Amalgamated Engineering Union

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Amalgamated Engineering Union
Amalgamated Engineering Union (Australia) logo.png
Founded 1851
Date dissolved 1 May 1992
Merged into Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union
Members 1,483,400 (1979)[1]
Affiliation TUC, CSEU
Office location 110 Peckham Road, London
Country United Kingdom

The Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) was a major British trade union. It merged with the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union to form the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union in 1992.


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".[2] Its secretary, William Allan, and another leading figure in the union, William Newton, proposed forming a new union to bring together skilled workers from all engineering trades.[3] They invited a large number of other unions to become part a new Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Machinists, Smiths, Millwrights and Pattern-makers, which was soon shorted to the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE). Other than the Old Mechanics, the only 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, Allan becoming its first general secretary.[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. Initially, there were strict restrictions on membership; all must have completed an apprenticeship in their trade, and men who wore glasses were not permitted to join.[2]

The ASE was an immediate success, and within a year, membership had more than doubled to 11,000.[2] However, in 1852, it agreed a ban on overtime and piecework. In retaliation, employers began an extended national lockouts, which greatly weakened the organisation,[3] an event repeated in 1896. But it maintained its pre-eminent position in the industry, and many local and regional unions joined.

The union was invited to join the Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades (FEST) when it was formed in 1891, but refused to do so. It also had a turbulent relationship with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), not holding membership in 1905 or from 1907 to 1918. However, it was a founder member of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). It finally joined the FEST in 1905, hoping to persuade its other members to amalgamate with it. Six small unions did so, but the other refused, and the ASE again left the FEST in 1918.[2]

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]

The resulting union had a membership of 450,000.[4]

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.[4] 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.[4]

The AEU continued to grow and absorb smaller unions. From 1926, it accepted members who had not completed an apprenticeship. In 1933, it had 168,000 members, and 390,900 by the end of the decade. 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, membership reaching 825,000 by 1943.[1] 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) on 1 January 1968 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. The union was now organised on a federal basis, with four sections: Engineering, Foundry, Construction, and Technical, Administrative and Supervisory (TASS). This approach was not a success, as the various sections fell into dispute with each other. In 1984, the Engineering, Foundry and Construction Sections were merged and in 1986 adopted the name "Amalgamated Engineering Union" once more, while the TASS remained separate and, in 1988, it became entirely independent of the union once more.[5]

Despite this series of amalgamations, declines in the number of workers in heavy industry saw membership drop from a peak of 1,483,400 in 1979, to 858,000 in 1986.[1] The AEU became a mainstay of the moderate right in the trade union movement through the 1980s and 1990s, leading the manufacturing unions in 1989–1991 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. [6] The new union took the name Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union.[7]

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
Year Construction Engineering Foundry TASS
1968 Created 1971 Jim Conway William Simpson Created 1971
1971 Eddie Marsden George Doughty
1974 Bob Garland Ken Gill
1975 John Boyd
1976 John Baldwin
1982 Gavin Laird
1984 Gavin Laird
1988: Gavin Laird


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


  1. ^ a b c James C. Docherty and Sjaak van der Velden, Historical Dictionary of Organized Labor, pp.24-25
  2. ^ a b c d e f Arthur Marsh and Victoria Ryan, Historical Directory of British Trade Unions, vol.3, pp.12-16
  3. ^ a b "Newton, William", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Chris Cook, The Routledge Guide to British Political Archives: Sources since 1945, pp.223-224
  6. ^ Lloyd, John (1990). Light and Liberty: A History of EEPTU. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 9780297796626. 
  7. ^ 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. 

External links[edit]