Shear tragedy…

Burgon & Ball shearsSad news today – the Sheffield Wool Shear Workers’ Union has folded after 117 years representing people working in the manufacture of sheep shears in Sheffield.

I never met any of them, but like a lot of unionists had a bit of a soft spot for SWSWU, as they gave the UK union movement a Guiness record for being the smallest union in the world, with just 9 members.

All their members were employed by steel firm Burgon & Ball, whose shear department boasts of making the finest and most popular shears in the world, with craftsman hand-set blades and four different configurations of hot-rolled bow. They also supply Sheffield-steel sheep shear sharpening steels, which are probably easier to use than to say.

SWSWU put out a statement after the 1997 election that 100% of their membership had voted Labour. Would that a few other unions could say that! 😉

The baton of smallest union in the TUC now passes to the Card Setting Machine Tenters Society, who have a whopping 88 members – though don’t ask me what they do.

Pls to share (thanks!):

5 thoughts on “Shear tragedy…

  1. I have just written to them asking if they’ll let me use the name: registration as a union costs £150 with a full certificate of independence costing £4,066 (I don’t know what the £66 is for). I reckon there’s a need for no-frills legal insurance as a backup to organised shop-floor union membership. Some unions are good at both, but if you’re in a union that’s good on the ground but feckless at the regional office, this is where another kind of union can help.

    Interesting about the tent setters, and I didn’t know the facts about shears: I thought the organisation was for people who sheared sheep.

    Scottish Carpet Weavers wrote on their last return that they were likely winding-up, while United Independent Union, a break away couple of staff from T&G in Scotland who have just had their appeal refused at the employment tribunal, remains afloat with an overdraft. Lacking a base of organised labour, they have had to go touting for trade and concentrated on students.

  2. Sorry to bother you with two posts, but you might be interested in answering this of blogging about it –
    What is the Twenty First Century Aircrew Association of five pilots? Something to do with BA’s attempts to prevent the T&G organising? Good thing? Bad thing? I donno. Annyway sorry to have bothered you with two posts.

  3. Don’t know John, sorry. Here’s their site: . Nothing to do with BA I guess, as their members/officers are from BMI and others. There’s lots of unusual stories in the part of the Certification Officer’s list that comes in under the TUC’s radar. Each to their own I suppose – maybe they just enjoy running it (with such a long constitution for 6 members I guess they do!)

  4. My father was a member of the The Card Setting Machine Tenters’ Society (CSMTS). Carding is the act of combing raw wool using ‘cards’ originally. The cards were two square brushes with steel wire faces embedded through leather. The bats were drawn by hand across the wool to comb the wool into workable material. Later, machines were introduced to carry-out this process. The machines were called ‘carding machines’ and were quite complex affairs requiring very careful setting-up and maintenance. So, a Card Clothing Machine Tenter was one who attended to (tentered) these machines – after a 6 year apprenticeship! The industry is now largely in India.

  5. Hi Geoff. Many thanks for that – it had genuinely puzzled me, so am glad to be put straight. I’ve tried carding by hand paddle as you say, whilst trying my hand at making felt (very, very slowly in my case), but hadn’t put the two and two together that this might be that kind of ‘card’. That was tricky enough to do I can see how machines to scale that up would need a lot of keen maintenance. Cheers, John.

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