Coaltrimmers Union (Cardiff, Penarth and Barry Branch)

Scope and Content

Minute Books 1888-1949; Miscellaneous Printed Material 1910-1966

Administrative / Biographical History

The Cardiff, Barry and Penarth Coaltrimmers Union was formed in 1888 as the Cardiff and Penarth Coal Trimmers Protection and Benefit Association. It represented those shipboard workers who stowed or 'trimmed' coal into the ship's holds from the dockside. Coaltrimming was a very specialised job as the trimmers were responsible for loading the coal in a manner which ensured that it did not shift and unbalance the ship. This service benefitted the shipowners as it ensured that the coal would not endanger their vessels. However, the coaltrimmers were actually controlled by the coalshippers who charged the shipowners a coal tariff for the privilege of having a trimming service. The ship owners had no choice in accepting this tariff even if they owned self-trimming steamships which had larger holds and did not require trimmers to load them.

In 1890, the Chamber of Shipping was approached by shipowners about the trimming tariff. The led to the formation of a 'Trimming Board' to determine tariff rates, to resolve disputes and also to decide which ships could be catagorised as self-trimmers. The Board had representatives from the Coaltrimmers Union, the coalshippers and the shipowners to ensure that everyone's interests were met. The Coaltrimmers successfully used the Trimming Board to negotiate solutions to most disputes. Indeed, the union only held one strike in 1911, and this was an unofficial rank-and-file movement in sympathy with the seamen's unions.

The Coaltrimmers Union affiliated with the Cardiff Trades Council in 1897 and joined the Trades Union Congress shortly afterwards. They were approached by the Transport Workers Federation in 1912-3 but refused to amalgamate with them as they saw them as too militant. The Barry Office was opened in 1913 but was scrapped in 1931 when the union was centralised at Cardiff. In 1943, the Union was included in the National Dock Labour Scheme and remained a participant until the late 1960s.

Source: Martin Daunton, The Cardiff Coal Trimmers Union, 1888-1914, Llafur, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Summer 1978), pp. 10-23; National Dock Labour Board negotiations with the Cardiff, Barry and Penarth Coaltrimmers Union, 1941-66, GB 217 SWCC : MNA/TUG/1/31

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Access unrestricted unless stated otherwise.

Acquisition Information

Minutes of the Coaltrimmers Union were donated to UWS Archives by Tom Jones, Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union on 31 August 1972 as part of the South Wales Coalfield Project.

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