New Model Union

New Model Union

New Model Trade Unions (NMTU) were a variety of Trade Unions prominent in the 1850s and 1860s in the UK. The term was coined by Sidney and Beatrice Webb in their History of Trade Unionism (1894), although later historians have questioned how far New Model Trade Unions represented a 'new wave' of unionism, as portrayed by the Webbs.


Features of New Model Trade Unions

In contrast to the consolidated Unions (such as the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union) common in the 1830s and 1840s, New Model Unions tended to be restricted to individual trades. These were generally relatively highly-paid skilled trades (including artisans), allowing the Unions to charge comparatively high subscription fees. Their leadership tended to be more conservative, with an emphasis on negotiations and education rather than strike action, and this led them to be viewed as more 'respectable'. This was partly because since they represented skilled workers, there was not a large source of labour for their trade which employers could draw upon in the event of a strike. This also lead some New Model Unions to actually restrict apprenticeships to their trade, hoping to prevent falls in wages by keeping available labour scarce. Akin to earlier Friendly Societies, members of New Model Trade Unions received benefits in times of need, such as during periods of illness, injury and unemployment.

The 'Junta'

The Webbs termed a group of leading New Model Unionists, who regularly met in London in the 1860s a junta. This group included:

They played an important role in advocating the benefits of New Model Unionism to the Royal Commission into trade unionism that took place in the late 1860s. Their influence ceased with the establishment of a parliamentary committee for trade unions, and the Trades Union Congress, in 1871.

Prominent New Model Trade Unions

The Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE)

One of the earliest identified New Model Unions, founded in 1851, representing engineers across the United Kingdom. In January 1852, the union threatened strike action when engineering employers introduced systematic overtime and began to increase the numbers of unskilled workers in the trade. In response, the employers instituted a lockout, refusing to allow workers to return until they signed an agreement by which they renounced membership of any Trade Unions. After three months, the ASE was defeated and its members signed the employers' agreement, although the vast majority continued their membership of the union in secret. The ASE charged the relatively high subscription fee of one shilling per week. In 1896 it was again involved in an extended lockout, and in 1920 developed into the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union.

Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners

Lead for a time in the 1860s by Robert Applegarth, and representing carpenters and joiners throughout the United Kingdom.


  • May, Trevor An Economic and Social History of Great Britain 1760-1990 2nd edition, 1996
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