Posts Tagged ‘1940s’

Aberdeen Unemployment Association was one of a number of associations set up after a request from the national Trades Union Congress, which had the intention of countering the influence that was exercised by the Communist Party in another related organisation, The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM). The Aberdeen Association was run under the auspices of the Aberdeen Trades & Labour Council (later known as the Aberdeen Trades Council) and was only one of two in Scotland. Although the associations across the country had been set up to counter the NUWM, in Aberdeen, both organisations worked together latterly.

Related entries: Aberdeen Trades Union Council.

References: see below. Also ‘Unity from below: the impact of the Spanish Civil War on Labour and the left in Aberdeen and Dundee 1936 – 1939’ (Malcolm Petrie, Labour History Review, 2014).

Sources: minutes from 1936 – 1941 are held as part of the Aberdeen Trades Union Council archives at the University of Aberdeen Library.


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The National Council of Women of Great Britain was originally formed in 1895 as the National Union of Women Workers. It came out of the 1880s national movement of several women’s philanthropic organisations concerned about civil, educational, religious and social issues affecting women. A body which was part of this movement was the Aberdeen Ladies’ Union (originally called the Ladies’ Union for the Care and Protection of Women and Girls), founded in 1883. The Union had a key role in forming the Central Council of the Conferences of Women Workers in 1891, which was a precursor to the formation of the National Union. In 1897 the Ladies’ Union became the Aberdeen branch of the The National Union of Women Workers.

The Aberdeen Union of Women Workers was made-up of numerous affiliated organisations which worked with women and concerned itself with issues such as poverty, social reform, equal rights, family rights and also suffrage. The affiliated organisations had representatives on the Executive Committee: organisations such as the Aberdeen Clothing Society, Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Employment Exchange and the Aberdeen Women’s Citizen Association. In 1909 the Union worked with the Women’s Liberal Association, Primrose League, National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies to promote female representation on the school boards in Aberdeen and this included joint canvassing work for candidates.

The National Union of Women Workers changed its name to the National Council of Women of Great Britain in 1918. The Council is affiliated to the International Council of Women.

References: website and see below.

Sources: Aberdeen Union of Women Workers papers (1900 – 1926) and a few items as part of the Mary Esslemont papers (an Aberdeen physician) are held at University of Aberdeen Library. National records are held at London Metropolitan Archives.

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There was a Aberdeen University Socialist Club at various times (1931 – 1934, 1946 (re-formed) – 1954, 1958 – 1974). In 1958 the ‘new’ Socialist Society had been created from the ‘old labour club’.

The club had originally been formed in 1931 as a discussion circle for students for the theory and practice of socialism. The club arranged debates with the Fabian Society of Aberdeen and met in the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P) rooms at 6 Schoolhill. The group advertised itself in 1951 as a Club that stood for unity of all types including communists and anarchists. In 1960 the Club also stated that it worked with other like-minded groups: CND, Anti-Apartheid Movement and the New Left.

References: University student directories.

Sources: unknown.

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There was a Aberdeen University Labour Club at various times (1921 – 1926, 1939 – 1942, 1952 – 1954, 1957 – 1958). In 1958 the new Socialist Society was created from the ‘old labour club’.

The Club was formed to promote Labour ideas and put forward a Labour party candidate for the Rectorial Elections.

References: University student directories.

Sources: some publications issued as part of Rectorial election campaigns and a journal called ‘Insight’ (1924) are held at Aberdeen University Library.

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Founded in 1903 by Albert Mansbridge, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) was created to promote the higher education of working men and women at a time when few educational opportunities existed for the working class. The WEA is a national, voluntary organisation which provides adult education based on democratic principles.

In 1905, the first WEA branch was founded in Scotland in Springburn. It was followed by branches in Edinburgh in 1912, Glasgow in 1916 and Dundee and Ayrshire in 1917. The Aberdeen branch was founded in 1913.

References: website.

Sources: some papers are held at Aberdeen City Archives (from c.1970 – 1993) and also at the National Library of Scotland. The UK central archive is managed by London Metropolitan University and attached to the TUC Collection.

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Bob Cooney was born in Sunderland in 1908 but then his family moved back to Aberdeen and Bob was educated in Aberdeen. He became involved in the street politics and debates in the Castlegate in Aberdeen and became a communist and bitterly opposed to poverty. In 1930 Bob quit his current employment in order to devote himself full time to his politics. Between 1931-1932 he spent time in Russia, working at night and studying at the Lenin Institute by day. On his return to Aberdeen, and as Communist Party organiser for north-east Scotland, Bob threw himself fully into organising hunger marches (he went on two marches, in 1935 and 1936), mobilising the unemployed and spoke at open air meetings across the country. He was at the forefront of protests against fascism, which came to a head when the British Union of Fascists under William Chambers Hunter came to Aberdeen. There were running battles in the centre of Aberdeen and the fascists were beaten back. In 1937 he volunteered as part of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil war (along with 17 other Aberdonians, 5 of whom were ultimately killed), which he viewed as the front line against fascism. He was initially appointed as Commissar of a training group eventually rising to the position of Commissar of the XV (British) Brigade. He survived the Civil War and then served for the duration of WW2. He died in Aberdeen in 1984 after a life of activism.

References: information from Aberdeen City Council commemorative plaques database and Proud Journey: A Spanish Civil War Memoir (Bob Cooney, Marx Memorial Library and Workers School, 2015).

Sources: his songbooks which he used at the Aberdeen Trades Council in the c.1970s/1980s are held as part of the Trades Council papers at University of Aberdeen Library. Also the memoirs he created in 1944 and which were published in 2015 (see above) and oral history interviews he made in 1976 and available via the Imperial War Museum website.

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The British Guild was formed in 1883 with the Scottish Guild forming in 1892. The Guild had operated in Aberdeen since 1913 and there were many branches across Aberdeen City, but the Greyfriars Branch was founded in 1922 on the initiation of the Education Committee of the Northern Co-Operative Society Ltd. The aim of the Guild was described as this: ‘Women’s work in the Guild is four fold: in her branch, her Society, her city and her country (through Parliamentary representation and Government)’. The group met regularly and had many socials, discussions and guest speakers. The group discussed various issues such as birth control, home-rule and the civil war in Spain.

References: minute book (see below). Also website of the Guild which is still active.

Sources: minute book for the Greyfriars Branch from 1922 – 1944 is held at University of Aberdeen Library. National records are held at Hull History Centre and Bishopsgate Institute, London.

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