Heart Unions Week

Author: Adam Heppell

Date: Wednesday 10th February 2021

Yes, it is that time of year again, Heart Unions Week! A chance to celebrate the fine work carried out by trade unions across the UK.

By any definition, it has been a tough few months for everyone. It can be difficult to maintain contact with others and it is easy to feel isolated. Our union officers and representatives have worked hard in these difficult times during the coronavirus pandemic to help keep members safe and connected. For more on our coronavirus support, click here.

Throughout its history, unions have consistently had the prosperity and wellbeing of members at the forefront for decades. They have played and will continue to play, a leading role in supporting workers while developing the wider trade union movement. 

Origins: Trade unions began as a response to industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries. They drew support from thousands who lived and worked in cities across the UK. Trade unions campaigned on behalf of workers who were living in unsafe homes and toiling in unsafe factories in poor conditions, working up to 18 hours per day.  

1834 Trade Union pioneers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset farm labourers who were arrested and sentenced to seven years transportation for taking an oath of secrecy. They were deported to Australia for joining a union.

1870-1880 Trade unionists campaigned to give working people the vote, legalise trade unionism and bring in laws to improve conditions at work. 

1920s Coal owners, supported by the government wanted to further cut the wages paid to miners while enforcing longer hours. Almost one million miners refused to accept these terms. Trade unions saw this as an attack on the living standards of all working people.

1922 The T&G was formed on 1 January 1922, with 350,000 members from 14 unions, including dockers, factory workers, transport workers and clerks. The union's first general secretary was Ernest Bevin.

1939-45 Ernest Bevin was appointed labour minister in Winston Churchill’s war cabinet. He introduced workplace reforms, including better pay and conditions and improved welfare standards. T&G membership passed one million members in 1942. Many women joined the workforce and the T&G fought, and in many cases won, the principle of equal pay for equal work for women.

1970 Membership for T&G passed the 1.5 million mark. In 1977 it was over 2 million - the highest number any trade union in this country has ever achieved.

1987 The Link Up campaign was launched. This sought to extend trade union organisation to the growing number of temporary and part-time workers, the great majority of them were women.

1997 T&G and other unions successfully campaigned for the incoming Labour government to introduce a national minimum wage, aimed at eliminating poverty.

2007 In order to pool resources and increase bargaining power, trade unions have often merged throughout history Following the merger between T&G and Amicus Unite was formed.

2020 In response to the coronavirus pandemic, trade unions successfully campaigned for the government to extend its furlough scheme.

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