Skilled at All Trades

The History of the Farmworkers’ Union, 1947-1984
Bob Wynn

Forewords by Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, and Barry Leathwood, National Secretary of the Rural, Agricultural and Allied Workers

The struggles of farmworkers to secure a decent life for themselves and their families has captured the imagination of people in industries and places far from the countryside. Who has not heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs?

In this book, Bob Wynn traces the history of rural trade unionism from the end of the last war until recent times, continuing the story begun in 1872 by Reg Groves in Sharpen the Sickle. He provides an invaluable insight into the industrial changes which have taken place during the post-war years, and how the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and later the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, responded to them.

The book charts the improvements won by the Union, including security of tenure for farmworkers and their families living in tied cottages, a wages structure, apprentice training schemes, and the only legally enforceable sick-pay scheme in the country.

But it is also about the rural community, the need for decent homes, schools, medical services and local transport. The Union has always been involved with local issues, and often its leading members have been local councillors. Health and safety, for instance, does not stop at the farm gate, and this was no better illustrated than the successful country-wide campaign against 245-T, a chemical pesticide associated with birth defects and aborted pregnancies.

Skilled at All Trades is an immensely important book for trade unionists and all those interested in rural history, not just for the insights and profiles of farmworkers it provides, but for the future of rural communities and the countryside it presents – an issue at the very heart of rural trade unionism and, increasingly, for everyone living in Britain today.

Published by Frontline with the Transport and General Workers’ Union, 1993
456 pages, 16 pages of photographs, paperback, ISBN 1 873639 02 3, out of print

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