Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (Merthyr Branch)

Scope and Content

Minute Books 1888-1908; Wages Report 1908; Arbitration Proceedings Transcripts 1909

Administrative / Biographical History

The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) was founded in August 1871 in Birmingham. It was the result of growing concerns that the railways were becoming unsafe as railway workers were overworked and subjected to harsh working conditions by their employers. Existing workers' societies were often too expensive to join which meant that many railway workers had no union support. In Birmingham, Charles Vincent Bassett began to organise local railway workers into an informal pressure group by writing letters to the local press and approaching the Trades Council. Within a few months, this 'pressure group' was formalised as the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.

In 1901, the ASRS was involved in a historic legal case. The Taff Vale Railway Company sued the Society for damages after it made huge losses during a strike by ASRS members. The House of Lords agreed with the plaintiffs that the ASRS had a legal personality and therefore could be sued. As a result, the Society was ordered to pay 23,000 in damages to the Taff Vale Railway Company. This verdict seems to violate the Trade Union Act of 1871 which gave trade unions legal recognition but also gave them protection against criminal liability. Parliament finally intervened in 1906 when they passed the Trades Disputes Act to ensure that all trade unions could not be held liable.

The first meeting of the Merthyr branch of the ASRS was held on 15 July 1888 at the Gladstone Coffee Tavern in Pontmorlais, Merthyr. Richard Evans was duly elected chairman and it was decided that the society would hold monthly meetings. Amongst others, the Merthyr branch represented workers on the Rhymney and Taff Vale Railways.

In 1913, the ASRS amalgamated with the United Pointsmen and Signalmen's Society and the General Railway Workers Union to form the National Union of Railwaymen.

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