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Last updated:06 May 2015

National Unemployed Workers Movement

The National Unemployed Workers' Movement (NUWM) was set up in 1921 by some members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It campaigned for better support for the unemployed and against the Means Test. Between 1921 and 1929 it was called the National Unemployed Workers' Committee Movement. Its main organiser in England was Wal Hannington, and in Scotland Harry McShane.

Join the N.U.W.M.

The N U.W.M. was established in 1920. It has been the organiser and leader of all the struggles of the Unemployed for improved conditions since that time.It has proved times out of number that by activity and organisation, the Central and Local Government authorities can be compelled to make concessions for improvements m the conditions of the Unemployed.

The N.U.W.M. is fighting for

1. Abolition of the Means Test.
2. Abolition of the Anomalies Regulations.
3. Abolition of Task Work.
4. For Work Schemes at T.U. Rates.
5. Restoration of the benefit cuts.
6. Increased scales of Relief.
7. And many other irnprovements in the interest of the unemployed.

In addition to carrying out constant mass activity the Movement can protect your Unemployment Benefit claims at Labour Exchange, Court of References and Umpire. During the year 1932 the Legal Department of the N.U.W.M. fought 1,529 Unemployment Insurance Appeals of members before the Umpire and recovered £5,OOO in benefits.

The Great Depression

The massive rise in unemployment in the early 1930s resulted in the work of the NUWM becoming more urgent and intense.

A hunger march, of unemployed workers to petition parliament, has been organised in 1922. There were further national marches organised in 1929, 1930, 1932, 1934 and 1936. These would involve groups of unemployed spending up to a month walking from town to town on their way to London, calling for support for their cause.

The largest march, in 1932, involved about 3000 individuals converging on London from every part of the country. The media gave little publicity to the march until they reached London on 27 October where they were met at Hyde Park by a crowd 100,000 strong. The government conemned them as a threat to public order, their petition was confiscated by the police, 70,000 of whom were mobilised to contain and disperse the demonstrations. The following days saw several violent confrontations between the police and demonstrators, and 75 people were seriously injured. Several leaders of the NUWM were imprisoned. These included 75 year old Tom Mann.

Here is the full itinerary of the 1934 March.

Locally the NUWM supported claiments and kept the pressure on the authorities to try and improve the relief given to the unemployed. Eddie Frow, co-founder of the WCML was a leader of a march in Salford in 1931. He served five months in Strangeways prison for his pains. The end of the 1930s saw unemployment decline and when Wal Hannington became National Organiser of the Amalgamated Engineering Union the NUWM's work was suspended. By 1946 it had been formally disbanded.

Anti Means Test postcard : National Unemployed Workers Movement card - front


Resources about the NUWM in the library collection

The battle of Bexley Square: Salford unemployed workers' demonstration - 1st October, 1931 by Edmund and Ruth Frow (1994) - Shelfmark: AG Salford Box 1

The lean years: unemployed struggles and the National Unemployed Workers Movement in Nottingham, extracts from a novel by Harry Davies (ca. 1984) - Shelfmark: AG National Unemployed Workers' Movement Box 1

No justice without a struggle: the National Unemployed Workers' Movement in the north east of England 1920-1940 by Don Watson (2014) - Shelfmark: Q62

The story of the national hunger march by Wal Hannington [ca. 1929] - Shelfmark: AG - National Unemployed Workers' Movement Box 1

Unemployed struggles 1919-1936: my life and struggles amongst the unemployed by Wal. Hannington (1936) - Shelfmark: A51

Unemployment and the state in Britain: the means test and protest in 1930s south Wales and north-east England by Stephanie Ward (2013) - Shelfmark: Q62

We refuse to starve in silence: a history of the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, 1920-46 by Richard Croucher (1987) - Shelfmark: H07