National Union of General Workers (UK)

The National Union of General Workers (NUGW) was an early general union in the United Kingdom, the most important general union of its era.

National Union of General Workers
MottoYou Cannot Afford To Stand Alone
Date dissolved1924
Merged intoNational Union of General and Municipal Workers
Members39,805 (1907)[1]
196,090 (1924)
AffiliationTUC, NTWF, Labour
Key peopleWill Thorne, General Secretary
Office location28 Tavistock Square, London
CountryUnited Kingdom


The union was founded in 1889 as the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers by Will Thorne, Ben Tillett and William Byford, following lay offs at Beckton gas works. Thorne was elected as the General Secretary, a post he held throughout the life of the union, and successfully argued that the organisation should campaign for an eight-hour working day, rather than an increase in wages. This demand was quickly won, and membership soon rose to over 20,000.[2]

While the union organised members across the UK, its main areas of strength were London and Lancashire. In London, Thorne was its best-known figure, followed by Pete Curran, Arthur Hayday, Jack Jones and Harry Picard, while in Lancashire its main figures were J. R. Clynes, Charles Dukes, Fleming Eccles and Arthur Seabury. It also had significant numbers of members in the north east, organised by Hugh Lynas, and in Scotland, where it was organised by John McKenzie. Its largest section of members worked in engineering, followed by gas workers, electricity supply, shipyard workers in the south of England and in Scotland. Other industries in which it had a significant membership included the metal trades in Sheffield and Birmingham, aluminium, asbestos and cement works, brickmaking, quarrying, boxmaking, chemicals, rubber, leather, and food and drink manufacturing.[3]

In 1916, the organisation renamed itself the "National Union of General Workers", merging with the Amalgamated Union of Machine and General Labourers. Further mergers followed, principally with the British Labour Amalgamation, the Amalgamated Society of Gas, Municipal and General Workers, the Amalgamated Enginemen, Cranemen, Boilermen, Firemen and Wire Rope Workers Union and the National Federation of Women Workers.[4] This last merger was particularly significant, as it brought 30,000 women into the union.[3]

Unlike many other unions, the NUGW only had a small staff at its headquarters, consisting of Clynes, Jones, Thorne and Will Sherwood, later joined by Margaret Bondfield from the National Union of Women Workers.[3]

In 1924, the union joined with the National Amalgamated Union of Labour and the Municipal Employees Association to form the National Union of General and Municipal Workers.[4] Much of the leadership of the new union came from the NUGW, which adopted its districts. Eccles, R. H. Farrah, Hayday, William E. Hopkin, Tom Hurley, Lynas, McKenzie, Walt Wood and S. J. Wright all continued in post as district secretaries, Thorne continued as general secretary, and Clynes as president, while Bondfield, Jones and Sherwood were appointed as assistant general secretaries.[3]

Election resultsEdit

The union sponsored Labour Party candidates in numerous Parliamentary elections, several of whom won election.

Election Constituency Candidate Votes Percentage Position
1900 general election West Ham South Will Thorne 4,439 44.2 2[5]
1906 general election Jarrow Peter Francis Curran 5,093 38.8 2[6]
West Ham South Will Thorne 10,210 67.2 1[6]
1907 by-election Jarrow Pete Curran 4,698 33.0 1
1910 Jan general election Jarrow Pete Curran 4,818 33.5 2
West Ham South Will Thorne 11,791 63.1 1
1910 Dec general election West Ham South Will Thorne 9,508 66.4 1
1918 general election Bolton Robert Tootill unopposed N/A 1[7]
Carlisle Ernest Lowthian 4,736 33.2 2
The Hartlepools Will Sherwood 4,733 18.6 3
Manchester Platting John Robert Clynes unopposed N/A 1[8]
Nottingham West Arthur Hayday 7,286 56.8 1
Plaistow Will Thorne 12,156 94.9 1[7]
Rutland and Stamford Fleming Eccles 7,639 46.4 2
1922 general election Darlington Will Sherwood 9,048 33.8 2[9]
Manchester Platting J. R. Clynes 15,683 48.5 1[9]
Northampton Margaret Bondfield 14,498 37.9 2[9]
Northwich John Williams 13,006 45.8 2[9]
Nottingham West Arthur Hayday 10,787 49.0 1[9]
Plaistow Will Thorne 12,321 63.3 1[9]
Rutland and Stamford Fleming Eccles 7,236 32.9 2[9]
Silvertown Jack Jones 11,874 73.1 1[9]
1923 by-election Darlington Will Sherwood 11,271 43.4 2
1923 general election Bolton Fleming Eccles 21,045 15.6 5
Darlington Will Sherwood 9,284 33.6 2
Manchester Platting J. R. Clynes 17,078 54.8 1[10]
Northampton Margaret Bondfield 15,556 40.5 1[10]
Nottingham West Arthur Hayday 12,366 62.7 1[10]
Plaistow Will Thorne 13,638 74.6 1[10]
Silvertown Jack Jones 12,777 81.3 1[10]


1889: Mark Hutchins
1891: Will Watkinson
1894: Pete Curran
1910: J. E. Smith
1912: J. R. Clynes


  1. ^ Report on Trade Unions in 1905-1907. London: Board of Trade. 1909. p. 82-101.
  2. ^ National Union of Gasworkers, Spartacus Educational
  3. ^ a b c d Clegg, H. A. (1954). General Union. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 11–23.
  4. ^ a b Arthur Ivor Marsh et al, Historical Directory of Trade Unions, p.486
  5. ^ Frank Bealey and Henry Pelling, Labour and Politics, 1900-1906, p.289
  6. ^ a b Frank Bealey and Henry Pelling, Labour and Politics, 1900-1906, pp.290-292
  7. ^ a b Labour Year Book (1919), pp.12-14
  8. ^ Declan McHugh, Labour in the City: The Development of the Labour Party in Manchester 1918-31, p.196
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Labour Party, Report of the Twenty-second Annual Conference of the Labour Party, pp.255-272. Note that this list is of the sanctioned candidates as of June 1922, and there were some changes between this date and the general election.
  10. ^ a b c d e Clegg, H. A. (1954). General Union. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 304–306.