A visit to the TUC Library

Updated: May 24, 2024



Pam Foley, an AUE delegate to the London East and South East region of the Creative and Leisure Industries Committee for 10 years, recently attended a tour of the TUC Library, located within the London Metropolitan University and reports back here.

A display of items was laid out by the TUC librarian Jeff, starting with an early certificate for some active trade unionists. The image is packed with symbolism but for me, the most significant one is the figure on the right. He is holding a bundle of sticks that are difficult to break, being stronger together.

A very moving indicator of the sacrifices people make in the battle for workers’ rights is the plight of the “matchstick women” who, in 1888, became the first work force to down tools and strike. In making matches, the women applied a material used to ignite a match, called white phosphorous, which was highly toxic. 

The women went on hunger strike and sought recognition of their struggle from the London trade union council. As the council noted in its minutes of July 12 1888, it voted to support ‘the girls on strike’ (many were just teenagers).

Another example from the library/archive was the January 1977 publication of Spare Rib, the women’s liberation magazine, in which an article recounts the suppression by the Arts Council of a book it had chosen for a tour of artists’ books. The book in question was by artist, Suzanne Santoro. Her book was listed in the exhibition catalogue but when she visited the ICA in London, she could not find it on display. The Arts Council had retrospectively considered her book ‘not artistically excellent’. (As an aside, the word ‘excellent’ is still in play today and has been firmly challenged by CLIC when it appears concerning any selection criteria, particularly when applied to institutions that distribute public funds.) 

There were many more pamphlets and artefacts on display including the original manuscript of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, and the various published versions of the book, including a recent graphic novel.

Well worth a visit if you are in London. 

About the TUC and the TUC Library

The TUC is the voice of Britain at work. We support trade unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

The TUC Library is the major research library for the study of all aspects of trade unions, collective bargaining and labour history, with both historical and contemporary coverage. The emphasis is on Britain, but many other countries are represented, especially Europe and the Commonwealth.

The core areas of the collection are the publications of the TUC since its foundation in 1868, reference and historical works on the labour and trade union movement, union publications from the UK and overseas, and documents relating to working conditions and industrial relations in various industries. The collections also contain material collected from the wide-ranging campaigns and policy areas in which the TUC has been involved over the course of its history, including social policy areas such as health, housing, education, unemployment and social security.

A major strength of the Library is the large holdings of pamphlets from unions, pressure groups and campaign movements, collected from the 19th century onwards, which have survived here as in few other comparable libraries. Important research collections cover:- union activities, international affairs, labour biography, women workers, strikes, Labour Party and Communist Party.




 
 
 

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