Trade Union Timeline in Preston

Many groups of workers followed the example of the Operative Cotton Spinners by forming themselves into Trade Unions throughout the 19th century. These Trade unions often started as individual local town societies, or branches.

As these local Trade societies grew both in membership and influence, they were later expanded into regional or even national Trade Unions. With the strength in numbers working class people now had, they could effectively bargain for real improvements in wages and conditions.

Towns like Preston were at the forefront in Trade Union expansion with many local trade societies emerging after realising the advantages of combination and solidarity.

1833. The Operative Carpenters and Joiners of Preston

The Operative Carpenters and Joiners of Preston where certainly in existence as a local trade society in 1833. It was in this year they placed an advert in a local newspaper were they sought to refute allegations made by Master Joiners of improper behaviour by the Union and its members. Reference is made in this article to the Preston Operative Carpenters and Joiners having a Committee room at the Shelley Arms, Fishergate.

Twelve years later in 1845 about 90 members of the Preston carpenters and joiners met at the Wellington Inn, Glovers Court, which was used as their club house. They held a function to celebrate what was described as a “Favourable termination of their late strike”.

It looks likely that even before 1833 the Preston Carpenters and Joiners had a solid Trade Union organisation years before a national union was established. A Preston Joiners cash book, including a list of members from 1807 to 1839 is kept at Warwick Modern Records Centre and is believed to be one of the oldest Trade Union documents in existence (Ref: MSS.78/TC/PRE/2/1)

The General Union of Carpenters and Joiners (GUC & J) was a National union founded in 1827 by the amalgamation of local town societies such as Preston. Most local branches later joined the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners (ASC & J) in 1861. The GUC & J and the ASC & J both merged in 1921 to form the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers. This Union later was to merge with others to form Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians in 1971. (PC July 13th 1833 & Sep’ 20th 1845)

1840’s. Preston Branch of the Typographical Association

A document at Lancashire Record Office, Preston indicates a Preston Branch of the Typographical Association was formed in the 1840’s. (LCRO DDX 2162)

The National Typographical Union was formed in 1830 with the amalgamation of a number of small, mainly northern based local societies. By 1840 the Union had 44 local branches representing more than 1,000 members. In 1844 the name of the organisation was changed to the National Typographical Association.

After 120 years in 1964 the Association merged with the London Typographical Society to form the National Graphical Association (NGA)

1842. Preston Branch of the Steam Engine Makers Society

The Steam Engine Makers Society was formed in Liverpool in 1824 and by 1860 had 59 branches nationwide including one in Preston. Its members were largely skilled fitters and turners who remained independent of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE), which was formed in 1851. A membership register for the Preston Branch of the Steam Engine Makers Society exists for the years 1859 to 1889, but also notes members having joined since 1842. This heavily suggests the Preston Branch was formed in 1842. The Steam Engine Makers finally merged with the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in 1920. (LCRO DDX2105/2/2)

Despite the cotton trade being very dominant, Preston had a healthy engineering industry in the early to mid years of the 19th century, engaged in the manufacture of cotton machinery. The companies involved in this kind of work were Grundy’s. Who made a light running hand operated Spinning Mule, Ainscow and Tomlinson’s who made a similar product and Sleddon’s who were general engineers and machinists. A number of foundries also operated in Preston, so a considerable number of men held down a livelihood in engineering and metal crafts. Many of those men would have been members of the Steam Engine Makers Society, Preston Branch.

1840’s. Preston Operative Tailors Society

In 1844 an association called the United Tailors Trade Protection Society of Great Britain and Ireland was formed. It came about as a result of Journeyman (skilled) Tailors determination to fight the appalling exploitation and sweatshop conditions forced on them by some of the most unscrupulous employers imaginable. A delegation from this body was invited in 1845 by T W Parker, Secretary of the Preston Operative Tailors Committee, to address a public meeting in the town on the topic of the exploitation of Tailors. The Preston Operative Tailors may well have been in existence prior to 1844/45.

The United Tailors Trade Protection Society of Great Britain and Ireland did not survive as a national organisation long. Constant attacks were made by employers on future attempts to organise operative Tailors on a national basis, which left the local societies the task of protecting their members.

Eventually in 1866 after considerable struggle, the Amalgamated Society of Tailors was successfully formed, which the Preston Tailors immediately joined. Alfred Bailey from Preston became Vice President of the union in 1867. T W Parker was to serve as the Secretary of the Preston Branch of the Operative Tailors for over 30 years. His contribution to the movement, especially through the 1840’s and 50’s when exploitation against Journeymen Tailors was at its most brutal, was recognised in 1873 when he received a presentation by the local members. (PC Sep’ 13th & Sep’ 20th 1845. May 31st 1873)

After a number of name changes and mergers over the years, it was renamed the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers in 1932. The Tailors were later absorbed into the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades (GMB) in 1991.

1840’s. Preston Shoemakers Society

The Preston Shoemakers Society was certainly in existence in 1848 when a reference in the Preston Chronicle newspaper alluded to the identification of one of the society’s members, who was found drowned in the River Ribble. John McLean the Secretary of the Preston Shoemakers Society arranged for the members funeral to be paid by the Society, as the unfortunate man had no known family in the area.

However the Preston Shoemakers Society may well have been organised and active much earlier. Following the Preston riots and shootings in Lune St in 1842, a man named James Williams was arrested at Walton-le-Dale Bridge after an altercation between demonstrators and Police. This man Williams, a shoemaker was found to be carrying a Chartist membership card along with a Cordwainers (shoemakers) Society Union card. The Amalgamated Cordwainers Association was formed in 1840 and it may well be the Preston Shoemakers Society where in some way affiliated to them.

In 1853 the Journeyman Boot and Shoemakers of Preston held a public meeting to discuss the poor conditions they were expected to work under. The question of employing unpaid prisoners at the House of Correction in the manufacture of poor quality footwear, which undermined the Preston Boot and Shoemakers was heavily criticised. In 1860 a meeting of unionised Preston shoemakers was held at the Black Bull pub, Friargate.

It was reported the Preston union membership which totalled about 70 or 80 in the town, were keen to recruit from the estimated 300 non union shoemakers who worked in the town. It was stressed the importance of having a strong union in order to combat the wicked and unfair practices imposed by the employers. One particularly contentious issue was the practice of paying married men less than single men, knowing that married shoemakers would be less likely to move to other towns in search of better wages. ( PP Sep’ 3rd 1842. PC Dec 2nd 1848, July 16th 1853 June 30th 1860 & July 21st 1860).

The Amalgamated Cordwainers Association changed name to the Amalgamated Association of Boot and Shoemakers in 1873, however a disagreement over who was eligible to join led to a rival Union being established called the National Union of Boot and Shoe Riveters and Finishers in the same year. In 1898 another merger led to the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (NUBSO). Further reorganisation resulted in the National Union of Footwear, Leather and Allied Trades in 1971.

1851. Amalgamated Society of Engineers Preston Branch

The Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE), was formed in 1851 with the merger of a number of old established smaller craft unions, with the exception of the Steam Engine Makers Society who chose to remain independent for many more years. However this new craft union was almost bankrupted the following year of 1852, when engineering employers in the Manchester and London regions enforced a lock out after the union agreed a ban on overtime and piecework. By 1852 at the time of the engineers dispute, a branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers existed in Preston. A local newspaper reported that,

“No workshop in Preston has been closed as in Manchester and other towns. However intimations have been given by the principal machinists and ironfounders that all members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers are to quit that body or be discharged from their employment.”

The ASE members in Preston certainly took no part in the engineers dispute of 1852 and it is not known how large the Preston membership of the ASE was at that time. 25 years after being established in Preston the ASE membership had expanded sufficiently for a second branch of the union to be opened. (PC Jan’ 17th & 24th 1852 & Dec 8th 1877)

The ASE merged with a number of smaller unions in 1920 to form the Amalgamated Engineering Union whose membership grew to over 1 million in the 1970’s. The AEU later became Amicus in 1994 before becoming Unite after a merger with the former Transport & General Workers Union.

1853. The Preston Painters Trade Society

The Preston Painters Trade Society was formed in 1853 in an attempt to increase wages, which at the time were claimed by the Preston men, to be the lowest paid for painters anywhere in the region apart from Lancaster. In 1856 the Preston Painters attempted to secure a wage rise but were unsuccessful. However a year later in 1857 they obtained an advance of 1 shilling a week. A further wage rise of 2 shillings per week was secured in 1859.

In January 1861 the Master Painters of Preston imposed a general “Lock Out” after the Operative Preston Painters refused to give an assurance that they would not pursue plans for a pay rise. An ultimatum was issued by the employers that men could only work if they abandoned their Union. The men refused to give up their Union membership resulting in 78 being locked out.

The Preston Painters Trade Society was probably absorbed at some stage into the Manchester Alliance of Operative House Painters formed in 1855, which in 1886 became the National Amalgamated Society of Operative House Paintersand Decorators. This in turn merged into the Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) in 1971. (PC Jan’ 26th & Feb’23rd 1861)

1853. The Preston Operative Stonemasons Society

The Preston Operative Stonemasons Society were already in existence in 1853, when they are reported holding an anniversary dinner in October of that year. They were more than likely members of the Operative Stonemasons Quarrymen and Allied Trades of England and Wales which was originally formed in 1833. A merger took place in 1921 leading to the Amalgamated Building Trades Workers. This body in turn merged to form the Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) in 1971. (PC Oct’ 8th 1853)

1861. Preston Cardroom Workers Association

One of the textile trades, the Preston Cardroom workers Association first appeared in 1861. It would later merge with a number of other similar local societies into the Amalgamated Association of Card and Blowing Room Operatives in 1886. This association would merge into the Amalgamated Textile Workers Union in 1974. When this organisation was dissolved in 1985, the remaining members joined the General Municipal Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union (GMB)

1862. Preston Cooperative Plasterers Society

The Preston Cooperative Plasterers Society is first mentioned in 1862 and was said to have 40 members in the town in that year. Despite such a small local organisation they donated the quite substantial sum of £10 to the cotton “famine” relief fund, which was established to help alleviate the suffering sweeping Lancashire at that time. In 1864 the Operative Plasterers of Preston successfully secured shorter hours by finishing work at mid day on Saturdays.

The National Association of Operative Plasterers was founded in 1860. The Preston men probably joined this national body shortly after formation. The union joined the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives in 1918 up to 1968, when it was absorbed into the Transport and General Workers Union. (PC June 7th 1862 & May 7th 1864)

1865. Preston Operative Plumbers Association

The United Operative Plumbers Association of Great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1865, when a number of local societies, including the Preston plumbers came together as a national union. In February 1865 the Preston plumbers along with the operative painters of Preston, complained bitterly that they were the only groups of building workers not yet receiving the half day Saturday holiday. Both organisations urged the employers to concede their claim as they had done with other workers.

In 1867, the Preston Branch of the Operative Plumbers Association of Great Britain and Ireland petitioned the town’s employers for a reduction in weekly hours from 55.5 to 49.5. They also called for a wage increase from an average of 26 shillings to 34 shillings, along with changes to the ratio of apprentices to skilled men.

The union was renamed the United Operative Plumbers and DomesticEngineers Association of Great Britain and Ireland in 1911. A further merger took place in 1968 when the Plumbers and Electricians came together to form the Electrical Electronic Telecommunications and Plumbers Union (EETPU). This union was itself absorbed into the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who in turn became Unite. (PC Feb 23rd 1865 & July 13th 1867)

1865. Preston Operative Tinplate Workers Society

Reference to the Preston Operative Tinplate Workers Society is first made in May 1865. A number of members brought legal proceedings against their employers in the County Court in a legal dispute over alleged unpaid wages. Lewis Ainsworth the Secretary of the Preston Tinplate Workers Society, represented the men.

The General Union of Tinplate Workers was founded in Manchester in 1862, bringing together nine local societies across Lancashire, including probably Preston. In 1892 a name change to the society brought about the General Union of Braziers and Sheet Metal Workers, while a further merger in 1920 saw the emergence of the National Union of Sheet Metal Workers and Braziers. In 1959 the Coppersmiths joined the organisation, while in 1967, with the addition of the heating engineers, the longest named Trade Union in Britain emerged, with the National Union of Sheet Metal Workers Coppersmiths Heating and Domestic Engineers Union

Despite a planned merger with the Engineers in 1983, a surprise change of mind resulted in the Sheet Metalworkers joining the Technical Administrative Supervisory Staff (TASS) in 1983. TASS was later absorbed into Amicus and later Unite. (PC May 13th 1865)

1865. First Meeting of Preston Trade Delegates

The first reference to the Preston Amalgamated Trades Council occurred in August 1866, however a body of Preston trade representatives, or delegates as they were known, met on May 6th 1865. They met at the Operative Spinners and Minders Institute in Church St with the following trades represented,

Weavers, Spinners and Minders, Card Room workers, Plasterers, Tailors, Tinplate workers, Letterpress Printers. Plumbers, Painters, Boilermakers and Brush makers.

They had initially met to discuss the campaign to repeal the Employers and Workman’s Act and formulated a petition to be presented to Parliament. (PC May 6th 1865)

1866. Preston Flaggers and Slaters Association

The Preston Flaggers and Slaters Association was first referenced as a Trade Union body in 1866. In July 1866 the members were engaged in a bitter strike along with the Preston joiners. A similar organisation existed in Blackburn. It is not known if the Preston Flaggers and Slaters were absorbed into a larger building workers Trade Union, or if they continued as a local association. (PC July 14th& Dec’ 29th 1866)

1866-Preston Working Men’s Reform Association

The Preston Working Men’s Reform Association was formed in August 1866. (PG August 1st 1866)

1866. Preston Beamers Twisters and Drawers Association

The cotton workers of Preston who were employed as Beamers Twisters and Drawers, joined the Amalgamation of Beamers Twisters and Drawers on its formation in 1866, when most of the local associations came together to form a national union. The Preston branch of the Amalgamation met at the Roast Beef pub in Friargate in 1867, as delegates from each mill met to press for a uniform list of prices for each work task. The Preston Branch became the second largest in the Amalgamation with only Blackburn having more members. As the cotton industry drastically contracted throughout the 1970’s and beyond, the Preston Branch was finally dissolved in 1983. The Amalgamation continued with a very small membership until it also finally ceased in 2002. (LCRO DDX 1269/4. PC Mar 2nd 1867 & Jan 30th 1869)

1875. Preston Power Loom Overlookers Association

In 1875 a man named James Holden who had been active in Trade Unionism for many years in the local area, was one of the principal figures behind the formation of the Preston Power Loom Overlookers Assistance Association. The formation of the Preston association coincided with the establishing of the National Confederate Association of Power Loom Overlookers. This was a loose organisation of 16 local associations, including Preston and mostly based in Lancashire. A merger with the Blackburn and Pendleton associations in 1885 resulted in the General Union of Associations of Power Loom Overlookers.

In 1960 25 local branches including Preston were affiliated to the Confederate Association. The dramatic decline in the cotton industry meant that by 2007 only 138 members of the national union remained and the union was dissolved. The remaining members transferred into the General Municipaland Boilermakers Union (GMB)

1879. The Death of Bryan Hodgson

Bryan Hodgson, a shoemaker, was one of the victims of the shootings in Lune St, Preston in 1842. During that incident which was part of the Chartist agitation of that year, four men were shot dead by the military. Bryan Hodgson received a musket ball wound to the lower part of the back but survived his ordeal. He died in May 1879 at his home in Back Timber St, off North Rd aged 67.

1891. Preston Labourers Union

Little is known about this organisation apart from a reference in the Preston Guardian newspaper in 1891, when Preston general labourers formed themselves into a Trade Union organisation. (PG Mar’ 28th 1891)

1892. Preston Tramway Cabmen and Bus Drivers Association

This early group of Preston transport workers who formed an association in 1892 was probably affiliated to the Northern Counties Amalgamated Association of Tramway and Hackney Carriage Employees and Horsemen in General, which was founded in Manchester in 1889. By 1892 the union had extended its reach as far as Nottingham, Sheffield, Burnley and probably Preston.

By this time the organisation was known as the Tramway Hackney Carriage Employees and Horsemen’s Association. During the 1890’s this growing union absorbed more local associations such as in Bolton, Manchester, Salford, Huddersfield, Edinburgh and Belfast.

Another name change in the first few years of the 20th century brought about the Amalgamated Association of Tramway and Vehicle Workers (AATVW). Preston is recorded as having an active branch of the AATVW in 1905. Another merger in 1919 led to the United Vehicle Workers. On January 1st 1922 the UVW became one of the founding members of the Transport & GeneralWorkers Union (TGWU). (PG Jan’ 23rd 1892)

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