Date(s) - 8 Dec
4:30 pm - 7:00 pm


BUIRA History of Industrial Relations Study Group


Unite the Union: The Unite History Project

Thursday 8 December 2022

4.30pm for 4.50-7.00pm (Tea/coffee from 4.30pm)

Room L 195, University of Westminster Business School, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS (opposite Madame Tussauds and nearly opposite Baker Street tube)

To reserve a place, please use this link:


For further information, email Michael Gold (m.gold@rhul.ac.uk) or Linda Clarke (clarkel@wmin.ac.uk).

This seminar examines the development of Unite the Union from its origins in the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU).


4.30-4.50pm: Tea/ coffee/ refreshments

4.50-5.00: Welcome: Michael Gold and Linda Clarke (Chairs)


5.00-5.25: Roger Seifert

No Turning Back: The Road to War and Welfare (Volume 2, 1932-1945)

In 1932 the union was a large rambling organisation losing members and activists, politically defensive, and industrially seeking formal recognition by any means. The economy was dominated by mass unemployment. Bevin, with Citrine, personified the spirit of partnership (Mondism). This strategy came into conflict with the rank-and-file over strikes, the rise of fascism and the plight of colonial workers. Tripartism was embedded in wartime regulations with Bevin in the coalition government. War ended unemployment, women joined the workforce, worker and women’s rights moved centre stage, and the TGWU grew bigger. As the real costs of war became apparent, so citizens looked to the future of full employment (Keynes), health and welfare (Beveridge), and a socially more equal and just society.

5.25-5.50: Marjorie Mayo

Exploring Class Struggle (Volume 3, 1945-60)

This linked presentation examines the contradictions of the post war period, and aims to understand the pressures on post-war Labour governments as well as the achievements. It analyses the continuing importance of trade union struggles, including struggles for equalities, when women were being pushed back into the home, and far right groups were continuing their strategies of harassment, increasingly focusing on black migrant workers. It also considers the importance of strategies to build a more educated union (and for what ends) with greater democracy for the future. These developments take place within the context of the Cold War and the importance of international solidarity with movements for colonial freedom.

5.50-6.00: John Foster (video link)

Comments on Methods and the Use of Oral History

This final session will comment briefly on the methodologies and outcomes of Volumes 2 and 3, in the context of Volume 4 which was published on 16 October. Because Volume 4 covers the post-1960 period it has been amplified by oral history. In that context, it attempts a more regional and comparative approach than the others.

6.00-6.30pm: General discussion

6.30pm: Close (followed by drinks until 7.00pm)

The speakers:

  • John Foster is Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences, University of Paisley/UWS. His main relevant publications include: Class Struggle and Industrial Revolution (Weidenfeld, 1974) and, with Charles Woolfson, Class Alliances and the Right to Work: The Politics of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in (L&W, 1986); Track Record: The Caterpillar Occupation (Verso 1988); and Capital and Labour in Britain’s Offshore Oil Industry (Mansell 1997).
  • Marjorie Mayo is Emeritus Professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, where her research has included a focus upon adult community education and learning for active citizenship. Recent publications include Community-based Learning and Social Movements: Popular Education in a Populist Age, Bristol: Policy Press, and the Unite History Volume 3.
  • Roger Seifert read PPE at Oxford, and took an MBA at London Business School and his PhD at LSE. He worked as a management consultant in London, and was Professor of Industrial Relations at Keele (1992-2008) and Wolverhampton (2008-2018). He specializes in public sector employment, trade unions, strikes, and workplace issues.


The presentations are based on Volumes 2, 3, and 4 of the UNITE History Project (Liverpool University Press):

Volume 1: 1922-1931 The Transport and General Workers Union: Representing a Mass Trade Union Movement, Mary Davis and John Foster (2021)

Volume 2: 1932-1945 The Transport and General Workers Union: ‘No Turning Back’ The Road to War and Welfare, Roger Seifert (2022)

Volume 3: 1945-60 The Transport and General Workers Union: Post-War Britain, the Welfare State and the Cold War, Marjorie Mayo (2022)

Volume 4: 1960-1974 The Transport and General Workers Union: The Great Tradition of Independent Working Class Power, John Foster (2023)

Volume 5: 1975-1992 The Transport and General Workers Union

Mary Davis (2023)

Volume 6: 1993-2008 The Transport and General Workers Union

Adrian Weir (2023)