about us

about us

History of the GMB

About us – This page gives some interesting infomation about the formation of the GMB.

About us - Gas Workers
The forerunner of the GMB, was the Gas Workers Union.
About us - Beckton Gas Works
Beckton Gas Works c 1960

It was founded on 31 March 1889 in Canning Town, East London by Will Thorne who became its first General Secretary.

The first campaign on behalf of its members was to end the slavery of 12 and 18 hour shifts, 7 days a week.

The fledgling union campaigned for an 8 hour day and six day week. It was successful and resulted in the first working time agreement anywhere in the world.

In modern times, recent legislation has confirmed this success by introducing the Working Time Directive, limiting the hours of work to 48 a week.

Since 1924 the union has undergone many amalgamations with other unions, including the Boilermakers Union

In 1982 the philosophies of general unionism and skilled craft unionism were brought together when the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers (ASBSBSW) joined the General and Municipal Workers’ Union to form the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union, (GMBATU).

The ASBSBSW itself was formed by amalgamating:

  • United Society of Boilermakers
  • The Shipwrights’ Association
  • The Blacksmiths’ Society

APEX the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff was founded in 1890 when about a dozen men met in an office in the Strand and decided to form the Clerk’s Union. As membership increased and spread across the country, the name was changed to The National Union of Clerks. In 1920, after rapid growth and the absorption of a number of other unions, the membership figure was around 40,000 and the name was again changed to The National Union of Clerks and Administrative Workers (NUCAW).

In 1940, the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries transferred to NUCAW and a new title was agreed: The Clerical and Administrative Workers Union. Then, in 1972, arising from the spread of the union’s influence, changes in office skills and the growing ability of the union to represent staff at all levels, it changed its title to the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff (APEX) and they joined GMB in 1989.

APEX accepted the Transfer of Engagements of the Automobile Association Staff and the General Accident Staff. Since the amalgamation, the Greater London Staff Association, who earlier transferred to GMB, joined the APEX Partnership and the National Union of Labour Organisers and Legal Aid Staff Association also transferred to APEX.

NUTGW the National Union of Tailors & Garment Workers joined the GMB in 1991.It is known that a union existed amongst London tailors as long ago as 1417 but records only date back to the 19th Century.

At the time of the merger in 1991, the NUTGW had over 70,000 members and was itself the result of many amalgamations including:

  • Amalgamated Society of Journeymen Tailors
  • Amalgamated Union of Clothiers’ Operatives
  • Amalgamated Jewish Tailors, Pressers and Machinists’ Trade Union
  • London Clothiers Cutters
  • The Shirt, Jacket and Overall Workers
  • The Belfast Shirt and Collar Workers


These unions formed the United Garment Workers’ Union in 1912. They were joined by:

  • Scottish National Association of Operative Tailors
  • London Operative Tailors
  • Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses


In 1931 the unions formed the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers and were joined by the United Ladies Tailors (London) and Waterproof Garment Workers’ Union.

FTAT the Furniture, Timber, and Allied Trades Union merged with the GMB in 1993. FTAT can trace its origin back to 1747 and the formation of the National Society of Brushmakers and General Workers. The Union can therefore lay claim to being the oldest in the world.

At the end of the 19th century, three major unions existed in the furniture and upholstery trades: the Alliance Cabinet Makers, the United Operative Cabinet and Chairmakers’ Society of Scotland and the Amalgamated Union of Upholsterers (AUU). A series of mergers culminated in the formation of the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives (NUFTO) in 1947.

In 1971 NUFTO merged with the Amalgamated Society of Woodcutting Machinists to form FTAT.

The latest union to join the fold is the Managerial and Professional Officers a Local Government union comprising 8,000 principal officers and second tier officers. Altogether over 100 smaller unions have joined together to form the modern GMB – Britain’s General Union.