Trade unions are groups of workers who have joined together to negotiate with their employers as a group rather than as a series of individuals.
From the 1799 and 1800 Combination Laws, which made it illegal for UK workers to band together to press for shorter hours or more pay, to the present day trade unions have battled to improve workers' rights and circumstances. They have also campaigned on wider issues such as gender, disability and racial equality.
The story of trade unions is at the heart of the Working Class Movement Library's collection.
Trade unions are all about organising people. Our collection reveals the nuts and bolts of how unions operated from the 1820s onwards: rule books, agendas, notices of meetings, minutes, agreements, campaigns, conference reports, leaflets, newsletters, badges and banners can all tell their own story. We also have biographies and histories and memoirs that trace this vital history.
A selection of trade union emblems from our collection.
Click on the image to see a selection of emblems from our collection
Mutuals are organisations owned by, and run for the benefit of, their members, and include Co-operatives and Friendly Societies.
Working class Friendly Societies such as the Oddfellows and Foresters have been in existence since the 18th century, but their great development came in the 19th century, with industrialisation and large groups of workers in towns. Most provided mutual insurance, so that members could obtain benefits in the event of sickness, accident or death.