Trade union material in the University of Sussex Legacy Collection

The University of Sussex’s Legacy Collection is unquestionably a treasure trove of rare and unique pamphlets, fliers, newsletters, grey literature and other ephemera, the majority of which was collected between the 1960s and the 1990s.

According to David Kennelly, a librarian at the time, the ambition was to ensure ‘our Library collections [reflected] the mood of the times… this directed me to the ephemeral publications of the interest groups and pressure groups that were active in those decades. We aimed to collect together the output of such organisations, that represented the current social and political views of [those] decades.’

Such organisations inevitably included trade unions, central to British political, social and economic life in these decades. The Legacy Collection contains 1342 items relating to all aspects of UK based trade unions and labour history from the late 19th to late 20th centuries, with the earliest item dating from 1873 and the latest 1991.

These include monographs, reports, periodicals, handbooks and information guides, and the unions represented in the collection span many areas of work including education (National Union of Teachers), government (National and Local Government Officers Association) and mineworkers (National Union of Mineworkers) alongside smaller unions such as the National Society of Pottery Workers.

Our Collections team is always keen to promote these materials, and given that we have a fair few union representatives amongst our number, it seemed a logical move to invite representatives from the three campus trade unions to come and have a look at a selection of the most important and photogenic of our holdings, and to listen to Julie and Danny combine two of their favourite topics – libraries and trade unions.

The session took place at lunchtime on Tuesday 27 June and was attended by a variety of UNISON and Unite reps.

Julie had made a special effort to find relevant materials, with some pamphlets authored by NUPE (National Union of Public Employees) on job sharing, AIDS and a fair deal for part time workers. She also found a run of Public Service, the monthly publication by NALGO. These items were of particular interest as NUPE and NALGO were two of the three trade unions which merged to form UNISON in 1993 (we actually have the last edition of Public Service just before the merger took place!).

Another area of particular strength at Sussex are holdings relating to the struggles between the unions and the Thatcher government in the 1980s (David Kennelly stated that ‘[o]ur collection of material on the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985 may be unique in academia’) and we made sure to show off some of the rarer and more interesting items from this period, including some copies of The Miner (the journal of the National Union of Mineworkers) from 1984, a booklet of poems by Tommy Early titled the Miners Strike 1984-85 (published by and for the Kent area NUM) and a photocopy of The Miners Debate Workers Control, a debate between Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield that took place in 1984 for the Ernest Bevin Society.

As well as national material for trade unions and their issues, the library also collected material which was more Sussex and Brighton specific, such as the TUC Report 1982 which took place in Brighton and the script of a lecture on Workers Control given by Walter Kendall at the University in 1975. There is also material at The Keep relating to trade union activity at the University, including issues of University of Sussex Trade Union News, a campus publication.

Several of the attendees remarked on the fact that the issues trade unions were campaigning on in the 1980s (such as sexism, racism and the problems facing part time workers) were identical to those they were dealing with today. It was hard to tell whether that was a comforting or depressing thought…

Anyway, there was general consensus that the session had been an interesting one, and plans are being made for a follow-up to be open to the whole University community (union members and not-yet-union members), so do please get in touch with if you are interested in coming along, or would like more information about the collection (further details of our trade union holdings and the rest of the Legacy Collection can be found on our LibGuide).

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