniture making collection, and the Archive of the Irish in Britain.

Access to the new Reading Room is from the university entrance at 16 Goulston Street (see map).

Our new contact details are:

TUC Library Collections
London Metropolitan University
Special Collections
CC2-01 The Wash Houses
Old Castle Street
London E1 7NT
Tel: 020 7320 3516

Nearest tube stations are Aldgate (Circle and Metropolitan Lines) and Aldgate East (Hammersmith & City and District Lines).

Our opening hours remain unchanged – Monday to Friday, 09.00 – 17.00 – as do all our other services. Stay tuned to the blog for future updates about the activities of the Special Collections.

For more information, or to arrange an appointment to visit the library, get in touch.

Living Wage Week – history of campaigning for decent pay


This week is Living Wage Week (30th October – 5th November), organised by the Living Wage Foundation. The Foundation raises awareness about the importance of a living wage throughout the UK that meets the real cost of living. Every year at the start of Living Wage Week the independently-calculated living wage for London and the rest of the UK is announced. You can see the figures here.

The TUC Library holds material that documents the long struggle by working people for a minimum, and a living, wage. The document below is from 1906, when a minimum wage conference was organised by The National Anti-Sweating League. This reminds us that in many ways the existence of insecure, low paid work, based on piece rates or long hours, is nothing new.

In the 1940s the same issues prompted the article below – “How do girls manage?” – from the postal union journal. The article discusses how a young woman, living alone, can meet the rising costs of living.

It was also an issue that concerned apprenticeships during that period, as shown in the newspaper cutting below. In 1941 apprentices won a large pay rise, negotiated by the various engineering unions and the Engineering Employers’ Federation.

A fair and equal wage for women also became an important campaigning issue in the post-war economy, culminating in the passing of the 1970 Equal Pay Act. However, as our Winning Equal Pay website shows, equal pay for women in many sectors is still an issue today.

In the 1970s there were increasing disputes between unions, employers and the Government over the issue of prices and incomes policy and the straining of the Social Contract. The image below is from a strike by domestic staff and cleaners, demanding a living wage, at an Oxford University college in 1972.

By 1979 the disputes over what constituted a fair pay rise and a living wage culiminated in the “Winter of Discontent”, particularly affecting low paid workers in the public sector.

To find out more about any of the items, or any other material held in the library, get in touch.




Grunwick strike 40th anniversary celebrated in new exhibition


The TUC Library has contributed some items to the new exhibition “We are the lions” at Brent Museum and Archives, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick strike 1976-78.

Staff from the TUC Library attended the packed launch event in Brent last night and the exhibition opens today (19th October) and runs until March 2018. The exhibition has been created by the Grunwick40 group, combining the Brent Museum and trades council and with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Grunwick strike was an influential period of industrial action involving mainly Asian women workers at a film processing plant in Brent. The TUC Library holds a significant collection of material relating to the strike, including a number of posters and photos that can be seen on our history website here, here and here.

Guests at the launch event viewing the exhibition

For more information about what the TUC Library holds on the strike, get in touch.


“They shall not pass” – Battle of Cable Street anniversary


Last week saw the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, 4th October 1936, when thousands of Londoners prevented the march of Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts down Cable Street in the East End.

The rise of fascism across Europe in the early 1930s was of great concern to the TUC and the trade union movement, and they campaigned actively against it.

The cartoon below featured in an issue of the journal of the General and Municipal Workers Union in the 1930s. A blackshirt is showing a trade unionist the “unity” of the fascist cause, and the unionist replies “I seem to remember it isn’t reeds you tie up, but trade unionists..”.

Anti-fascist cartoon from the GMWU journal, October 1933.

In 1933 a series of marches and demonstrations had been organised by the TUC and unemployed workers organisations to highlight the issue of unemployment and the relationship between economic hardship and the rise of fascist sympathies. The poster below was produced by the Joint Council (TUC and the Labour Party) for the February 1933 National Unemployment Demonstration.

The National Unemployed Workers Movement produced a number of pamphlets on the relationship between unemployment and facsism, such as the one below entitled “Fascist Danger and the Unemployed”.

The TUC Library is in the process of relocating to a new building quite close to Cable Street in Tower Hamlets. Our collections will soon be moved to a London Metropolitan University building on Old Castle Street, between Aldgate and Aldgate East tube stations. Please refer back to the TUC Library webpages for updates about the progress of the relocation.

For more information about the items featured in this post, or any other TUC Library material, get in touch at or phone 020 7320 3516.



TUC annual Congress in Brighton


Clement Attlee (second left) with General Secretary of the TUC, Vincent Tewson (second right), at the 1946 Congress in Brighton.

The annual TUC Congress takes place in Brighton next week, from Sunday 11th – Wednesday 14th September. The TUC has a long association with the seaside town as a conference venue. It first held its Congress in Brighton in 1933 and, particularly from the 1950s onwards, has regularly held its Congress there.

In 1946 the newly elected Labour leader Clement Attlee attended the TUC Congress in Brighton (see photo above).

The photo below shows a card vote during the 1963 Congress in Brighton, a congress that discussed motions on topics such as: trade union recognition; private contracting in public services; equal pay; training of apprentices and youths; workers’ participation in management.

Voting at the 1963 TUC Congress in Brighton.

At the 1976 Congress in Brighton motions discussed the Health and Safety at Work Act which had been passed by Parliament in 1974. Outside the Congress a lobby took place of c.1000 workers from the Grain Power Station in Kent, who were objecting to the use of asbestos at the site (see photo below). Many of the workers had been sacked by a company at the Power Station for refusing to work with asbestos without protective clothing. The dispute eventually ended six months later with the intervention of the Health and Safety Executive. Coincidentally, the Grain Power Station in Kent was demolished in a controlled explosion yesterday (September 7th).

Asbestos lobby at the 1976 Congress in Brighton.

To find out more about the history of the TUC and the labour movement, visit our websites or get in touch.



The Poplar Rate Strike – September 1921


A group of the Poplar councillors following their release from Brixton Prison.

This month marks the 95th anniversary of the imprisonment of the councillors during the Poplar Rate Strike. In March 1921 the borough of Poplar in the East End (now part of Tower Hamlets) was told to implement a large increase in its rates by the London County Council. The rates were an early form of what is now known as Council Tax. The rates were calculated on the rental value of properties and as Poplar was one of the poorest areas of London it generated a low value of rates in comparison to wealthier boroughs. Each borough also had to pay a precept to pay for city-wide services, such as the Metropolitan Police. The Poplar councillors argued that the system for calculating the contribution of each borough was unfair and that such a large increase would disproportionately hit the poor of the borough. They refused to make the increased payments to the London County Council and were imprisoned for contempt of court in September 1921.

The leader of Poplar council was George Lansbury, who would later become leader of the Labour Party. The imprisonment of the councillors created a scandal and a huge outpouring of public support. Some local councils, such as Stepney (whose council leader was future Labour Party leader, Clement Attlee), threatened similar action. After six weeks of campaigning the LCC and the Government relented and the councillors were released from prison (see picture above, with their lawyer W.H. Thompson who founded Thompsons Solicitors). The Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act was rushed through Parliament, which essentially equalised the tax burden between the rich and poor boroughs.

At the 1922 General Election Lansbury won a landslide victory as Labour MP for Bow. “Poplarism” has sinced passed into the political lexicon to describe an act of defiance by local government, particularly in defence of the poor.

To find out more about what the TUC Library holds on the subject of the Poplar Rate Strike, or any other subject, get in touch.