Compulsory Trade Union membership. All ’non’ members must join a trade union by 31st March 1970. The one ‘non’ member is to be informed by the Branch Chairman of his position at on early date.


1st MARCH 1970


by Steve Richards

Steve was Personnel Manager on the Central Division of the Southern Region,

and the Management Chairman of Sectional Council "B"

Hopefully this will give some indication of the ‘confusion’ which surrounded this subject in 
the early 70’s.

The first reference relates to a question of BR’s Closed Shop being ‘in existence’, and was 
raised in Parliament by Christopher Woodhouse, MP for Oxford, in relation to one of his 
constituents. On 21st April 1971 Woodhouse raised the matter of a Western Region Clerical 
Officer who had been dismissed as he refused to join TSSA. The thing to note here was that 
the ‘dismissed’ employee commenced employment in September 1964 so clearly no 
agreement existed at that time.

Hansard states that:

The agreement which led to dismissal was not easy to track down. It was apparently 
negotiated between 1966 and 1969 and it came into effect at the beginning of 1970. I have 
been able to find only two contemporary references to the agreement in the National Press. 
They came on 25th & 26th August, 1969, and both references were incomplete. But in the 
second reference, on 26th August, it was clearly indicated … that Trade Union membership 
would not be made compulsory for those already employed by British Rail, though it would 
become a Condition of Employment Woodhouse stated that he, ‘… eventually found a copy 
of the agreement published in the Railway Review of 29th August, 1969, and it was clear that 
the agreement was ‘far-reaching’ and comprehensive. In the Railway Review, it was 
described as Stage 2 of a massive examination of Rates of Pay and Conditions of Service 
under the Railway Pay and Efficiency talks. The provision for compulsory trade union 
membership was only one item in a very extensive agreement, but it was a vitally important 
item and, as I have said, it was not published in the National Press.’

He continued that ‘… two quotations are given from the agreement, the first is that BRB/Trade Unions accept that membership of a Trade Union, party to the Machinery of Negotiation, is in the best interests of employer / employee relationship. With the principle there asserted I wholeheartedly agree. I have often publicly said that any large industrial employer would be wise to encourage 100 per cent. trade union membership. I have even been attacked in a Trade Union Journal for saying that, on the simple dogmatic ground that a Tory could not possibly mean it. I do mean it, but I emphasise the word encourage, and not compel’.

The second quotation from the agreement is as follows: ‘It is therefore agreed that 
membership of one of the Trade Unions party to the Machinery of Negotiation shall be a 
Condition of Employment effective from 1st January 1970.
Being a ‘sad bugger’, I have dug all my Stage II P&E booklets out of the loft and on Page 2 
or 3 of the relevant Footplate, and other, booklets it is clear the closed shop was ‘agreed’ on 
9th September 1969 with a proposed implementation date of 1st January 1970. Whether this 
was actually implementefor existing employees is not clear; due to the fact that BRB were 
having to take cognisance of the impending implementation of the Industrial Relations Act 
1971, which although in draft form was effectively saying Closed Shops should be illegal.
This was not the end of the saga however, as there was later a case raised in the European 
Court of Human Rights during 1976 - it was not heard until August 1981. This was the case 
of Young, James & Webster vs. United Kingdom and referred to the dismissal of three BR 
employees, as they would not join a Trade Union. The ‘facts were shown to be as follows:


In 1970, British Rail had concluded a closed shop agreement with the NUR, the TSSA and 
ASLEF, but, with the enactment of the Industrial Relations Act 1971 it was not put into 

The matter was, however, revived in July 1975 when British Rail concluded a further 
agreement with the same unions. It was provided that as from 1 August 1975 membership of 
one of those unions was to be a condition of employment for certain categories of staff - 
including the applicants - and that the terms of the agreement were "incorporated in and 
form[ed] part of" each contract of employment. Like other staff of BR, Mr. the three 
dismissed employees had, it appears, been supplied when engaged with a written statement 
containing a provision to the effect that they were subject to such Terms & Conditions of 
Employment as might from time to time be settled for employees of their category under the 
Machinery of Negotiation established between their employer and any trade union or other 

The membership requirement did not apply to "an existing employee who genuinely objects 
on grounds of religious belief to being a member of any Trade Union whatsoever or on any 
reasonable grounds to being a member of a particular Trade Union". The agreement also set 
out the procedure for applying for exemption on these grounds and provided for applications 
to be heard by representatives of the employer and the unions.

It appears that, prior to the conclusion of the 1975 Closed Shop Agreement, between 6,000 
and 8,000 BR employees, out of a total staff of 250,000, were not already members of one of 
the specified unions. In the final event, 54 individuals were dismissed for refusal to comply 
with the membership requirement.

So according to the Courts, the first ‘official’ BR Closed Shop came into being on 1st August 
1975; however, whilst this date is shown on Page 10 of the 1982 ‘Black’ ASLEF Handbook, I 
believe it was the case that from January 1970 in some places within the industry the Closed 
Shop was in operation. For example, I joined BR on 7th September 1970 and was quickly 
told I had to sign an Application Form to join either NUR or TSSA - I joined the latter! From 
then on, I was given my Contract of Employment and other documents”.





Much is being said and written in regard to the virtues or otherwise of the principle of the “close shop” in industry. We think it right to say that, in a general way at least, most of those who are Trade Unionist by conviction would prefer to see men voluntarily joining unions rather than being compelled to do so by the conditions attaching to their place of work.
Unfortunately, however, there are still those who will trade on the activities of their colleagues and who will decline either tmeet the necessary cost of running trade unions and providing benefits, oto lend morasupport by acquiring membership of their appropriate union. This the real Trade Unionist is entitled to expectThe necessitfor exertinpressure upon certain individualto becommembers oTrade Unions thus becomes apparent from  time to time.

Wbelieve thaonlbe effectively operated ithe conditionimposed are that the worpeople shall be requested to joitheiappropriatTrade UnionsThese must bunions affiliateto thTrades Union Congress ancaterinfor the particulatype oworkeconcerned. In so far athrailways are concerned, thiwoulmeathat all driversmotormen, firemen and cleanershouljoin the A.S.L.E.F., and if those who desire to see the "closed shop" within the railway service are prepared to accept this, they will find no opposition from the headquarters of the A.S.L.E. & F. Indeed, we should welcome a statement of this description. In the absence of any such undertaking, the creation of an effective “closed shop” is very doubtful of success. 

We commend this suggestion to all those who are seriously interested in the “closed shop” principle.

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