The onset in 1930 of the severest recession the world had ever known made 20 per cent of Britain's workers unemployed.
The town of Jarrow in the North East of England epitomised the human misery of unemployment in the hungry thirties.
Virtually a single-industry town, its life blood came from Palmer's shipyard. when the shipyard closed down the consequences were catastrophic. Nearly 80 per cent of the workforce was out of work.
Malnutrition was claiming lives and the death rate from tuberculosis was double the national average.
In 1936, with Shop Workers union sponsored MP Ellen Wilkinson at their head, the men of Jarrow set off to march to London. Throughout the journey the march was fed.and sheltered largely by.the efforts' of trade union members and Co-operative Societies.
Ellen spoke nightly at public meetings en route and finally led the weary yet triumphant marchers into London's Parliament Square.
The march roused the whole nation, but the Tory Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, refused to see any of the marchers.
Apart from the recession, another great shadow lay over the political scene of the thirties—the increasing power of Fascism across Europe and the threat of a second world war.
The Shop workers union joined with other unions in highlighting the abuses of fascist regimes in Europe, while opposing fascism in Britain at a time when the ruling establishment including the Daily Mail, Conservative MP's and members of the Royal Family were embracing Hitlerism and his fascist ideology.
Union members fought the fascists on the streets of the East End and elsewhere. They died in the International Brigade defending Republican Spain against fascist enemies.
When the second World War came the union would lose over 2,000 members fighting fascism and a further 140 civilian members killed in aerial attacks on Britain
The Shop Workers union lost 2,047 member during World War 2 fighting fascism, to add to the 2,103 killed in World War 1