National Guild of Telephonists

Night and day

Badge of the National Guild of Telephonists

Badge of the National Guild of Telephonists

The National Guild of Telephonists was formed on 5 March 1928 as a breakaway from the Union of Post Office Workers (UPW).

In 1927 a large number of night telephonists began with holding their subscriptions from the UPW. These members demanded the right to handle their own negotiations and wanted to form a separate branch in the General Post Office. The UPW agreed a separate branch but not separate negotiations. The telephonists decided to withdraw from the UPW and formed the National Guild of Telephonists.

The members persuaded their representative on the UPW Executive Council, Edgar Lansbury (who was the nephew of Labour politician George Lansbury) to leave the UPW as well.

The NGT joined together with other breakaway post office unions in the National Federation of Post & Telegraph Clerks.

In 1928 the NGT secured recognition for night telephonists in London where they had 1,000 members. A year later they gained national recognition jointly with the UPW and in 1934 recognition in Northern Ireland.

Throughout its existence the NGT failed to obtain recognition for its women members even though, up until the 1950s it had more women members than the UPW.

Lansbury, who was a Guild Socialist and a strong supporter of strike action was appointed London Secretary and in 1945 General Secretary. The NGT was different to the majority of breakaway unions because in Lansbury they had a capable officer who was more left wing than most of the leaders of TUC unions. Most of the other breakaways were “non-political” or right wing.

Although the NGT never had more than 12,000 members it successfully ran its own insurance scheme, sick fund, mutual aid fund and education courses for branch officers.

The Post Office attempted to rationalise the number and structure of the trade unions it negotiated with and encouraged conciliation and merger between the unions. In 1960 the UPW offered the NGT merger on the basis of separate branches, separate voting at a sectional conference and employment of NGT officers. The NGT refused the offer.

The UPW tried again in 1969 by offering the previous deal plus two seats on the UPW reserved for telephonists and the employment of the NGT General Secretary as UPW Assistant Secretary. The NGT leadership recommended acceptance, however the membership voted a year later to reject the deal by 2 to 1.

The Post Office then decided to derecognise the weakened union.

Badge of the Telecommunications Staff Association

Badge of the Telecommunications Staff Association

The NGT responded by changing its name to the Telecommunications Staff Association (TSA) so broadening its potential membership base.

Using the 1971 Industrial Relations Act the TSA pursued recognition through the courts until 1974 when it lost the case.

In 1978 the TSA transferred its engagements to the Engineering and Electrical Staff Association, the white collar section of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union (EETPU).


Union of Railway Signalmen

Safe passage for the railway traveller

Badge of the Union of Railway Signalmen

In the aftermath of the 1924 rail strike acrimony existed between the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) and within the NUR itself.

The National Signalmen’s Movement, a pressure group within the NUR, were unhappy with the pay deals achieved by the NUR for signalmen. A.E. Rochester, a NUR signalman, sent an article critical of the NUR leadership to the NUR journal ’Railway Review’. The journal refused to publish it, so Rochester took the article to ASLEF General Secretary John Bromley who made money available to publish the article as a leaflet. The NUR responded by threatening Rochester with legal action and ordering him to appear before the Executive Council.

George Richards, a prominent member of the National Signalmen’s Movement, met the ASLEF General Secretary and was told ASLEF would loan a substantial amount of money to any signalmen who decided to form a breakaway union.

Thirteen men met at the home of a Mr Charles Breton and formed the Union of Railway Signalmen (URS). The URS received £1,000 from ASLEF followed by a further £2,000.

The National Signalmen’s Movement issued a manifesto proclaiming loyalty to the NUR and condemning sectional unionism. Support for the URS was so poor that by 1925 it could only claim 250 signalmen out of all the signalmen in the country.

The NUR continued to represent the vast majority of signalmen and in 1931, probably in response to the URS, introduced national signalmen’s conference.

In 1945 a Charles Holloway formed the Federation of Power Signalmen, which due to the fact that it could only attract 30 of the 1500 power signalmen in the London area was very short lived.

Holloway later surfaced as General Secretary of the URS.

The URS membership hit an all time high of 8333 in 1950 organised in to 180 branches or 32% of all signalmen. The URS declined after that, 3690 in 87 branches in 1960 and 2075 in 16 branches in 1970.

In 1970 a closed shop was introduced in British Rail and all signalmen were required to be members of the NUR. URS membership fell to 150 by 1973, even though there was no reason signalmen could be members of both unions.

Like many breakaway unions the URS acted partly as a home for those signalmen who wanted to avoid strike action. The URS membership climbed to 220 half of who had joined during the signalmen’s strike of 1974. Membership dropped to 70 in 1975 and to 18 a year later.

The last return lodged with the Registrar General of Trade Unions and Employers Associations was in 1978 when the membership was four.

In May 1979 Charles Holloway, the URS General Secretary for the previous 10 years, died and the URS died with him.The NUR later received a cheque for £6.60 from the Co-operative Bank. The bank, unable to contact the URS had closed the URS account and forwarded the cheque to the NUR. The NUR sent the cheque to the URS’s auditors and the Union of Railway Signalmen was no more.