Volume One 1880 - 1931
The formation of the TGWU was rooted an era in which, starting in the 1880’s, a mass trade union movement was formed. The immediate context of the drive to amalgamate the unions forming the TGWU, 1920-22, was a period which witnessed an intensification of pre and post WW1 militancy. Such militancy continued, albeit unevenly until 1926 and was met with resistance from employers and the State culminating in the mighty confrontation of the General Strike.
Against this setting the union was formed, spearheaded by Bevin. Under his leadership the complex internal structures of the union and its trade groups were shaped. Politically the union had a close relationship with the Labour Party and its two minority Governments (1923-4 and 1929-31). Industrially its strategy moved to a centrist position which was reflected in Bevin’s role as a member of the TUC’s General Council both before during and after the 1926 General Strike
The defeat of 1926 marked a watershed in British labour history in which, again, the TGWU played a key role. Trade union militancy was succeeded by an attempt at negotiated accommodation with the employers, known as ‘Mondism’. Bevin was central to this development.
The history of the union in this period, will open a discussion on the political and industrial direction of the TGWU and the impact of its policy on the labour movement as a whole. Underlying this is an appraisal of the different strategies in the struggle between capital and labour. Such an assessment both informs and echoes current debates among today’s activists.