USDAW: The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers

Scope and Content

The collection is comprised primarily of minutes from branch committee meetings. It also includes some general USDAW material; a small number of reports, balance sheets and booklets.

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1891 representatives of workers met in Manchester and Birmingham to establish trade unions which grew, through various amalgamations and resultant name changes during the latter part of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, to form, in 1947, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW).

USDAW began as the Manchester District Co-operative Employees Association (MDCEA). The MDCEA was founded on 18th March 1891 by 30 representatives of co-operative employees and committee members of retail Co-operatives in light of increasing dissatisfaction amongst co-operative employees over wages, hours and conditions. As MDCEA grew it was necessary to give legal protection to its funds by registering under an appropriate statute. Registration as a union safeguarded its provision of out-of-work payments (disallowed under the Friendly Societies or the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts) and also facilitated amalgamation with the Bolton Co-operative Employees Trade Union. After registration as a Union members voted to give the union a new, more appropriate, title - The Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Employees (AUCE), which came formally into being on 28th January 1895. Although not the first trade union of co-operative employees, AUCE was the only one to become a national union.

By the end of the First World War AUCE had expanded into a wide ranging general union of distributive, productive and service workers and sought, through amalgamation, to strengthen its position. Talks with the National Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks and the Warehousemens' Union led to AUCE, in preparation for effective amalgamation, renaming itself the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers (NUDAW) in October 1919. The National Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks remained unconvinced that shop assistants would be sufficiently catered for in the new union, leaving AUCE, now NUDAW, and the Warehousemen's Union to merge without them. In the summer of 1920 NUDAW and the Warehousemen's Union held the necessary ballot on amalgamation and the result was conclusively in favour. The amalgamated union became operative on 1st January 1921. The merger more than doubled the membership of the old AUCE, helped avoid competition, concentrated resources and crucially widened the field in which the Union could recruit. Those eligible for membership were defined as "any person of either sex employed wholly or mainly in any commercial occupation in connection with the retail or wholesale trades".

Following the Second World War two major amalgamations again brought increased membership and widened the recruitment field. Eleven days after the founding of MDCEA in 1891, the National Union of Shop Assistants (NUSA) had come into existence in Birmingham. In 1893 they changed their name to the National Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clarks (NUSAWC), and five years later merged with the United Shop Assistants Union to form the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks (NAUSAWC). For more than half a century the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks and what was now NUDAW had co-existed, at times in competition and at times in alliance. Talks over amalgamation had begun as early as 1904, with the subject rarely absent from the agendas of one or both the Unions in the subsequent years. In the closing stage of the Second World War talks between the Unions began in earnest as both sought to avert inter-Union competition. By 1945 the terms had finally been agreed and a new name decided upon - the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), retaining elements of the original names of both organisations. USDAW had over 80,000 members in the armed forces and the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks some 30,000. Many of these members were still abroad in 1946 when the ballot took place; strong efforts were made to contact as many as possible to secure a large and favourable vote. The ballot was successful and USDAW was officially launched on 1st January 1947 and it's first definitive Executive Council elected in 1949.

By 1947 USDAW had also merged with the Journeymen Butchers' Federation of Great Britain, the Manchester Abattoir Workers' Association and the Glasgow Slaughtermen's Association, bringing to the union specialist workers in one of the country's most important distributive trades.

By the 1980s the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers was the sixth largest Trade Union in Britain and third in size among the general unions. It included workers in traditional food shops, modern supermarkets, department stores, dairies, bakeries, breweries, laundries, food manufacturing and processing factories, dental and optical technicians, research and laboratory assistants and dozens of other manufacturing or service operations. USDAW still exists today with a membership in excess of 365,00 (see


By provenance

Access Information

Open, can be viewed by prior arrangement:Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm. Contact the Archivist at:  National Co-operative Archive Co-operative College Holyoake House Hanover Street Manchester M60 0AS Telephone: 0161 246 2925 Fax: 0161 246 2946

Acquisition Information


Other Finding Aids

A box listing is available

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Justine Langstaff, Volunteer National Co-Operative Archive September 2008

Conditions Governing Use

Some restrictions apply due to the nature of the data. Please contact the archivist for more information.

Appraisal Information

Printed material not included in main desciption

Custodial History

Given to National Co-operative Archive by USDAW


None expected

Related Material

  • Cynog-Jones, T.W, O.B.E, USDAW Research Officer, Retail Giants (Co-operative Press, Manchester).
  • Flynn, Charles, NUDAW Northern Divisional Officer, The General Strike: An Account of the Proceedings of the Northumberland and Durham General Council Joint Strike Committee (May 1926).
  • Richardson, Sir William, A Union of Many Trades: The History of USDAW (Co-operative Press Limited, Newcastle).
  • The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, USDAW: A Century of Service (Co-operative Press Limited, Manchester).