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Will Thorne (1857-1946)

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One of the first trade union activists
Known for

Will Thorne.
View full size imageWill Thorne. © NMM
Will Thorne remains a key figure in the history of British trade unionism.  He was one of the first union activists. He led the negotiations for an eight-hour day in the gas industry, helping to boost the power and the prominence of the Gasworkers Union and the safety of the workers.

His success encouraged railwaymen, textile workers, building workers, shipbuilding and metal workers, miners and boot and shoe operatives. They rallied to their own unions and demanded improvements in their working conditions and pay.

Port connection
The success of Thorne’s Gasworkers Union led to increasing demands from other workers, including the London dockers, who stopped work in August 1889. The strikers won after receiving considerable help from home and abroad. 
Interesting facts

Will Thorne could not sign his wedding certificate because he was illiterate. He moved to London and met Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, who taught him to read and write.

He named one of his sons after Karl Marx.

Will Thorne was one of the MPs chosen to visit Russia during the revolution of 1917. When he returned he had meetings with the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and George V.

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Life story
1857 Born in Birmingham on 8 October.
1863 Worked as a rope and twine spinner.
1864 His father died.
1875 His mother married a local carpenter and he left home.
1879 Married Harriet Hallam, daughter of one of his fellow workers at the Saltley Gas Works.
1882 Moved to London with his wife and two children where he worked at the Beckton Gas Works and joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF).
1880s Became one of the SDF’s best public speakers.
1889 Helped to establish the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers and defeated Ben Tillett in an election for the post of General Secretary of the Union.
1891-1910 Member of West Ham Borough Council.
1894-1933 Member of the Trade Union Congress Parliamentary Committee.
1906-1918 Member of Parliament for West Ham (South).
1910 Made Alderman of West Ham Borough.
1917 Mayor of West Ham.
1918-1945 Member of Parliament for Plaistow.
1946 Died on 2 January.
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