Arthur Scargill

The rise of the unions

The Welsh coal industry, with its hundreds of thousands of workers from the 19th century onwards, was ripe for the formation of unions.

However, it was comparatively slow to adopt this form of job protection and representation.

The formation of the Miners Federation of Great Britain in 1888 began the process, but in 1893 only 45,000 of the 120,000 miners in Wales were members. It was a loose, federalised group of localised unions.

In Wales, it was the formation of the South Wales Miners' Federation (SWMF, colloquially called 'the Fed') after the South Wales Miners' Strike of 1898 which provided a boost to unionism in Wales.

The SWMF was left-leaning and its leaders allied the union to the Labour Party or even the Communist Party of Great Britain. By 1914 the SWMF was the largest union of any kind in the UK, with 200,000 members.

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