Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union

A badge of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union. 
 A badge of the Dock, Wharf,
Riverside and General
Labourers Union.

More commonly known simply as the Dockers Union, the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union was originally formed in 1887 as the Tea Operatives and General Labourers Union.

The union recruited 2,300 members by the end of 1888, and in 1889 became involved in the Great Dock Strike which brought the Port of London to a halt. The dispute won widespread public support for the dockers, and achieved its aim of establishing a rate of 6d an hour.

In the wake of the strike, the union changed its name and membership grew rapidly to 30,932 by the end of 1889, and to 57,000 by the end of 1890. However, a dispute between dockworkers north and south of the Thames also led to the creation of a separate South Side Labour Protection League.

With the dockers split, and many remaining outside any union, by 1904, the Dockers Union had almost disappeared in London. It remained strong elsewhere in the countryhowever, and in 1922, the Dockers Union was one of 14 organisations which merged to form the Transport and General Workers Union.

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Association of Women Clerical Staff

Badge of the Association of Women Clerical Staff.

Badge of the Association of Women Clerical Staff.

Founded in April 1903 with just 64 members, and originally known as the Association of Shorthand Writers and Typists, the union’s first president was the Fabian intellectual and trade union historian Sydney Webb.

It became the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries in 1912, and from that point on organised only women workers. Its badge shows not a penguin as it might appear but an auk – the union’s name being abbreviated to AWCS.

Though never large, the union survived until 1941, when it amalgamated with the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union. In 1972, it became the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff or APEX (and has since 1989 been part of the GMB).

One of the AWCS’ leading members, Anne Godwin (1897-1992), who had become general secretary of the CAWU in the 1950s, became only the third woman president of the Trades Union Congress, serving in 1961-62, shortly before her retirement.

The union’s surviving records can be found in the Working Class Movement Library.

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National Asylum Workers Union

Badge of the National Asylum Workers Union

The National Asylum Workers Union was founded in 1910, largely as a result of dissatisfaction with a new national pension scheme introduced for mental health workers the previous year.

Though heralded as a breakthrough by the then dominant Asylum Workers Association, the scheme was considerably worse for some asylum workers than the discretionary schemes it replaced. Their frustration came to a head in Lancashire, where agitation and petitions to improve the new scheme’s terms failed to sway members of the county asylums board.

The new union’s slogan, “All for one and one for all: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, was adopted early on at the same meeting, at the Boar’s Head Hotel, Preston, on 24 September 1910, at which the union was named. The first half of the slogan can be seen on the union’s badge.

By July 1912, the NAWU had 5,400 members and a paid general secretary, the Rev HMS Bankart, a former mental hospital chaplain. It affiliated to the Labour Party in 1915 and to the TUC in 1923.

One of its first disputes, at Bodmin Asylum in October 1918, broke out when nurses were ordered to remove their union badges and refused to do so. Five nurses were sacked, and 34 more walked out in sympathy (from a staff of 70).

Within a week, male staff at the hospital had joined the strike, and the visiting committee was forced to back down, reinstating all those who had been dismissed and permitting them to wear their union badges.

The union changed its name in 1930 to the Mental Hospital and Institutional Workers Union and, with the backing of the TUC, began to recruit in opposition to the National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO).

In 1946, the MHIWU merged with the smaller Hospital and Welfare Services Union to form the Confederation of Health Service Employees, under which name it continued to operate until 1993, when it was one of three founder unions of the new Unison public services union. Its partners were the National Union of Public Employees and NALGO.

More on the history of the National Asylum Workers Union and its successor unions can be found on Michael Walker’s COHSE blog.

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