National Agricultural Labourers and Rural Workers Union

Badge of the National Agricultural Labourers and Rural Workers Union.

It had always been hard to organise farm workers, with early victories for the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union (formed 1872) turned into later defeats as much by the effect of bad harvests and migration from the country to the city as by employer lockouts.

However, in 1906, the Eastern Counties Agricultural Labourers and Smallholders Union was formed with George Edwards, a veteran of earlier farmworkers’ unions, as general secretary and George Nicholls, a Liberal MP, as president.

By 1910 it had recruited some 10,000 members by focusing on individual disputes and providing legal assistance for members in trouble. In 1912, the union had built sufficient confidence to become the National Agricultural Labourers and Rural Workers Union. The badge shown here dates from that period.

This new identity brought in carters, roadmen, gardeners navvies and others alongside the union’s core of farm workers. For the first time, women were also to be admitted.

By the time the union changed its name again in 1920, it had 180,000 members. It continued to operate as the National Union of Agricultural Workers (from 1968 the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers) until 1981, when it merged with the Transport and General Workers Union.

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