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The Trades Union Congress, 1936-1939: Its history and organisation

This guide uses sources from the 1930s to give a general overview of how the Trades Union Congress operated during that period. It is arranged in the following sections:

 

About the Trades Union Congress

This 24 point profile of the Trades Union Congress was included in the commemorative book '70 years of trade unionism', published by the TUC in 1938 to celebrate its 70th anniversary [document reference: MSS.78/5/7/13].

Trades Union Congress, 19371. Congress is a voluntary organisation formed in 1868 and now consists of 214 affiliated Unions.

2. It meets for one week in every year, commencing on the first Monday in September.

3. Its affiliated membership at the end of 1937 was 4,460,000 members.

4. Unions pay an affiliation fee of 2 1/2 pence per member per annum. In addition they pay an amount not exceeding 15 shillings per 1,000 members to Congress for remission to the International Federation of Trade Unions.

5. Congress meets in a different town every year. The place of meeting is usually decided by the General Council upon proposals made by the affiliated Unions.

6. Unions appoint delegates up to a maximum of one delegate for every 5,000 members or part thereof.

7. Congress discusses a wide range of subjects of an industrial, economic and political character affecting Trade Unions in both national and international spheres.

8. Its Agenda consists of a report submitted by the General Council, and of resolutions forwarded by the affiliated Unions.

9. The report and resolutions are usually forwarded to delegates fourteen days prior to the opening of Congress.

10. Voting may be by voice or show of hands, but on all principal issues the normal procedure is to vote by card. Each Union is entitled to one vote for every 1,000 members.

11. Resolutions and decisions of the Congress are remitted to the General Council to take whatever action may be necessary, the Council acting as an Executive Committee.

12. The General Council is elected by Congress as a whole, the Unions being combined in 17 industrial groups.

13. The General Council consists of 30 members elected in this way, and in addition 2 women members.

14. Candidates must be nominated by Unions in the Group concerned. Only Unions catering for women members are allowed to nominate for the Women's Group.

15. The General Council meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month except in August, when it meets just prior to the opening of the Congress. Special meetings are held as circumstances may necessitate.

16. The Council appoints from its own membership a number of Standing Committees to give detailed consideration to all questions. These Committees submit recommendations to the full Council.

17. The main Standing Committees are: Finance and General Purposes, Disputes, Education, Organisation, Social Insurance, International and Economic.

18. In addition a number of special and joint Committees with other bodies are appointed.

19. On important political questions consultation takes place with the Labour Party through the National Council of Labour, which represents the [Trades Union Congress] General Council, the Executive Committee of the Labour Party and the Executive Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

20. The Annual Congress is attended by fraternal delegates appointed by such bodies as the International Federation of Trade Unions, the American Federation of Labour, the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress, the Co-operative Congress and the Labour Party. The British TUC reciprocates by sending fraternal delegates each year to the Conferences of these bodies.

21. Congress is affiliated to the International Federation of Trade Unions, representing over 20,000,000 Trade Unionists in different countries.

22. It preserves friendly relations with the Scottish and Irish Trades Union Congresses, and other Labour organisations.

23. The official Minutes of the Annual Congress are recorded by the Secretary of the Trades Council, whose appointment as Minute Secretary is usually moved by the President of Congress. In addition, the full proceedings are recorded by a staff of shorthand writers.

24. The Congress Report generally extends to 500 pages, and is printed within fourteen days of the termination of Congress. It is available for sale usually at the price of 2 shillings and 6 pence per copy [copies of the Congress report between 1868-1968 are available online through the TUC History Online website].

 

The Trades Union Congress General Council:

Its history and organisation

The following is an edited version of an anonymous article on 'The General Council of the British Trades Union Congress' written in 1936. The article appeared in the souvenir agenda of the 7th International Trades Union Congress, held in London between 8-11 July 1936 [document reference: MSS.159/5/2/42].

The TUC General Council in 1938The work of the Trades Union Congress General Council was formerly carried out by a body called the Parliamentary Committee of twelve (later sixteen) members, elected at the annual British Trades Union Congresses. Before its establishment in 1871, the organised Movement possessed no lasting central body to direct its activities or to co-ordinate and unify its organisations.

As the title implies, the Parliamentary Committee operated mainly through Parliament and its Ministers and their Departments. It was successful in determining much of the character of British social legislation. Measures for franchise reform, for free unsectarian education, for the reform of conditions in factories, for workmen's compensation, for social insurance, were all largely influenced by the activities of the Parliamentary Committee.

In the years 1914-1918, the membership of the British trade unions was more than doubled. This influx of members helped to create the feeling that the machinery at the disposal of the Parliamentary Committee needed extension. Reorganisation took place in 1920. The name of the Committee was changed into the General Council, and the number of members increased to 32. These members are elected by a ballot of the whole Trades Union Congress. Election takes place on the basis of the following groups of industries:

Mining and Quarrying 3 members
Railways 3 members
Transport (other than Railways) 3 members
Shipbuilding 1 member
Engineering, Founding and Vehicle Building 3 members
Iron and Steel, and minor Metal Trades 2 members
Building, Woodworking and Furnishing 2 members
Printing and Paper 1 member
Cotton 2 members
Textiles (other than Cotton) 1 member
Clothing 1 member
Leather and Boot and Shoe 1 member
Glass, Pottery, Chemicals, Food, Drink, Tobacco, Brushmaking and Distribution 1 member
Agriculture 1 member
Public Employees 1 member
Non-Manual Workers 1 member
General Workers 3 members
Women Workers 2 members

 

Every union in a group has the right to nominate a candidate to represent the group. After each Congress, the General Council, at their first meeting, elect a Chairman, who becomes later the President of the next Congress. Various Committees are also elected, whose purpose is to plan out methods of giving effect to the decisions taken by Congress.

There is, for instance, a Disputes Committee, which acts as a conciliating body in all disputes arising between unions; the Organisation Committee which has for its main objects the increase of trade union membership; the Education Committee, which arranges for the education of trade unionists; the Social Insurance Committee which deals with all problems affecting the insurance of the workmen. Attached to this Committee, in an advisory capacity, is a Medical Advisor and Consultant, whose services are most valuable in connection with saving workmen from the scourge of industrial diseases and poisons.

There is also an Economic Committee, which advises the Council on questions of national economic policy as they affect the workers. An International Committee has charge of the relations between the British trade unions and the I.F.T.U. [International Federation of Trade Unions], and also carries out the necessary preparatory work for the representation of the trade unions at the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. The National Women's Advisory Committee deals especially with industrial problems and organisation affecting women workers.

Organisational chart

In dealing with all the day-to-day problems which arise, the General Council follows the general lines of a constructive Charter which the Congress has drawn up. This Charter aims at the transformation of existing institutions in such a way that ultimately there will exist in Great Britain complete democratic control of industry, with the elimination of profit-making, and a more just sharing-out of the wealth of the nation.

In 1899 the Trades Union Congress decided to organise the independent representation in Parliament of the British working class. A Labour Representation Committee was appointed for the purpose, and in 1906 a compact party of 29 Labour Members entered the House of Commons.

Space does not allow for a detailed account of the work or progress of the Labour Party. It must suffice to say that, becoming officially recognised as the Opposition Party in Parliament, a Labour Government was formed in 1924; and again in 1929 another Labour Government with a Labour Prime Minister took charge of the interests of the Nation.

At the last General Election, held in November, 1935, 154 Labour Members were returned, representing a total electorate of 8,326,131.

Representatives appointed by the Labour Members in the House of Commons, with members of the [Trades Union Congress] General Council and members of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party itself, form the body known as the National Council of Labour. This Council meets every month and special meetings are summoned in cases of emergency. The Council co-ordinates trade union with Parliamentary action and its decisions are recognised as the authoritative and united voice of the British Trade Union and Labour Movement.

In regularly surveying and examining economic and political conditions, this joint body has developed important functions. It organises an intelligence service, giving to its joint membership, by means of the "Daily Herald" and other publications, the right perspective of facts, and indicating the policy to pursue; it works out detailed plans for reforms; it organises opposition to anti-social projects; it keeps in close touch with the two central Internationals of the Trade Unions and the Socialist Parties [the International Federational of Trade Unions and the Labour and Socialist International], promoting in this way the tendencies that exist favouring organisation of the world's economic life, and concerting action for maintaining the principle of collective security based on the Covenant and the League of Nations.

 

Officers of the Trades Union Congress General Council between 1936-1939:

Sir Walter Citrine 
General Secretary:
 
Sir Walter Citrine (WMC)

Walter McLennan Citrine was born in Wallasey (near Liverpool) in 1887. An electrician by trade, Citrine rose through the ranks of the Electrical Trades Union, finally becoming Assistant Secretary of the ETU between 1920-23. He was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Trades Union Congress in 1924, and took over as Acting Secretary in 1925. He was confirmed as General Secretary in 1926 and stayed in office until his retirement from the post in 1946. Citrine played an active part in international trade unionism, serving as President of the International Federation of Trade Unions between 1928-1945.

 Vincent Tewson (during 1920s)
Assistant General Secretary:
 
Vincent Tewson (HVT)

Harold Vincent Tewson was born in Bradford in 1898. His first job on leaving school was in the central office of the Amalgamated Society of Dyers and, with the exception of 3 years army service during the First World War, Tewson worked there continuously until his appointment as TUC Organisation Secretary in 1925. Tewson was promoted to Assistant General Secretary in 1931 and took over the post of General Secretary from Sir Walter Citrine in 1946.

 

Departments:
Education
Education

This department dealt with a range of educational issues relevant to trade unionists, including trade union scholarships to Ruskin College, Oxford, and international and national summer schools. It also maintained contact with organisations such as the Workers' Educational Association and the National Council of Labour Colleges.

Head of department: J.V.C. Wray
Finance
Finance

The Finance Department managed the regular income and expenditure of the Trades Union Congress, and took financial control of special appeals launched by the TUC.

Head of department: E. Parkin
International
International

The International Department maintained contact with trade unions of other countries, various international institutions (including the International Labour Organisation, the International Federation of Trade Unions, and the International Trade Secretariats), and sections of the British government. It provided information on international affairs to the TUC General Council and affiliated unions.

Head of department: W.J. Bolton

Bolton was the longest serving member of the TUC staff, and was first hired to work for the TUC Parliamentary Committee (the precursor of the General Council) in 1903.

Other staff included: Ernest A. Bell, Albert Edward Carthy.
Organisation
Organisation

This department was concerned with the development of trade union membership and structure, the conduct of negotiations for the amalgamation of unions, and similar questions.

Head of department: E.P. Harries
Woman Officer: Nancy Adam
'Labour', July 1937
Publicity

This department maintained relations with newspapers, newspaper correspondents, and the labour and trade union journals. It was also responsible for official TUC publications, General Council press communiques, and for certain joint publicity services maintained in connection with the Labour Party.

Head of department: Herbert Tracey

Tracey joined the staff of the Labour Party in 1917, and created the Party's press and publicity department. In 1921 he became Industrial Correspondent of the Joint Press and Publicity Department of the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress. In 1925/6, when the joint arrangement came to an end, he was appointed Publicity Officer of the TUC, and set up the TUC publicity department.

Research
Research and Economic

The main function of this department was to undertake research and supply information for the use of the other TUC departments and General Council, affiliated trade unions, and, in some cases, outside bodies.

Head of department: George Woodcock

George Woodcock was born at Bamber Bridge, Lancashire, in 1904. By the age of 14 he was working full-time in a local cotton mill. He won a TUC scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford in 1929, moving to New College, Oxford in 1931 where he earned a first in philosophy, politics and economics. He joined the TUC in 1936 as head of the Research and Economic Department. He was appointed Assistant General Secretary of the TUC in 1947 and General Secretary in 1960.

Social Insurance
Social Insurance

This department dealt with a range of social welfare issues, including health care and medicine, unemployment, pensions, workmen's compensation, workplace legislation and accident prevention. It undertook research, provided information, and maintained contact with other relevant bodies.

Head of department: J.L. Smyth

Jim Smyth was Assistant General Secretary of the United Operative Plumbers' and Domestic Engineers' Association between 1920-1928. He took charge of the newly formed TUC Social Insurance Department in 1928.

Medical Advisor: Dr Hyacinth Bernard Wenceslaus Morgan

Dr H.B. Morgan was appointed Medical Advisor to the TUC in 1933, and also acted as an unofficial advisor on Roman Catholic affairs (he was a practising Catholic of Irish descent). Dr Morgan was appointed chairman of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee in 1936, and kept senior members of the TUC informed about the organisation and campaigns of SMAC.

 

Members of the General Council between 1936-1939:

Members of the General Council were elected annually at the Trades Union Congress in September.

The lists of members have been compiled from the annual reports of proceedings of the TUC for September 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938 [document reference: MSS.292/PUB/4/1/35-38]. The photograph of the General Council in 1936 is included in the souvenir agenda of the 7th International Trades Union Congress, held in London between 8-11 July 1936 [document reference: MSS.159/5/2/42].

Ernest Bevin 
Chairmen:

1935/6: Mr. Allan A.H. Findlay

1936/7: Ernest Bevin

1937/8: Herbert H. Elvin

1938/9: J. Hallsworth

Herbert H. Elvin
Vice-Chairmen:

1935/6: Mr. W. Kean

1936/7: Mr. Allan A.H. Findlay

1937/8: Ernest Bevin

1938/9: Herbert H. Elvin

 
Members:
Mr J. Bell
Amalgamated Weavers' Association (1937/8 - 1938/9)
Harry Berry
Amalgamated Engineering Union (1935/6 - 1937/8)
Ernest Bevin
Transport and General Workers' Union (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr H. Boothman
Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners (1935/6)
Mr J. Bromley
Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (1935/6)
John Brown
Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (1936/7 - 1938/9)
Mr H. Bullock
National Union of General and Municipal Workers (1937/8 - 1938/9)
George Chester
National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (1937/8 - 1938/9)
Andrew Conley
National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Charles Dukes
National Union of General and Municipal Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Ebenezer (Ebby) Edwards
Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Herbert Henry Elvin
National Union of Clerks and Administrative Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr W.J. Farthing
Transport and General Workers' Union (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr Allan A.H. Findlay
United Patternmakers' Association (1935/6 - 1938/9)
George Gibson
Mental Hospital and Institutional Workers' Union (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Joseph Hallsworth
National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr R.C. Handley
Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners and Twiners (1938/9)
Florence Hancock
Transport and General Workers' Union (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr H.N. Harrison
National Union of General and Municipal Workers (1937/8 - 1938/9)
Arthur Hayday, M.P.
National Union of General and Municipal Workers (1935/6 - 1936/7)
George Hicks, M.P.
Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr J. Hill
Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders (1935/6)
Mr J. Hindle
Amalgamated Weavers' Association (1935/6 - 1936/7)
Mr M. Hodgson
Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders (1936/7 - 1938/9)
Mr W. Holmes
National Union of Agricultural Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr George A. Isaacs
National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Joseph Jones
Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain (1935/6 - 1938/9)
James Kaylor
Amalgamated Engineering Union (1938/9)
Mr W. Kean
National Union of Gold, Silver and Allied Trades (1936/7 - 1938/9)
Will Lawther
Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Anne Loughlin
National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
John Marchbank
National Union of Railwaymen (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Sir Arthur Pugh
Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (1935/6)
Arthur Shaw
National Union of Textile Workers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Will Sherwood
National Union of General and Municipal Workers (1935/6 - 1936/7)
Mr W.R. Spence
National Union of Seamen (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr W.J.R. Squance
Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (1936/7 - 1938/9)
Mr W. Stott
Railway Clerks' Association (1936/7 - 1938/9)
George W. Thomson
Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr W.R. Townley
National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (1935/6 - 1936/7)
Mr A.G. Walkden
Railway Clerks' Association (1935/6)
Mr F. Wolstencroft
Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers (1935/6 - 1938/9)
Mr W. Wood
Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners and Twiners (1936/7 - 1937/8)

 

TUC General Council, 1936

 

Membership of affiliated trade unions between 1936-1939

Figures are taken from the annual reports of proceedings of the Trades Union Congress for 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 [document reference: 292/PUB/4/1/36-39].

The total population in the United Kingdom was estimated to be 46,074,000 in 1931 and 48,216,000 in 1941 [House of Commons Library Research Paper 99/111].

Trade Group
Membership: 1936
Membership: 1937
Membership: 1938
Membership: 1939
Mining and quarrying:
523,860 544,705 566,126 602,678
Railways:
413,031 448,779 479,721 483,765
Transport (other than railways):
539,033 605,893 693,450 716,013
Shipbuilding:
73,480 77,541 82,476 85,950
Engineering, founding and vehicle building:
342,458 449,212 530,853 581,808
Iron and steel and minor metal trades:
109,774 119,178 139,707 142,567
Building, woodworking and furnishing:
303,867 326,619 353,593 379,959
Printing and paper:
161,319 168,793 178,648 187,288
Cotton:
189,857 185,385 191,032 182,170
Textiles (other than cotton):
108,076 104,771 110,004 105,693
Clothing:
85,959 91,792 107,145 114,308
Leather and boot and shoe:
96,363 101,995 105,384 106,647
Glass, pottery, chemicals, food, etc.:
249,975 275,472 318,470 337,249
Agriculture:
31,000 32,000 40,500 45,000
Public employees:
50,212 60,429 73,278 87,850
Non-manual workers:
54,157 74,310 82,684 90,923
General workers:
282,130 341,773 407,546 419,318
Total number of men:
3,197,221 3,557,717 3,932,215 4,116,601
Total number of women:
417,330 450,930 528,402 552,585
Total number of affiliated members:
3,614,551 4,008,647 4,460,617 4,669,186

 

Meetings of the TUC General Council between July 1936 - April 1939:

The following is a list of all meetings of the Trades Union Congress General Council held between July 1936 and April 1939. Some extracts of minutes and reports of meetings are included in the digitised TUC files relating to the Spanish Civil War. Where this is the case, links to the relevant documents have been included next to the date of the meeting. The full, official minutes of the TUC General Council are undigitised, but the originals can be seen at the Modern Records Centre [volumes covering September 1935 - September 1939: document reference: 292/20/20-23].

1936:

 
22 July
Extract from minutes.
28 August
Special meeting on Spain, held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party National Executive Committee: detailed report; minutes.
3-11 September (during Congress)
Minutes of meeting on 9 September (including joint meeting with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party National Executive Committee); detailed draft reports (no.1 and no.2) of joint meeting with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party National Executive Committee on 9 September; minutes of meeting on 10 September; extracts from minutes (no.1, no.2 and no.3).
23 September
Extract from minutes.
28 October
Extract from minutes.
25 November
Extract from minutes (no.1 and no.2).
23 December
Extract from minutes.
 

1937:

 
27 January
Extract from minutes.
24 February
Extract from minutes.
9 March
Special meeting on Spain, held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee: detailed reports (version no.1 and no.2); handwritten list of attendees; list of apologies.
24 March
Handwritten notes; extract from minutes.
28 April
Extract from minutes and statement on the bombing of Guernica.
26 May
No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
23 June
Extract from minutes; short draft report of debate on Spain.
28 July
Extract from minutes.
2-10 September (during Congress)
Extracts from minutes of meetings on 2 September (wrongly described as 3 September on the extract), 3 September and 8 September.
22 September
Extract from minutes.
27 October
No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
24 November
Extract from minutes.
22 December
No reference to Spain in the official minutes.

 

1938:

 
7 January
Special meeting on China, Palestine and Romania, held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee.
20 January
Special meeting on China, held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee.
26 January
No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
23 February
Meeting of the General Council, and separate special meeting on the international situation following the resignation of the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee. No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
23 March
Minutes note the receipt of a telegram from the Scottish Ambulance Unit in Spain on the 'Barcelona bombardments'.
25 March
Special meeting of the General Council and separate special meeting on the international situation held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee. No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
27 April
Extract from minutes.
25 May
The only reference to Spain in the official minutes is a passing reference included in a correction to the minutes of the National Council of Labour.
26 May
Meeting prior to a deputation to the Prime Minister re the acceleration of the rearmament programme.
22 June
Extracts from minutes (no.1 and no.2).
22 July
Special meeting on air raid precautionary matters affecting industry.
27 July
Extract from minutes.
1-9 September (during Congress)
Extracts from minutes of meetings on 1 September (no.1, no.2 and no.3), 2 September, 5 September (no.1 and no.2), 7 September, and 9 September.
21 September
Special meeting on the international situation held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee. No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
28 September
Extract from minutes.
29 September
Special meeting due to the international crisis over Czechoslovakia.
26 October
Extract from minutes.
23 November
Extracts from minutes (no.1 and no.2).
7 December
Special meeting on National Service.
15 December
Special meeting on National Service.
19 December
Special meeting on National Service.
21 December
Extract from minutes.

 

1939

 
25 January
Extract from minutes.
22 February
No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
24 February
Held prior to deputation to the Prime Minister on the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927.
22 March
Meeting of the General Council and separate special meeting on Czechoslovakia held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee.
23 March
Meeting of the General Council and separate special meeting on the international situation held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee. No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
31 March
Special meeting prior to delegation to the Minister of Labour on industry in wartime.
5 April
Special meeting following delegation to the Minister of Labour on industry in wartime.
26 April
No reference to Spain in the official minutes.
27 April

Special meeting on conscription held jointly with the Parliamentary Labour Party Executive Committee and the Labour Party Executive Committee.