Walter Citrine, 1st Baron Citrine

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Walter McLennan Citrine, 1st Baron Citrine GBE PC (22 August 1887, Wallasey — 22 January 1983, Brixham) was a British trade unionist. Citrine played a central role in the labour movement, especially by redefining the role of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) as mediator, co-ordinator and researcher. He provided co-ordination and a centralised leadership for the entire movement, and set up a research programme that laid the foundations for the Labour government of 1945-51. He co-ordinated the industrial and political wings of the labour movement, and helped stop the Labour Party's drift to the Left after the 1931 crisis. He also played a key role in the reshaping of Labour's foreign policy from the mid-1930s to oppose both Fascism and Communism.[1]

An electrician by trade, he became Mersey District's secretary of his trade union, the Electrical Trades Union, in 1914. Twelve years later he became General Secretary of the TUC, holding the post for twenty years through the Second World War. He was also president of the anti-Communist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions 1928-45 and president of the World Trade Union Conference in 1945.

Citrine strengthened the TUC's influence over the Labour Party. He opposed plans by the Labour Government in 1931 to cut unemployment benefits. After Ramsay MacDonald formed a coalition with the Conservatives to force his policies through, Citrine led the campaign to have him expelled from the party. Citrine later supported the Attlee government's policy of nationalisation and served on the National Coal Board and served as chairman of the Central Electricity Board 1947-57. He was granted a peerage in 1947.

He authored The ABC of Chairmanship, regarded by many in the labour movement as the "bible" of committee chairmanship. His autobiography Men and Work was published in 1964. His personal papers are held at the London School of Economics.


Citruine was born to a working-class family in Liverpool; his father was a seaman and his mother a hospital nurse. His father seems to have been an immigrant from Italy [on the 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses he claims to have been born in Liverpool]. The boy left school at age 12. He became an electrician, a skilled job high in the working class hierarchy. He was self-educated, and mastered shorthand along the way. He joined the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) in 1911 as an ordinary member but was soon spotted for his enthusiasm to trade unionism, and his energetic and skilled organisational abilities. He became full-time Mersey District Secretary, 1914-1920 of the ETU, and moved to the top as the ETU's General Secretary, 1920-1923. He then moved to the newly energised TUC as Assistant Secretary of the TUC, 1924-1925, and General Secretary, 1926-1946. He was in operational charge of the General Strike in 1926, although he was pessimistic about its prospects. The strike was easily defeated in nine days by the Conservative government, which mobilised middle class opinion against it. From 1928 to 1945 he was also President of the International Federation of Trade Unions, chiefly an honorific position. He was also a Director of the Daily Herald 1929-1946, the newspaper that spoke for the trades union movement.[2]

My Finnish Diary Citrine's favourable account of his visit to Finland during its Winter War against the Soviet Union.

Feuds with Communists[edit]

Britain and France declared war on Germany in September 1939, but Communists denounced the war because Stalin at the time was allied with Hitler. After a December 1939 meeting in Paris between Citrine and French Labour Minister Charles Pomaret, the latter "clamped down on French labour with a set of drastic wage-&-hour decrees and Sir Walter Citrine agreed to a proposal by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir John Simon that pay rises in Britain be stopped"[3] This brought condemnation from the communist newspaper Daily Worker, which supported the Soviet Union and opposed war with Germany. Citrine sued the Daily Worker for libel after it accused him of "plotting with the French Citrines to bring millions of Anglo-French Trade Unionists behind the Anglo-French imperialist war machine"; the publisher pleaded the British press equivalent of 'fair comment'. Citrine alleged, in response to his lawyer's questioning, that the Daily Worker received £2000 per month from "Moscow", and that Moscow directed the paper to print anti-war stories.[3] The Daily Worker's counsel, Denis Nowell Pritt, asked Citrine "Have you ever considered ... whether there is any alternative to carrying on this war to a bitter conclusion?" Replied Citrine: "The alternative is to capitulate to Hitler and lose our freedom."[3]


He visited Finland at the height of its Winter War against the Soviet Union in January 1940. He interviewed many people ranging from General Mannerheim to Russian prisoners. He visited the front line near the Summa sector of the Mannerheim line.[4] He wrote a popular account of his brief visit in My Finnish Diary.

Soviet Union[edit]

In October 1941 a TUC delegation under his leadership travelled on the Australian warship HMAS Norman from Iceland to the Soviet Union (Archangel) via the Arctic route. This was part of Churchill's diplomatic efforts following the German invasion of Russia to bring the Soviet Union into the alliance against Germany prior to the establishment of the Arctic convoys to supply war materials from Britain to the Soviet Union.[5]


When the Labour Party came to power in 1945, Citrine at the TUC worked with Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin and other Labour leaders to develop an anti-Communist foreign policy in 1945-46. He collaborated with the American Federation of Labor to strengthen non-Communist unions around the world, especially in the West Indies.[6]

When the government nationalised the coal mines. Citrine left the TUC and was appointed to the National Coal Board in 1946. From 1947 to 1957 he was the chairman of the British Electricity Authority (from 1955 the Central Electricity Authority),



  1. ^ Neil Riddell, "Walter Citrine and the British Labour Movement, 1925-1935," History (2000) 85#273 pp 285-306
  2. ^ Buchanan (2004); Citrine (1964)
  3. ^ a b c "Reds, Labor and the War". TIME. 13 May 1940. Retrieved 14 July 2009. 
  4. ^ Citrine, 1940, pg. 190
  5. ^ Specific reference needed but there are several in naval records and accounts and see Wikipedia entry for HMAS Norman (G49)
  6. ^ Geert Van goethem, "Labor's Second Front: The Foreign Policy of the American and British Trade Union Movements during the Second World War," Diplomatic History (2010) 34#4 pp 663-680.

Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, V L. "The Re-Organization of the Trades Union Congress, 1918-1927," British Journal of Sociology (1960) 11#1 pp 14–43. in JSTOR
  • Buchanan, Tom. "Citrine, Walter McLennan, first Baron Citrine (1887–1983)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004); online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 9 Nov 2012 doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30931
  • Clegg, Hugh Armstrong. A History of British Trade Unions since 1889, vol. 2, 1911-1933 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).
  • Clegg, Hugh Armstrong. A History of British Trade Unions since 1889, vol. 3, 1934-1951 (1994).
  • Riddell, Neil. "Walter Citrine and the British Labour Movement, 1925-1935," History (2000) 85#273 pp 285–306

Primary sources[edit]

  • Citrine, Walter. I Search for Truth in Russia (1936).
  • Citrine, Walter (1940). My Finnish Diary. Penguin. 
  • Citrine, W. ABC of Chairmanship (1939), a manual for labour meetings
  • Lord Citrine [W. M. Citrine]. Men and Work: an autobiography (1964)
  • Citrine, W. Two Careers: a second volume of autobiography (1967)

External links[edit]


Political offices
Preceded by
Fred Bramley
Assistant General Secretary of the TUC
Succeeded by
Alec Firth
Preceded by
Fred Bramley
General Secretary of the TUC
Succeeded by
Vincent Tewson
Preceded by
A. A. Purcell
President of the International Federation of Trade Unions
1928 – 1945
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
Herbert Henry Elvin
Trades Union Congress representative to the American Federation of Labour
Succeeded by
Edward Hough and George Walker Thomson
Preceded by
New position
President of the World Federation of Trade Unions
1945 – 1946
Succeeded by
Arthur Deakin
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Citrine Succeeded by
Norman Arthur Citrine