Transport and General Workers Union

Transport and General Workers Union

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In July 1910 Ben Tillett, and Tom Mann, leaders of the Dockers' Union, called a meeting with other waterside unions to discuss the possibility of forming a National Transport Workers' Federation (NTWF). The representatives of the sixteen unions present at the meeting agreed and Harry Gosling of the Amalgamated Society of Waterman & Lighterman was elected president of the new organisation.

Gosling continued to argue for further amalgamation and in June 1913 the General Labourers' Union joined the NTWF. The organisation was considerably strengthened by the election of Ernest Bevin to the executive. Gosling and Bevin worked closely together in their efforts to make the NTWF a powerful union. In 1922 the two men were instrumental in establishing the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU). The TGWU united nearly fifty organisations into the world's largest union.

Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU)

The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) was founded in 1973. It organised in the passenger transport, goods transport, stevedores, motor ferry, municipal, cement products, hospitals, cleaning and security sectors. It was formed as a direct response to the Transvaal-based PUTCO bus company workers’ strike of June 1972.

TGWU’s headquarters were in Johannesburg, with branches in the Transvaal, Natal and the Eastern Cape. It grew by successfully improving the conditions of its members, especially at PUTCO and in Port Elizabeth where it also assisted white workers. It affiliated itself to the Trade Union Advisory and Coordinating Council (TUACC) in 1974.

By the 1980s its membership exceeded 20 000 in the transport sector. In 1986 GWU merged with TGWU. Lydis Kompe became an organiser after joining the union mobilising workers in Johannesburg rising to become head of the Transvaal region.


The new union was, in essence, a breakaway from the National Union of Dock Labourers and its membership profile reflected the waterside occupations of that union. Membership quickly expanded, however, both industrially and geographically. From the outset, Larkin's oratorical skills and organisational zeal marked out the new union. Its Irishness meant its focus was unclouded by the need for reference to Britain for strike sanction or other permissions and workers quickly joined. Some were new to trade unionism as the trade union message was brought to hitherto neglected quarters, while others transferred from the NUDL or other British unions such as the Workers Union and the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers. By 1911 the ITGWU had moved to the old Northumberland Hotel premises in Dublin's Beresford Place and renamed them Liberty Hall. The union had affiliated to the Irish Trades Union Congress in 1910, despite some opposition from craft unions unsettled by the militant language and style of the new body. This new radical style soon found expression in the union's weekly paper, the Irish Worker. James Connolly, who returned from America to become organiser for the Socialist Party of Ireland in 1910, after several refusals in favour of his avowed interest in socialist agitation, accepted an offer from Larkin to become ITGWU organiser in Belfast in June 1911.

Brief History on ATGWU

Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU) traces its origin to the first workers organisation in Uganda called the &ldquoUganda Motor Drivers&rsquo Association&rdquo, which was formed in 1938 by Mr. James Kivu and Mr. Ignatius K. Musaazi. The two later became so prominent in Uganda and Buganda&rsquos politics and have been honored by the government and buried at the Hero&rsquos square at Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala.

The Union was duly registered with the Labour Department but it rarely functioned, as a true trade union for all the six years it existed comprised of both the young and politically active group of taxi drivers. It also included both employees and owners who were demanding for government subsidies. The association continued to gain momentum and recognition and reached its climax in 1945 when they organised a number of strikes and riots, their major grievance was wage claim although some reports indicated that the strikes and riots had some political motives blended into the economic demands. Consequently, some member especially the leaders like Kivu and I.K.Masaazi were arrested and deported to Karamoja which greatly affected the Unions&rsquo activities.

ATGWU was later re-registered in 1974 after merging with other transport unions. It is affiliated to two Global Union Federations. These are the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and Union Network International (UNI). At the local level it is affiliated to National Organisation of Trade union Uganda (NOTU).

Transport and General Workers Union

At the end of the 1970s the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) had a membership of over 2,100,000 making it the largest British trade union of the 20th century. TGWU members represented one in five trade unionists in employment. As a general union they were to be found in all walks of life, from car workers to dockers to cleaners. What held the union together was a genuine sense of solidarity and determination to pursue the best interests of all working people across the country.

The founding general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, Ernest Bevin, dominated and shaped his union and held office for over 30 years until 1955, although his involvement in the National Government during World War 2 meant that Arthur Deakin was acting General Secretary from 1940-1945. Deakin went on to be General Secretary until 1955.

Bevin and Deakin were authoritarian, strongly anti-communist, and saw the role of trade unions within a capitalist economic framework. If we put aside the brief tenure of Jack Tiffin who died prematurely in 1955, the next two general secretaries, Frank Cousins and Jack Jones, came from a very different position, left-wing, democratic, challenging the political establishment and campaigning for a better world.

In many ways, even in the days of Deakin&rsquos tenure, the TGWU was always a campaigning union that usually looked beyond the narrow remit of collective, bargaining and protecting its members&rsquo interests, to larger social and political issues and the labour movement as a whole. These issues speak of a more egalitarian, inclusive, socially just society, in which campaigns such as arms conversion, equal pay, challenging low pay, opposing privatisation, supporting workers in the public sector, industrial democracy, pensioners&rsquo rights, health and safety and many others lay at the heart of trade union policy.

Perhaps the best way to characterise the TGWU is to offer the following examples:

  • Equal pay. In 1968 the female Ford sewing machinists, TGWU members in Dagenham, campaigned for equal pay and got it.
  • Regulation of employment. The TGWU led a campaign for the regulation of the practices of &lsquogangmasters&rsquo, suppliers of cheap often migrant labour, following the tragic drowning of 13 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004.
  • Arms conversion. In the 1970s and 1980s the TGWU along with other unions became interested in ideas for converting areas of the defence industry to alternative socially useful forms of production. Their pamphlet produced in 1983, A better future, is emblematic of this policy.
  • Pensioners. Jack Jones when General Secretary of the TGWU campaigned on behalf of pensioners within the union and continued to campaign after his retirement.
  • Unemployment. The TGWU was a major supporter of Trade Union Unemployment Resource Centres, which aimed to bring the unemployed into the ambit of the trade union movement, and break their marginalised status.
  • Anti-fascism and anti-racism. Bill Morris, General Secretary of the TGWU from 1992 to 2003 was the first black leader of a British trade union and as such was a living testimony to the union&rsquos implacable opposition to racism. From a more positive perspective the TGWU was one of the most active unions in recruiting and organising members among ethnic minorities and encouraging black activists to play an increasing role in the life of the union. Witness the successful campaign by House of Commons cleaners for a living wage in February 2006, and the Gourmet Gate catering workers at Heathrow airport in August 2005.
  • Shrewsbury trials and trade union recognition. In 1972 the TGWU along with UCATT supported selective strikes by workers in the building trade in the Shrewsbury area. The central issue of the dispute was getting rid of the &lsquolump&rsquo &ndash an arrangement in which sub-contractors casually employed people, offering no trade union or employment rights. Famously Ricky Tomlinson, later of The Royle Family, was one of the people imprisoned for his legitimate involvement in this campaign.

The union amalgamated with Amicus in 2007 to form UNITE the Union.

Archive material about the TGWU

Transport and General Workers Union (TU/TRANSPORT)
The records are mainly uncatalogued and include annual report and balance sheets (1946-1984) and the papers of H Holland of Area 6 (1947-1955)

Resources about the TGWU in the library collection

Geoffrey Goodman, Brother Frank - the man and the union (1969) - Shelfmark: B10
Joseph Goldstein, The government of British Trade Unions: a study of apathy and the democratic process in the Transport and General Worker's Union (1952) - Shelfmark: B49
Ken Coates and Tony Topham, The history of the Transport and General Workers' Union, 2 vols (1991) - Shelfmark: J02
Andrew Murray, The T&G story: a history of the Transport and General Workers Union 1922-2007 (2008) - Shelfmark: I50

  • The record: a journal devoted to the interests of all Transport and General Workers - Vol 16 Nos 181-183 (Oct-Dec 1936) Vol 16 Nos 185, 186 (Feb, Mar 1937) AF Transport Periodicals A-Z
  • Transport and General Workers record &ndash 1957-1960 (not complete) &ndash Shelfmark: AB Periodicals main sequence
  • TGWU record - 1963-1969 1971-1979 1981-Aug 1983 - Shelfmark: S49
  • T&G record - Sep 1983-1987 1991-1996 - Shelfmark: S49 and AF Transport Periodicals A-Z
Resources held by the Modern Records Centre

Other records are held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick:
Transport and General Workers' Union (MSS.126/TGW, MSS.787/TGW)

Leaflet encouraging women to join the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) as part of the war effort. This is one item from a series of publications collected by the Transport and General Workers' Union Research Department.

[Document reference: MSS.126/TG/RES/GW/130/1]

Transport and General Workers Union - History

This site is an information site only and is not exhaustive. While the authors are members of SIPTU, this page is by no means an officially endorsed site, It is an information site by activists, for all members.

The official SIPTU website is at

Dublin Bus Drivers Information

Knowledge Is Power - Arm Yourself

This site is an information site only and is not exhaustive. While the authors are members of SIPTU, this page is by no means an officially endorsed site, It is an information site by activists, for all members.

The official SIPTU website is at

SIPTU was established in 1990 - with the merger of the country’s two largest unions, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union and the Federated Workers' Union of Ireland. Both were founded by ‘Big’ Jim Larkin in the early years of the twentieth century. Until then most workers who wanted representation at work had to join a British based union.

Larkin founded the ITGWU in 1909 and it soon had branches in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and other centres with Liberty Hall as its headquarters. By the summer of 1913 the union had secured pay rises of between 20% and 25% for members. This provoked a vicious backlash from employers. In 1913 ITGWU members in Dublin were locked out along with workers in other unions who associated with them. The Lockout lasted six months but the employers failed to smash the union.

When Larkin went on a speaking tour in the US to raise funds, James Connolly became Acting General Secretary of the Union. He also took over command of the Irish Citizen Army, set up to protect strikers from police brutality during the Lockout. Larkin was unable to return to Ireland until 1923. In the meantime union members in the ICA participated in the 1916 Easter Rising under Connolly’s command. He is credited with drafting the Proclamation of the Irish Republic with Padraic Pearse, and it was printed in Liberty Hall on the eve of Rising.

Following Connolly's execution for his part in the Rising, the Union’s premises and records were seized by the British military authorities but ITGWU members refused to be intimidated. General President, Tom Foran and General Treasurer William O'Brien rebuilt the organisation which had 120,000 members by 1920, making it by far the largest union on this island. It played a leading role in the Anti- Conscription Campaign of 1918 that prevented young Irish workers being forced to fight for the British Empire in the First World War and also led the Motor Permits and Munitions strikes of 1920 against military occupation.

After Larkin’s return from the US friction arose between him and the new ITGWU leadership, resulting in a split and the formation of the Workers' Union of Ireland in 1924. Larkin led the new Union and both organisations played an important role in the economic and social development of the country despite the difficult climate of the depressed 1920s, and in the war- torn 1930s and 1940s.

The Irish Trade Union Congress split in 1945 and the move to re- unite the movement in the 1950s was spearheaded by young Jim Larkin, who succeeded his father as General Secretary of the Workers’ Union and by John Conroy, General President of the ITGWU. They succeeded in creating the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and they brought the ITGWU and the WUI to the brink of merger in 1969. However, the untimely deaths of both men - within weeks of each other - meant that the momentum towards amalgamation stalled and it awaited the efforts of a new generation to cement the historic merger in 1990.

The two founding unions of SIPTU have since been joined by other Unions including – the Irish National Painters' and Decorators' Trade Union (INPDTU), the Marine, Port and General Workers' Union (MPGWU), the Irish Print Union (IPU), the Irish Writers' Union (IWU) and the Automotive, General Engineering and Mechanical Operatives' Union (AGEMOU), Musicians Union of Ireland (MUI), Irish Equity, MLSA.

Since its foundation SIPTU has played a leading role in a number of campaigns to improve workers rights including a quadrupling of minimum statutory redundancy payments for workers losing their jobs, the establishment of the National Employment Rights Authority and the outlawing of mass redundancies by employers trying to replace existing workers with lower paid non- union labour.

The Union remains committed to Larkin’s dictum that ‘An injury to One is the Concern of All’ and pursuing its twin objectives of Fairness at Work and Justice in Society

The History of SATAWU

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) was formed in 2000 after a series of negotiations and small-scale mergers by unions in the transport industry. SATAWU organises workers in the transport as well as security and cleaning sectors. We have members in diverse sectors including railways, harbours, parastatals, aviation, passenger transport (buses and taxis) freight and logistics (trucking), contract cleaning and security.

The merger by transport unions to form SATAWU was in response to the call by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) for – ‘one industry, one union, one country, one federation’. COSATU believed that if all unions merged and worked together under one federation, their voice would be more powerful and they would therefore be in a stronger position to bargain.

However, attempts to unite all federations under one umbrella failed. COSATU only managed to have different trades uniting to form industry unions, for example, the transport industry coming together under one umbrella union, SATAWU.

The merger took place in two stages. The first was the coming together of the South African Railways and Harbours Workers’ Union (SARHWU), the Black Transnet Allied Trade Union (BLATU) and the Transnet Allied Trade Union (TATU). At the time SARHWU boasted a membership 35 000 strong, while BLATU had 6 324 members and 1 324 were affiliated to TATU.

The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) with an estimated 50 000 members could not be part of the merger due to issues it could not agree with SARHWU on.

It is important to note the merger was not an easy process and consequently took years to conclude. Initiated in the mid-1980s, the actual process only started in December 1998 when the Transnet unions finally heeded COSATU’s call to form one industry unions. The resulting entity was named SATAWU it had a joint membership of 47 000.

Bringing TGWU into the fold also proved tricky. Originally, expected to have occurred in June 1999 it was delayed due to issues the two unions could not agree on. Numerous engagements later, the pair found common ground and the SATAWU we know today was finally born on 18 May 2000, bringing together public and private transport, cleaning and security sectors under one united union.


DTG/1 Docks branches, 1968 - 1985

DTG/2 Hull Docks District Committee/Joint Branch Committee, 1968 - 1983

DTG/3 Region 10 Committee and Officers, 1971 - 1986

DTG/4 Transport and General Workers Union: national, 1968 - 1988

DTG/5 Hull Joint Port Working Committee, 1962 - 1988

DTG/6 National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry, 1963 - 1985

DTG/7 National Dock Labour Board: local and national, 1959 - 1989

DTG/8 National and local Joint Councils for British Waterways Wages Grade Staff, 1980 - 1990

DTG/9 British Waterways Board, 1972 - 1987

DTG/10 Subject files, 1951 - 1989

DTG/11 Case files, 1971 - 1990

DTG/12 Miscellaneous, 1970 - 1990

Mark Holan's Irish-American Blog

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

Organized Labor Playing Big Part in Ireland’s Life 1

Guest wrote “the so-called labor movement … is more than a mere development of the industrial workers, it is really a people’s movement.” He reported Ireland had 18 trade councils with approximately 200,000 members, including the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, National Union of Railway Men, and Amalgamated Society of Engineers. People in the building trades and clerical workers also had begun to organize. He provided these unsourced average weekly wages in Ireland, but noted the gains were not as strong as in England:

  • 1914: skilled workers, $9.70 unskilled, $5.50
  • 1920: skilled workers, $15.50 unskilled, $8.75
  • 1913: farmers, $5
  • 1920: farmers, $9.50

Of interest to his American readers, Guest reported on the Henry Ford tractor plant near Cork city. Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell had visited the plant just before it opened in July 1919. 2 Guest acknowledged the plant’s location near the birthplace of Ford’s father, William, at Ballinascarthy, in County Cork. Guest reported:

The equipment is American and the plant is operated much like Ford plants in America. The minimum wage, however, is not $8 a day or even $5 a day. Such wages, to use an expression of the manager of the plant, “would have caused a revolution among Irish laborers.” The minimum wage is about $2.75 a day.

Farm laborers were antagonistic when the plant first opened. They saw American tractors driving them out of their occupations. It took considerable propaganda to make it clear that while the tractor is a labor-saving device, it saves animal power rather than man power.

It took some time for the Irish laborers who sought employment at the factory to understand that they were paid only for the time they worked. When, due to lateness or absence, they found their pay envelope short, they were indignant their indignation vanished, however, when they found they were paid for overtime.

Just two months earlier Henry Ford had expressed his pride in the Cork factory during a steel-ordering stop in Pittsburgh. “I want to help add to the smokestacks in Ireland,” he said. “Ireland is among the foremost industrial countries, and will get her much deserved freedom and home rule.” 3

Ford, or one of his business associates, took note of Guest’s story. The reporter’s “articles on Ireland” are included in the Dearborn, Michigan, archives of the legendary industrialist.

The Ford tractor plant in Cork, 1919.

Ireland Enjoys Greatest Prosperity In Its History With Big Trade Expansion 4

Guest devoted most of this story to an analysis of Irish bank deposits. His approach recalled the reporting of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert in his 1888 book, Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Hurlbert cited increased Post Office Savings Banks deposits from 1880 to 1887 as evidence that rural Ireland was not suffering from crushing poverty caused by the Iandlord system, as alleged by agrarian activists.

Guest “marveled” at why Sinn Féin found it necessary “to borrow ten million dollars from American citizens [the then two-month old bond campaign] to develop Irish resources when the people of Ireland have more than one billion dollars in bank deposits and government securities?”

He cited bank reports other public records to illustrate that major Irish commercial banks enjoyed “record-breaking business” in 1918, and large increases from the period ending June 30, 1919, and Dec. 31, 1919. He included figures from the Bank of Ireland, Hibernian Bank, Provincial Bank, and Munster & Leinster Bank. 5 Deposits in trustee savings banks and postoffice banks also increased during the same period, Guest reported. He continued:

In consider the financial condition of the Irish people, one should not lose site of the fact that depositors in these three classes of banks, taken as a whole, were able to increase their accounts in the banks by more than 95 percent, in the face of a 140 percent increase in the cost of living over the same period. … That a considerable part of the Irish public-at-large evidently has more confidence in the stability of the present government than the Sinn Féin propagandists would have them believe, and is not adverse to loaning its money, is attested by the fact that the government stock on which dividends were payable through the Bank of Ireland on June 30, 1919, amounted to $451,465,000, an average of more than $100 for every man, woman, and child in Ireland, including Sinn Féinners. This represented an increase of more than 114 percent over similar holdings in 1914.

Guest also detailed what he described as “a remarkable expansion in Irish trade” during the first two decades of the 20th century. He cited favorable excesses in both volume and cost of exports over imports. He concluded:

Farmers who were never out of debt before now have comfortable bank accounts. In addition, they have spent money in improving their homes and outbuilding and in contracting for the purchase of modern farm machinery. The farmers are ‘the backbone of the country’ in the fullest meaning of the term. Aside from political conditions and military oppression, they are more satisfied with their lot today than ever before. The majority of them I believe would ask nothing better than to be left alone by both the politicians and the military. 6

NEXT: Night With Irish Mummer Who Gives Performances In House Or Barn In Secret

Watch the video: 1960s 1970s Transport and General Workers Union, Union Discussion (July 2022).


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