Canning Town Library Plaque Long Overdue

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Newham Council last night approved the mounting of a roundel plaque on the side of Canning Town Library to commemorate the birthplace of GMB, one of the UK's largest unions.

In March 1889 the site where the library now sits was the location where Will Thorne, the union's founder, held the first collective meeting of the Gasworkers' Union. GMB was the first successful general union, representing working people, open to both women and men, and those marginalised as semi-skilled and unskilled workers regarded as unable to organise.

A union that started with only 800 members on that day, now is the UK's third largest with over 500,000 members; representing people across manufacturing, commercial and public services.

The acknowledgement by Newham Council to mark this significant historical event is welcomed by GMB and the wider labour movement. 

This visual reminder of Will Thorne’s guiding vision of: “a world of freedom, beauty and equality … where everyone will have an opportunity to express the best that is within them for the benefit of all” will inspire present and future generations of working-class people say GMB London Region. 

Warren Kenny, GMB London Regional Secretary said:

"Newham's rich and diverse history is one that should be celebrated so that future generations know where they are from and can take pride in the people who have gone before.

"We are extremely pleased that we can put a roundel plaque on the library, but more importantly we look forward to inviting local people, school children, heritage groups and councillors to the unveiling to share in the moment.”

GMB London Region will finance the plaque and also offer local primary schools the opportunity to be visited by a trade union historian who will talk about the significance of the location to British history and how the union and labour movement has grown and evolved over time.

The motion proposer, Cllr Terry Paul said: "I'm really proud to finally be recognising the deep social history that we have in Newham. One that often gets overlooked. As a child, using my local library, I was never aware of its significance until years later after reading about it by chance. Let's be prouder about our heritage and celebrate it".

The motion seconder, Cllr Elizabeth Booker, said: "I was so proud to second the motion. As a Canning Town born girl, the history of struggle and union organising by inspirational women like Eleanor Marx, is my history. Eleanor Marx and many other strong women, coached Will Thorne to be the union leader he later became, and it is in their honour that I am pleased to play my part in shining a light on our social history".


Contact: Peter Roberts, GMB London Region Political Officer 079 5726 6460

GMB London Region Press 079 7001 9643 /