Let’s learn the ABC of union history

One of the classics which all serious union branch and other officers  will have studied is Citrine’s ‘ABC of Chairmanship’. It is the ‘bible’ on how to conduct a meeting and how to intervene effectively to promote or oppose a policy being hotly debated at union gatherings.


Yet, the person who devised this essential guide, one Walter Citrine (1887-1983), is hardly known about.  A Liverpool electrician, who left school at age 12, he wrote the first short version in 1917 for his own union, the Electrical Trades Union (ETU),’to explain in simple language the general procedure relating to meetings’. He produced an expanded version for all unions and Labour & Cooperative movement activists in 1921, which soon became the standard for the future.


It is interesting to recall the words of another prominent union leader of those times, ‘Jimmy’ Thomas, National Union of Railworkers’ President, in his foreword:
” When one realises the great personal sacrifices, loss of time,and the enthusiasm displayed by the many thousands of workers who regularly attend their local trade union and labour meetings, one can appreciate how important it is that every possible help should be given to enable those entrusted by their fellows with the responsibility to conduct the meetings as businesslike as practicable”.  Could that be said today of attendances?


Citrine was an elected ETU official in Liverpool and Manchester, before he joined the TUC in 1925, only to be thrown in at the deep end of the General Strike as General Secretary, the following year. After that humiliation, Citrine became one of the leading British and international trade union leaders for the next 20 years. Together with another major union and Labour figure of those times, Ernest Bevin, he helped reestablish the TUC’s influence with government and employers before and during WW2. After retiring he became chair of the newly nationalised  Electricity Council as Lord Citrine of Wembley, (where he lived), for a further 10years.


We should know more about such men (and women), who helped make us what we are.


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