Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union

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This article is about the British trade union. For the Australian branch of the AEU, which became an independent union, see Amalgamated Society of Engineers (Australia).
Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union logo.jpg
Full name Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union
Founded 1851
Date dissolved 2001
Merged into Amicus
Members 835,000 (1994)[1]
Affiliation TUC, CSEU
Office location 110 Peckham Road, London
Country United Kingdom

The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) was a British trade union. It merged with the MSF to form Amicus in 2001.


The history of the union can be traced back to the formation of the Journeymen Steam Engine, Machine Makers and Millwrights Friendly Society, in 1826. Popularly known as the "Old Mechanics", it decided to form a new union to bring together skilled workers from all engineering trades. It invited a large number of other unions to become part a new Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE), although the only other large union to join was the Smiths Benevolent, Sick and Burial Society. Together with various small, local unions, they brought 5,000 members into the ASE on its creation in 1851.[2]

The ASE was one of the 'New Model Unions' of the 1850s–1870s. These unions, which also included the Ironfounders, Builders, and Carpenters' societies, rejected Chartism and the ideas of Robert Owen in favour of a more moderate policy based on 'prudence', 'respectability' and steady growth. Great importance was attached to the question of finance, as substantial funds would not only provide maintenance for members involved in strike action, but also help to deter the employers from attacking the organisation. Since its members were skilled and relatively highly paid, it was possible for the ASE to charge contributions of one shilling a week and to build up a fund of unprecedented proportions.

The ASE was an immediate success, and within a year, membership had more than doubled to 11,000.[2] However, in 1852, it was involved in an extended national lockouts, which greatly weakened the organisation, an event repeated in 1896. But it maintained its pre-eminent position in the industry, and many local and regional unions joined.

Jack Leckie, a Scottish trade union activist and communist, addressing a rally at Radford Road, Coventry, during the 1922 Engineers' Lockout.

In 1920, the ASE put out a fresh call for other unions to merge with it in a renamed Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU). More than twenty unions balloted their members on a possible merger, and nine voted in favour of amalgamation:[2]

  • Amalgamated Association of Brass Turners, Fitters, Finishers and Coppersmiths
  • Amalgamated Instrument Makers' Society
  • Amalgamated Society of General Tool Makers, Engineers and Machinists
  • East of Scotland Brass Founders' Society
  • London United Metal Turners', Fitters' and Finishers' Society
  • North of England Brass Turners', Fitters' and Finishers' Society
  • Steam Engine Makers' Society
  • United Kingdom Society of Amalgamated Smiths and Strikers
  • United Machine Workers' Association

The resulting union had a membership of 450,000.[3]

In 1922 employers, represented by the Engineering Employers' Federation, launched an industry-wide lockout in an attempt to reverse the gains made by the AEU during WWI and its aftermath.[3] Exploiting the downturn in economic conditions in the engineering industry, they demanded the union forfeit control over overtime. The lockout lasted from 11 March to 13 June and involved 260,000 workers, 90,000 of them represented by the AEU. The lockout ended with the union conceding some of the employers' demands.[3]

The AEU continued to grow and absorb smaller unions. Its largest membership growth came during the Second World War when its all-male membership voted to admit women for the first time and 100,000 joined almost immediately. However, the AEU also lost its overseas branches in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, who became independent unions.

The AEU merged with the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers (AUFW) in 1967 to form the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers, and with the Draughtsmen and Allied Technicians' Association (DATA) and Constructional Engineering Union in 1971 to form the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, AUEW. That merger was torn apart by political and industrial differences between the blue- and white-collar sections and the former DATA became Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Section, TASS before merging with the white-collar union ASTMS, led by Clive Jenkins, to form Manufacturing Science Finance, MSF.

The rest of the AUEW returned to the AEU name, absorbing the small British Roll Turners Trade Society. The AEU became a mainstay of the moderate right in the trade union movement through the 1980s and 1990s, leading the manufacturing unions in 1989–91 in a successful push for a shorter working week, but failing to merge with a number of unions, notally the building workers union UCATT.

In 1992 the AEU finally achieved a merger with the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union, EETPU, after a hundred years of off and on discussions. [4] The new union took the name Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union.[1]

General Secretaries[edit]

1851: William Allan
1875: John Burnett
1886: Robert Austin
1891: John Anderson
1896: George Nicoll Barnes
1909: Jenkin Jones
1912: Robert Young
1919: Tom Mann
1921: Albert Smethurst
1933: Fred A. Smith
1943: Benjamin Gardner
1956: Cecil Hallett
1965: Jim Conway
AUEW Engineering Section
1975: John McFarlane Boyd
1982: Gavin Laird
1992: Gavin Laird and Paul Gallagher
1994: Paul Gallagher
1995: Ken Jackson
2002: Derek Simpson


1893: Alfred Sellicks
1903: David Gardner
1910: Albert Taylor
1913: James Thomas Brownlie


1920: James Thomas Brownlie
1931: William Harold Hutchinson
1933: John C. Little
1939: Jack Tanner
1953: Robert Openshaw
1956: William Carron
1968: Hugh Scanlon
1978: Terence Duffy
1986: Bill Jordan
1996: Davey Hall


  1. ^ a b Smethurst, John B.; Carter, Peter (2009). Historical Directory of Trade Unions: Including unions in building and construction, agriculture, fishing, chemicals, wood and woodworking, transport, engineering and metalworking, government, civil and public service, shipbuilding, energy and extraction in the United Kingdom and Ireland. 6. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-6683-7. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Arthur Marsh and Victoria Ryan, Historical Directory of British Trade Unions, vol.3, pp.12-15
  3. ^ a b c Haydu, Jeffrey (1988). Between Craft and Class: Skilled Workers and Factory Politics in the United States and Britain, 1890-1922. University of California Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780520060609. 
  4. ^ Lloyd, John (1990). Light and Liberty: A History of EEPTU. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 9780297796626. 

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