National Unemployed Workers' Movement

The National Unemployed Workers' Movement was a British organisation set up in 1921 by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It aimed to draw attention to the plight of unemployed workers during the post World War I slump, the 1926 General Strike and later the Great Depression, and to fight the Means Test.

The NUWM became the foremost body responsible for organising the unemployed on a national basis in the interwar period, these years being characterised by high levels of unemployment. A central element of its activities was a series of hunger marches to London, organised in 1922, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1934 and 1936.[1] The largest of these was the National Hunger March, 1932, that was followed by days of serious violence across central London with 75 people being badly injured,[2] which in turn led directly to the formation of the National Council for Civil Liberties.[3]

To the dismay of many within the wider labour movement, the Labour Party and the official trades union bodies offered little support to the legions of unemployed workers during this period. The Trades Union Congress and the National Executive Council advised Labour parties and trades councils along the route of the Jarrow Crusade not to help the marchers, although local branches were more generous.

The NUWM was founded by Wal Hannington, and led in Scotland by Harry McShane. From 1921 until 1929 it was called the National Unemployed Workers' Committee Movement. It suspended activity in 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, and the decision of wind it up was taken in 1943. It was finally dissolved in 1946.

Over the years there have been several attempts to revive the union, one of the latest around 1992/1993.


  1. Perry, Matt; Bread and Work: Social Policy and the Experience of Unemployment, 1918-39 p. 104; Pluto Press, 2000 ISBN 0-7453-1486-4
  2. Hitchner, Dell Gillette; Civil Liberties in England from 1914 to 1940 p. 144; University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1940
  3. "Liberty".

See also

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