It was among the factory workers in the cotton industry that some of the most powerful and influential trade unions emerged in the nineteenth century. The unions took on some of the functions of the old friendly societies but their principal concern became negotiating the wages and working conditions of their members. They were organised around the major processes, with separate unions for spinners, weavers and cardroom workers.
By the end of the nineteenth century each of the three main sectors were organised. The Spinners' Amalgamation, established in 1870, dominated the spinning section. Although it never had a large number of members, the high dues paid by the mule spinners - the famous barefoot aristocrats of the industry - made it one of the wealthiest and most powerful unions in the country. The Weavers' Amalgamation, established 1884, organised workers in the weaving sheds, where there was a large number of women workers. The Cardroom Amalgamation, established 1886, organised workers in the preparatory stages of the industry. In addition the cotton unions came together to form the United Textile Factory Workers' Association (established 1889) which took up industry-wide issues including health and safety and factory reform.
The unions had their own weekly newspaper, the Cotton Factory Times. It was published from 1885 to 1937. Before the First World War the cotton unions were an important presence in the wider trade union movement, playing an important role in organisations such as the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which held it first annual meeting in Manchester in 1868. A number of cotton trade unionists were also elected as MPs for the Lancashire cotton constituencies.
Nigel Rudyard and Terry Wyke
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