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Between 1975 and 2000, the union that is now the GMB deposited a vast quantity of archive material with the Working Class Movement Library.  It was agreed that as and when a union amalgamated with the GMWU [as it was known in 1975] all records would come to the WCML for preservation purposes. The Library, therefore, is now the custodian of the records of a range of unions covering engineering, clothing, woodworking, textiles and white collar occupations.

GMB nameplateIn some cases the archive is limited - different unions discard their records more indiscriminately than others. In other cases the archive is considerable. As in the case of the GMWU itself an individual union's archive may contain the records of past amalgamations in an earlier era .

Not all of the GMB records deposited in the library have yet been catalogued, but you can search our online catalogue to view what has been catalogued and indexed so far.  Everyone is welcome to come and browse through the archive material the library holds.

The Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick holds records of the United Society of Boilermakers, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers and other predecessors of the GMB, as well as some records of the GMB itself.


History of the GMB
GMB centenary plate

GMB centenary plate

The GMB general union traces its direct ancestry to the "new unionism" of the late 1880s, during which unskilled and semi-skilled workers poured into trade unions for the first time. Between 1888 and 1918 trade union membership grew from 750,000 to 6,500,000.

These early forerunners, the London-based Gasworkers and General Union (soon after to be renamed the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers or NUGW&GL) and the Tyneside-based National Amalgamated Union of Labour (NAUL), were formed in 1889.

The union then took on the modern form that can be seen today in the early 1920s when:

  • In 1921 the National Federation of Women Workers merged with the NUGW&GL (renamed the National Union of General Workers or NUGW in 1916); and
  • In 1924 the NUGW joined forces with the National Amalgamated Union of Labour (NAUL) and Municipal Employees Association (MEA) to create the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW).

The union represented a very wide array of occupations, from gasworkers and dockers to car park attendants. 

National Union of General and Municipal Workers Trades Union Congress delegates 1927

NUGMW delegates to the 1927 Trades Union Congress

Over the next fifty years, many other unions joined the NUGMW, including the:

  • National Union of Water Works Employees
  • Scottish Metalworkers' Union
  • Salt & Chemical Workers' Union
  • Manchester Warehouse Employees' Association
  • Rubber, Plastics & Allied Workers' Union
  • Scottish Professional Footballers' Association
  • Coopers & Allied Workers of GB
  • Amalgamated Textile Workers
  • Scottish Lace & Textile Workers' Union
  • Greater London Staff Association

Many of the unions that merged with the NUGMW had long histories of their own - some of them stretching back far into the 19th century to the early days of trade unionism.

Then, in 1982 the NUGMW merged with the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers to form the General Municipal and Boilermakers Union (GMBU).

The original boilermakers' union had formed in 1834, later becoming the United Society of Boilermakers and Iron Ship Builders and, by 1905, Iron and Steel Shipbuilders. In 1954 the name became the United Society of Boilermakers, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers.

In 1962 it had merged with the Amalgamated Society of Blacksmiths, Forge and Smithy Workers, and then in 1964 with the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights.

APEX plaqueThe next major merger was in 1989 with the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff (APEX).

The Clerks Union was formed in 1890, but the name soon changed to the National Union of Clerks. In 1920, after rapid growth and the absorption of a number of other unions the name was again changed, to The National Union of Clerks and Administrative Workers (NUCAW).

In 1940 the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries (AWCS) merged with the NUCAW and became the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union. In 1972 the breadth of its representation was acknowledged in a new name, APEX.

The mergers continued and in 1991 the National Union of Tailors & Garment Workers joined the GMB.

The United Garment Workers Union had been formed in 1912 through an amalgamation of the:

  • Amalgamated Society of Journeymen Tailors
  • Amalgamated Union of Clothiers' OperativesWaterproof Garment Workers Trade Union banner
  • Amalgamated Jewish Tailors, Pressers and Machinists' Trade Union
  • London Clothiers Cutters
  • The Shirt, Jacket and Overall Workers
  • The Belfast Shirt and Collar Workers

Later they were joined by the:

  • Scottish National Association of Operative Tailors
  • London Operative Tailors
  • Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses

In 1931 a merger with the United Ladies Tailors (London) and Waterproof Garment Workers' Union formed the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers - under which name the union carried on for 60 years before joining the GMB.

Possibly the oldest of the many unions that now form part of the GMB joined in 1993. The history of the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades (FTAT) went back to 1747 and the formation of the National Society of Brushmakers and General Workers.

By the end of the 19th century, three major unions existed in the furniture and upholstery trades:Furniture Timber and Allied Trades Union banner

  • the Alliance Cabinet Makers
  • the United Operative Cabinet and Chairmakers' Society of Scotland
  • the Amalgamated Union of Upholsterers (AUU).

A series of mergers culminated in the formation of the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives (NUFTO) in 1947. In 1971 NUFTO merged with the Amalgamated Society of Woodcutting Machinists to form FTAT.

More recent history

1982 - General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union (GMBATU) formed from an amalgamation between the General and Municipal Workers' Union and the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers. It later changed its name to GMB - Britain's General Union.

Many other unions have merged with the GMB since then. Some of them are listed below

1986 - several textile unions joined

1989APEX (Association of Professional, Executive and Computer Staff) joined

1991National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers and Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union joined.

The GMB still exists today - click here to visit their Web site.

A 'family tree' of all the mergers which have led to the present GMB has been compiled at www.unionancestors.co.uk/Images/GMBFamTree.pdf.

GMB political fund ballot badgeFrom the beginning the GMB recognised the importance of political struggle to ensure that working people were properly represented, nationally in Parliament by sponsoring MPs and locally by encouraging and supporting its members to become councillors and other elected officials.  Historically this support was given to the Labour Party because it was brought into being to represent the working people, as the Labour Representation Committee.

However in 2008 the GMB voted to withdraw local funding from around a third of the 108 Labour MPs whose constituencies received support from GMB, due to the perception that some MPs within the Party were not working in the interests of the working class and GMB members.  However Congress opposed disaffiliation from the Labour Party.

In 2013 the GMB announced that from 2014 it would be cutting the affiliation funds it gave to the Labour Party from £1.2 million to £150,000, ahead of Ed Miliband's move to reform union funding so that individual union members have to opt in to support the party, rather than being automatically affiliated.


GMB archives in the library collection

The GMB archive material held in the libary is not yet catalogued.  It contains annual reports, rules, conference reports and other papers.


Resources about the GMB in the library collection

John Callow, GMB@work: the story behind the union (2012) – Shelfmark: X28

John Creaby, Geordie clerks unite!: a centenary history of the Newcastle and Gateshead branch of the Clerks' Union, 1908-2008 - from the National Union of Clerks to the GMB-Commercial Services Section (2008) – Shelfmark: AF GMB Box 17

John Manley, British trade union badges: volume 2 - GMB and its predecessors (2015) – Shelfmark: JS10 Badges Box 1