National Union of Hosiery & Knitwear Workers
The National Union of Hosiery Workers was founded on 1 January 1945 as the result of a merger between the five Midlands hosiery unions (Leicester, Hinckley, Nottingham, Ilkeston, Loughborough).
With the end of war in sight, the new union hoped to play a part in the restructuring of the post war knitting industry. It also hoped to secure better pay for its members in the likely shortage of labour after the war.
A General Council was founded to oversee the union and consisted of the General President, General Secretary, the National Organisers, the District Secretaries and the District Committees. A smaller National Executive Committee consisting of the General President, General Secretary, the other union officers and one or two members elected by the districts. The Union's head office was based in Leicester.
In March 1945 members of Scottish knitting industry unions voted in favour of joining workers in the Midlands in the new national union. A secretary was appointed for the Scottish District in June 1945. Secretaries were also appointed for the Northern and Southern Districts to allow the union to cover workers in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Home Counties. A recruitment campaign was undertaken after the new appointments to increase membership figures in these areas. Membership increased by 1,300 in the Union's first nine months and totalled 22,430 by December 1945.
The post war knitting industry needed to recruit 10,000 men and 43,000 women to reach pre-war levels. The shortage of labour provided the union with an opportunity to negotiate favourable terms for its members. In 1946 the Union negotiated and signed the 'National Agreement on Wages and Conditions of Employment'. The agreement reduced the working week from 48 hours to 45 hours and night work was restricted. In January 1948 an agreement was reached that provided holiday pay to workers.
Workers in the industry recognised the Union's achievements and were encouraged to join. Membership increased to 40,539 by December 1951. The post war settlement of some companies outside of the East Midlands region provided around 5,000 new members in the Southern and Northern Districts. Employers in these new areas were often resistant to union activity and forced union meetings to take place outside of the factory.
The knitting industry in the 1950s and 1960s experienced a period of continued growth. The move towards informal fashions favoured the knitting industry and output increased in value from £187.5 million in 1951 to £424.0 million in 1969. During this period the Union continued to fight to ensure that its members gained wages rises that reflected the prosperity of the industry.
By the late 1960s the industry was facing increased competition from low-wage countries, particularly those in the Far East. The Union continued to fight for wage increases during this period with some success. In 1970 employers agreed to pay a 12.5% wage claim on the condition that the Union would accept a continuous shift system. The Union rejected the deal and a national strike was called, the first national strike in the modern knitting industry's history. The strike was called off at the last minute when employers dropped the continuous shift demand and the Union accepted a 10% pay increase.
During the 1960s and 1970s wage negotiations were increasingly undertaken at a local level between the employer, employees and a union official. Higher wages were generally secured in Leicester and Nottingham where companies competed for operatives and staff. In the early 1970s the Union focused more on conditions and benefits rather than just wages. Union members demanded improved facilities in factories and greater job security.
In 1974, at the peak of employment levels in the industry, the Union had 72,723 members. Growth of the industry in the Northern District led to the division of the area into two districts, North Eastern and North Western. The Ilkeston District was also divided into two. The National Union New also gained new members through smaller unions being absorbed in the union. Between 1969 and 1975 the Nottingham and District Hosiery Finishers' Association, Leicester & Leicestershire Trimmers and Auxiliary Association, Hinckley & District Trimmers' Union, Hinckley & District Warehousemen's Association, Amalgamated Society of Operative Lace Makers and Textile Workers, and Leicester Dyers and Scourers Trade and Benefit Society joined the National Union.
Membership of the Union peaked at 74,077 in 1977 and then fell as the industry declined. In 1990 the Union merged with the National Union of Footwear, Leather and Allied Trades (NUFLAT) to form the Knitting, Footwear & Allied Trades Union (KFAT). The merger brought 34,183 NUHKW members and 22,894 NUFLAT members together in one union.
The decline of the knitting industry since the 1970s has led to the Union playing an active role in negotiating redundancy payments for workers. By 2000 membership of the Union was down to 20,650 and declining rapidly. In January 2004 the Union, with its 12,000 members, merged with the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.
The new trade union is now known as ‘Community’ and it contains an increasingly diverse membership, including knitwear and hosiery, textiles, leather and shoes, steel, logistics, prison staff, white goods, social workers, betting shop staff and disabled workers.