Friday, February 29, 2008

National Union of Railwaymen

The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS), later National Union of Railwaymen now called Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) was established on the 26th August 1871 by a group of railwaymen who meet in Leeds, within a further two weeks meetings were held in London which enthusiastically endorsed the launching of the union. On March 2nd 1872 its rules were finally registered with the Registrar of Friendly Societies.

Its first Annual General Meeting was held on June 24th, 1872 in the Sussex Hotel, Bouverie Street, London and within twelve months of formation had 17,000 members.

The first railwaymen to join in West Middlesex were platelayers (Platelayers Union) in West Middlesex were those working as platelayers between Acton and Slough along the Great Western Railway track earning in 1889 just 18 shillings a week. (photo rail track workers 1908)

Mr W.J. O’Brien of Acton stated they were engaged as platelayers on the line and “upon their skill depended the security of travelers and the rolling stock of the company”, and they demanded 21 shillings per week.

As early as 1897 branches of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) had been established in Southall and Barnes, which meet on occasions together. (Southall Platelayers Union active from 1889).

At a meeting in November 1897 at the Coffee Tavern, Brentford, Mr Kates of Barnes ASRS introduced a Mr F. Kitley who explained about the principles of trade unionism and congratulated them on such a large attendance. He also referred to the treatment of staff working for the L&SW Railway when they had approached management, he said “the time had come for a united movement of all grades of railwaymen through the ASRS”.

At the same meeting Mr J. Mitchell Platelayers delegate to the recent Birmingham conference gave a resume of the proceedings , he said they had passed a resolution instructing the general secretary of the ASRS to write to several railway companies offering arbitration upon the national programme, meanwhile notices were to be prepared and signed by the men, with a view to handing them in to the companies of favourable replies were not forthcoming by a given date.

A Mr G.B. Whitby proposed the following resolution “That this meeting consisting of all grades of railway men employed on the line running into Brentford having heard the decision of the Birmingham conference pledge itself to support the ASRS.

In 1898 the Amalgamated Society of Railway servants meet at the De Burgh arms in West Drayton

(Picture ASRS Rickmondsworth,Hertfordshire 1912 first banner ASRS Neasden)


During the 18th -19th August 1911 transport strike, over 200,000 railwaymen were on strike, paralysing West Middlesex.

Members in Southall, like all other branches of the
union received the following telegram “Your liberty at stake all railwaymen must strike at once, loyalty to each

other means victory” signed by four rail union General Secretary’s J.E. Williams (ASRS), Fox, Louth and Chorlton.

According to the local Gazette the cry “they’re out “ the words flew from mouth to mouth

The local leader of the railwaymen was the imposing Councillor James Culley of Southall

The Southall railwaymens strike headquarters was at the Co-operative Hall, Kings Street, Southall at which a meeting of over one hundred assembled at 8:00 to discuss the strike but by 7:45 th

en already most men were on strike (I believe this was the evening of 17th August). According to the local paper the meeting was full of enthusiasm and determination was writ large on the face of each of the hundred or more men present. One of the local rail union leaders stated

“They recognised the responsibility the immense amount of

inconvience and suffering to women and children that would happen should the strike be prolonged. But the companies and the autocratic methods and the non-recognition of their societies were responsible entirely for the present state of affairs. All kinds pf obstacles had been placed in the way to prevent the working of the Consolidation Boards”.

The meeting of Southall railwaymen carried the following resolution unanimously “That this meeting of railwaymen representing all grades heartily appreciates the action of our Executives in calling upon us at last to secure recognition of our Societies and pledge ourselves to faithfully abide by the decisions of those said Executives”

Before the meeting broke up the leaders appealed to the men not to do anything disorderly they had said the picket secretary had a reputation to uphold and wished to keep their hands clean, if the solders were called in they were to treat them as brothers.

All but two signalmen in Southall came out on strike, the two signalmen were place in two signal boxes one in the east signal box and one in west. The pickets furious at the “scabs” entered the box and turned off the lights preventing the men from working, the signalmen refused to move and the strikers with no desire to use violence, endeavored to persuade signalmen to strike (picture signal box 1911 strike sStockinford)

The pickets then established picket lines at various entrances to Southall station and sheds and large numbers of people assembled on the Southall railway bridge and also the iron bridge to look for “scab trains”. Scab workers often being reward not only in generous payments from management but also donations from passengers estimated at £10 a time to drive/work trains.

A movement was a foot to raise a special volunteer (a forerunner of the 1926 strike breaking Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies -OMS) force to take duty on the railway lines in the immediate neighborhood.

Amongst the loco drivers (ASLEF) the strike was also solid , one striker stating “I am a socialist and proud of it ”15 working out of 570 between Slough only two and Paddington.

Southall was described by the local paper as being in a great sense of excitement and ferment, with other local employers voluntarily raising wages as the strike wave swept London, outside the epicenter of Transport.

The local Uxbridge paper reported tat “A well known local factory owner had an unpleasant experience on Friday, he had driven in a motor car to a certain strike infested area of South East London to collect certain articles loaned but the crowd which gathered made such a dire threats about overturning the car if he persisted in his businesses he drove off “.

In Southall it was stated the police were are taking all necessary precautions against untoward events and for this purpose about 100-150 specials” constables have been raised in Uxbridge.

Police were placed on guard and several stationed on the Southall bridges and the local paper claimed “possible” incendiary devices were discovered at Southall and attributed to the strikers.

Elsewhere, in the country there was also turmoil, In Llanelli, South Wales two innocent young men, namely Leonard Worsell and John John, who were shot down by soldiers on 18th August 1911 during the Railway Riots in Llanelli 17th and 18th August 1911.

Meanwhile in Liverpool gunboats were anchored in the Mersey and 3,000 troops and several hundred police swamped the city during the 72 day City wide Transport strike. Two more innocent strikers Michael Prendergast and John Sutcliffe were killed by soldiers on the 15th August

Meanwhile in Liverpool during the 72 day City wide Transport strike (including 15,000 railwaymen) which started on 5th August, two more innocent strikers Michael Prendergast and John Sutcliffe had been killed on the 15th August by soldiers.

The deaths murder of innocent strikers could not sway one prominent local resident, the Vicar of Harefield the Rev A.A. Harland stated in August 1911 that “All these strikes had been ruthlessly conducted against law and order….. The police, the custodians of public safety had been cruelly maltreated by rioting mobs of so called hooligans and the solders who had suddenly been called out to protect life and property and assist the police in the discharge pf their duties had been compelled much against their will to fire upon the more violent and savage wrongdoers”

Despite the railway companies being well prepared and confident prior to the strike and direct government intervention with the extensive use of the army and police. The Railway Companies were forced into meeting union representatives, the first great rail strike being terminated on the 19th August 1911. The outcome was a new Conciliation Scheme and union recognition.

One legacy of the strike was the move towards the amalgamation of rail unions. The three main “general” unions, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, The United Pointsmen & Signalmen’s Society and the General Railway Workers Union agreing to amalgamate and this was completed on the 23rd August 1913 becoming the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) and by 1915 the new union had 267,611 members.


The second national Railwaymen’s strike took place at midnight on the 26th September 1919 primarily over the issue consolidation of war bonuses of 33 shillings. The strike being settled with the intervention of Downing Street on the 5th October 1919 (pictiure Soldier at Slough 1919)

When the Hayes branch established 1922, a Mr W.T. Pollard of Hayes recalled he had walked many miles to attend branch meetings and that he had been a member since March 1900 “They had to fight in the dark and dare not come out into the open but they got things done”

A Southall Railway Women’s Guild was established by wives of husbands in the NUR by B (Barbara?) A. Chard the wife of a Southall signalman, also involved in the Women’s Railway Guild was Mrs Nottingham. (pictire WW1 women rail worker)


The third national rail strike took place during the General Strike in 1926 (3rd-12th May 1926)


The next (fourth) national rail strike was not called until thirty six years later in 1962, when faced with the Beeching Plans proposals to the closure of large sections of the rail network, stations and workshops. The NUR organised 189 meetings opposing the proposals and organised a strike on the 3rd October 1962, This strike secured widespread public support. The union winning a number of concessions to the redundancy agreements


In 1968 the National Union of railwaymen opted for a work to rule which was conducted between the 24th June and5th July 1968 over the issue of pay.


The National Union of Railway under the excellent leadership of Jimmy Knapp conducted a series of six one day strikes in July/July 1989 which secured high levels of public support.



Councillor Mrs B (Barbara) A Chard came to Southall in 1898, helped found the Women’s Co-operative Guild and the Women’s Railway (Union) Guild.

During the World War 1 she helped women munitions workers, in groups of up to eighty to find accommodation in Hayes and

Southall area.

Elected as Southall Labour Councillor in 1919 and onto the Board of Guardians, became Chairman of Southall Urban District Council in 1926

Mr Albert J Chard was her husband, also a Labour JP a railway guard

Positive this is Barbara Chard born in 1872 at Cardigan, Wales
aged 29 at 1901 census


Hayes National Union of Railwaymen's branch established in 1922. At Hayes their was a railway estate built for workers on the Great Western Railway and a Mr Doubbley was the leader of the West Drayton/Uxbridge National Union of Railwaymen who played a key role during the 1926 General strike. In the 1940’s a Mr Slade was the active in Hayes Trades Council

In January 1929 a Rail Minority Movement (Communist Party) was established with branches from Perth, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Derby, Keig

hley, Birmingham, London and Exeter represented. Soon prominent members of the RMM were elected into senior branch roles in Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby and Leytonstone. The RMM also had an important group as Stratford, London's largest rail cleaning and repair depot.

Mr W.C. Loeber (NUR) being important leader of rank and file railwaymen, he was a carriage cleaner from Hornsey. He joined the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1912 and by 1924 was Chairman of the Wood Green & Hornsey branch of the NUR. NUR Executive member 1938-1940. Close friend of Harry Pollitt, Loeber was a Communist Party member and national executive member. He retired from the Railway's aged 65 in 1956. "He saw the Minority Movement as the only way to prevent a decline in working class conditions, and the Communist Party as the only way to bring Socialism nearer (The Railway Vigilant September 1932)

Newsletters included "The Signal (Manchester), Hornsey Star, The LMS Rebel and Kings Cross Star.

The Railway Minority Movement merged with the Railway Vigilance Movement (named after the Vigilance Committee's established during WW1. (and various Railway Vigilance Committees had continued after the war)

At the first conference of the Railway Vigilance Committee held on 3rd December 1932 with 35 NUR branches, 31 ASLEF and 18 Depot committees represented

The objective of the Railway Vigilance Committee was....."a movement organised in the local depots and branches and embracing all workers irrespective of grade or union division.....(which)..... can be a most powerful means of defeating the wage cuts demands of the companies

Its newspaper "The Railway Vigilant" appeared in November in November 1932 and circulation peaked at around 12,000