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Transport and General Workers' Union

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Transport and General Workers' Union
Merged intoUnite
Founded1 January 1922
Dissolved1 May 2007
HeadquartersLondon, England
800,000 (2006)
Key people
Tony Woodley, general secretary
PublicationTGWU Record
AffiliationsTUC, ICTU, STUC, ITF, IUF, Labour
Transport and General Workers' Union central office
Transport and General Workers' Union Bristol office

The Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU or T&G) was one of the largest general trade unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland – where it was known as the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union (ATGWU) to differentiate itself from the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union – with 900,000 members (and was once the largest trade union in the world). It was founded in 1922 and Ernest Bevin served as its first general secretary.

In 2007, it merged with Amicus to form Unite the Union.


At the time of its creation in 1922, the TGWU was the largest and most ambitious amalgamation brought about within trade unionism. Its structure combined regional organisation, based on Districts and Areas, with committee organisation by occupation, based on six broad Trade Groups. Trade groups were not closely linked to trades, but were elected by activists. Officials of the union were grouped by region, and could be asked to serve each or any trade group.

Docks Group[edit]

The Docks Group was created in 1922 to represent members of the following unions:

The group originally had a subsection for coal shipping.[1] In 1928, it had 96,000 members, but over time, membership of the group declined along with employment on the docks, dropping to 56,000 in 1966, and had 51,153 in 1980.[1][2]

Waterways Group[edit]

The Waterways Group was created in 1922 to represent members of the Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen and Bargemen. Always one of the smallest sections, it had only 8,000 members in 1928, and 16,000 in 1966.[2] In 1970, it was merged into the Docks Group.

Administrative, Clerical and Supervisory Group[edit]

The Administrative, Clerical and Supervisory Group was created in 1922 to represent members of the following unions:

There was often ambiguity in the TGWU over the actual name of its white-collar section. From the 1960s it was generally known as ACTS (Administrative, Clerical, Technical and Supervisory) but also sometimes as the ACTSS (Association of Clerical, Technical and Supervisory Staff) and enamel union badges bearing both sets of initials were produced for members. It was noted for an enquiry by the Certification Office in 2006 into board members who had joined the union within six months of being elected to senior posts.

The group grew significantly over time, having only 5,000 members in 1928, but 62,000 by 1966, and 149,801 members in 1980.[1][2]

Road Transport (Passenger and Commercial) Groups[edit]

The Road Transport group was created in 1922 to represent members of the following unions:

Later in 1922, the group was split into Road Transport (Passenger) and Road Transport (Commercial) groups.[1] The Passenger group had 79,000 members in 1928 and 181,000 in 1966, but by 1980, the renamed Passenger Services group had dropped to only 44,501 members. The Commercial Services group rose from 37,000 members in 1928 to 219,000 in 1966, and 226,290 in 1980.[1][2]

General Workers Group[edit]

The General Workers Group was created in 1922 to cater for all workers in jobs which did not fall into another group. Initially, it had subsections for workers in metal and chemical trades. Once it was considered that a particular field had enough members to justify its own trade group, it was split out. These decisions were made at the Biennial Delegate Conference, and although there were many applications to form new trade groups, most were unsuccessful. The group had 68,000 members in 1928, and it then doubled in size when the Workers' Union merged into the TGWU.[1] By 1966, it had 338,000 members and, despite the splitting out of further groups in 1970, by 1980 it still had 269,845 members.[1][2]

The first groups to be split out were:

Later mergers[edit]

The Scottish Union of Dock Labourers and National Union of Dock, Riverside and General Workers in Great Britain and Ireland initially voted not to amalgamate, but a new voted changed their position, and they joined before the end of 1922, along with the Amalgamated Carters, Lurrymen and Motormen's Union, Greenock Sugar Porters' Union, Dundee Flax and Jute Stowers' Society, National Union of British Fishermen, and Belfast Breadservers' Association. Some of these unions retained a great deal of autonomy and in many ways effectively functioned as separate unions, even being registered separately with the Registrar of Friendly Societies. The biggest merger was with the Workers' Union in 1929, the union being fully integrated into the TGWU in 1931.[2]


The Transport and General Workers' Union spearheaded the campaign for the registration of Gangmasters in the UK, sponsoring an Act of Parliament which received the Royal Assent on 8 July 2004.[3]

Merger with Amicus[edit]

During 2005 discussions started between the TGWU, Amicus and the GMB about the possibility of merging the three unions into one organisation with potentially 2.5 million members covering almost every sector of the economy. On 14 June 2006 the GMB Conference voted not to continue with discussions although the other two unions are proceeding, with delegates approving the proposed 'Instrument of Amalgamation' at a special conference on 18 December 2006. The ballot of both unions' membership during February and early March 2007, also approved the merger. The result of the ballot was announced on 8 March 2007: 86.4 per cent of T&G members and 70.1 per cent of Amicus members voted to support the merger, from a turnout of 27% at a time of low membership consultation. The press release announced that the resulting union had the working title "New Union" and the name would be decided by a ballot of the membership.[4] However, on 2 April 2007, The Times reported that the name Unite had been chosen.[5] and that full merger of rule books and governing bodies may soon follow the existing merger of personnel and finance departments [6]


Regions – particularly Region One which covered London, the South East and Eastern England, also had a tradition of donating to other causes, as did branch committees, which controlled a substantial proportion of membership income.


General Secretaries[edit]

1922: Ernest Bevin
1945: Arthur Deakin (acting from 1940)
1955: Jock Tiffin
1956: Frank Cousins
1964: Harry Nicholas (acting)
1969: Jack Jones
1978: Moss Evans
1985: Ron Todd
1992: Bill Morris
2003: Tony Woodley

Deputy General Secretaries[edit]

1974: Harry Urwin
1980: Alec Kitson
1986: Bill Morris
1992: Jack Adams
1999: Margaret Prosser
2002: Tony Woodley
2003: Jack Dromey

Assistant General Secretaries[edit]

1924: John Cliff
1935: Arthur Deakin
1945: Harold Clay
1948: Jock Tiffin
1955: Frank Cousins
1956: Harry Nicholas
1968: Harry Urwin
1974: Vacant
1985: Eddie Haigh and Larry Smith
1988: Eddie Haigh
1991: Vacant?
1999: Barry Camfield and Jimmy Elsby


The list of TGWU amalgamations highlights the scale of the TGWU policy of mergers, amalgamations and transfers of engagements, which contributed to its membership growth and the spread of its membership base.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Eaton, Jack; Gill, Colin (1981). The Trade Union Directory. London: Pluto Press. pp. 54–68. ISBN 0861043502.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hyman, Richard (1971). The Workers' Union. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 170.
  3. ^ "Gangmaster registration". Archived from the original on 19 March 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2006.
  4. ^ "T&G and amicus members back new union". Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  5. ^ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1599614.ece [dead link]
  6. ^ http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/support_services/article5119928.ece [dead link]

Further reading[edit]

  • Adonis, Andrew. Ernest Bevin (2020)
  • Bullock, Alan. The life and times of Ernest Bevin. Vol. 1, Trade union leader, 1881-1940 (1960) online
  • Coates, Ken, and Tony Topham. Making of the Labour Movement: The Formation of the Transport and General Workers' Union, 1870-1922 (1994)
  • Durbin, Elizabeth. New Jerusalems: The Labour Party and the Economics of Democratic Socialism (1985).
  • Losada, Mònica Clua. "The retreat of the union: The Transport and General Workers’ Union strategies of renewal in the 1990s." (2010). online
  • Murray, Andrew. The T & G story: a history of the Transport and General Workers Union, 1922-2007 (2008) a short scholarly history. online
  • Phillips, Jim. "Class and Industrial Relations in Britain: The ‘Long’ Mid-century and the Case of Port Transport, c. 1920–70." Twentieth Century British History 16.1 (2005): 52-73. online
  • Potts, Archie. "Bevin to Beat the Bankers: Ernest Bevin’s Gateshead Campaign of 1931", Bulletin of the Northeast Group for the Study of Labour History 11 (1977), pp. 28–38.
  • Seifert, Roger. UNITE History Volume 2 (1932-1945): The Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU):'No turning back', the road to war and welfare (Liverpool University Press, 2022).
  • Topham, Tony. "The Unofficial National Docks Strike of 1923: The Transport and General Workers' Union's First Crisis." Historical Studies in Industrial Relations 2 (1996): 27-64. online
  • Topham, Tony. "The Early Years of the Transport and General Workers' Union: The Waterways' Group and the Canal Workers." Historical Studies in Industrial Relations 27-28 (2009): 183-195.
  • Topham, Tony. "A Difficult Childhood: The Formative Years of the Transport and General Workers Union" Historical Studies in Industrial Relations v 37 (2016) DOI:10.3828/hsir.2016.37.12
  • Transport and General Workers' Union. Inequality: the evidence of the Transport and General Workers' Union to the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth (1976) online
  • Weiler, Peter. Ernest Bevin (1993), scholarly biography online
  • Weir, Adrian. UNITE History Volume 6 (1992-2010): The Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU): Unity for a New Era (Liverpool University Press, 2023) online.
  • Williams, Francis. Ernest Bevin (1952), popular biography [https://archive.org/details/ernestbevinportr0000fran

External links[edit]