Scottish working people's history display

Celebrating the story of Scottish working people

A membership card issued almost two centuries ago to one of the first ever trade unionists in Scotland is among the highlights of a display that celebrates the history of working people.

The card was issued in 1822 by the Edinburgh Journeymen Bookbinders' Union Society to James Bridgeford in the first few months after the Society was formed. It was one of the first unions in Scotland and the card shows he was the 14th member to sign up.

It is among a number of historic exhibits being put on show from today (2 September) at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in Edinburgh. They provide a fascinating insight into how working people managed to improve their conditions through organisation, collective action, mutual support, education and self improvement.

NLS has been collecting material on labour history in Scotland since the 1960s with invaluable support from the Scottish Labour History Society and the Scottish Working People's History Trust. It is now recognised as the leading collection on Scottish labour and trade union history.

Other highlights from the collection that are being put on display include:

  • The original deed of establishment in 1761 of the Fenwick Weavers' Society in Ayrshire which is regarded as the world’s first ever co-operative society
  • The defence statement read out by the revolutionary socialist and leading figure in Red Clydeside John Maclean at his trial in 1916 for sedition
  • A 'tramp card' issued by the UK Society of Coachmakers in 1903 which supported workers as they moved around the country looking for employment
  • The service and pay book for John Dunlop who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War
  • The 1915 desk diary of James Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Independent Labour party and chairman of the Labour Party
  • A register of the books held by the Edinburgh No 1 branch of the National Union of Railwaymen in its library which were loaned out to members.

Dr Maria Castrillo, the Curator who has put the display together, said: 'The trade union and labour movement has helped to shape the Britain of today and has influenced developments in many other countries around the world. This exhibition uses original documents to tell this story from the earliest beginnings of the movement in Scotland.'

It is being staged during the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Working People's History Trust which, together with the Scottish Labour History Society, has channelled many important records and personal papers into the NLS archive.

Dr Ian MacDougall, the Trust's research worker said: 'Far too often there has been a far too romantic view taken of Scottish history based on figures such as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots and the like. Anything that informs and reminds people from Scotland and visitors to Scotland of the history of so-called ordinary people has to be a good thing.'

Entry to the Scottish working people's history display at the NLS on George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh is free. It runs until October 30.

2 September 2011

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