The union dates its origin to 1847. The Manchester Friendly Association of Operative Bakers was established in 1849, and by 1854 it was led by Thomas Hodson. Under his leadership, the union first expanded to represent bakers in Salford, becoming the first bakers’ union in England to cover a wide area, though its membership remainder under 200. In 1861, Hodson led the formation of the Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers, bringing together unions in Bristol, Cheltenham, Hanley, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Warrington and Wigan, along with his Manchester society. It gained prominence when its 1861 campaign for improvements in working conditions led to the Bakehouse Regulations Act 1863. In about 1870, the union relocated its headquarters to London, but the majority of its members were still from Lancashire. Other unions gradually joined, such as the South Wales Federation of Journeymen Bakers, in 1893. By 1891, the union claimed 4,000 members, with nearly half from London.

For many years, the union would not admit workers it considered unskilled, and this led its London organiser, C. Mann, to form the rival National Union of Bakery Trade Workers in 1913. The following year, the Operative Bakers finally agreed to accept all workers in the industry, renaming itself as the Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers, Confectioners and Allied Workers of Great Britain and Ireland, and Mann’s split dissolved. In 1920, the union agreed to transfer its members in the milling industry to the rival Dock, Wharf and Riverside Workers’ Union.

The union focused its campaigns on shorter working hours, better pay and working conditions. In 1919, it led a major strike against night work, but this was unsuccessful. It recruited well in co-operative bakeries, but struggled elsewhere, until World War II. In 1935, it barred master bakers from holding office in the union.

The union became more centralised in the 1950s, and in 1964, it shortened its name to become the Bakers’ Union. This was later lengthened to the present name.

General SecretariesPresidents
1864: Thomas Hodson1910: A. F. Bentley
1883: John Jenkins1914: J. H. Brown
1915: John William Banfield1926: T. Ferris
1940: Joseph Thomasson1927: H. Keen
1952: Jock Halliday1946: Ernest Haynes
1968: Stanley Gretton1969: Chris Childs
1975: Sam Maddox1977: Terry O’Neill
1979: Joe Marino1995: Dennis Nash
2010: Ronnie Draper2000: Ronnie Draper
2020: Sarah Woolley2010: Ian Hodson

2018 was a significant year for our Union, as we held our 100th Annual Conference. You might wonder why it was only our 100th when the BFAWU’s history goes all the way back to 1847. There are a number of reasons for this; originally, the Baker’s Union organised on a regional basis, which meant that regional conferences were held. The Union then moved to holding English, Scottish, and Welsh conferences before finally holding its first National Conference in 1914 at The Boot and Shoe Trade Union Hall in Leicester. By this time, the Union was known as the Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers and Confectioners of Great Britain and Ireland.

The 1914 Conference took place with the retiring General Secretary, John Jenkins against a backdrop of strikes in London. The Conference agenda included a motion from the Executive Council, expressing concern over the prospects of a European war. The motion called on the government to do all it could (by legitimate means) to bring about peace. The motion concluded with ‘Brother Emery’ stating that workers would eventually realise that they were the greatest sufferers of war.

It was a significant Conference. A motion from ‘Brother Ferris’ read quite simply: “Admission of unskilled Labour to the Union”. There had been some strong debate as to whether or not another organisation should represent unskilled workers, whilst the Union concentrated on its skilled members. Brother Ferris pointed out that the Union shouldn’t shirk its responsibilities to unskilled, unorganised workers in and around the bake-house. He stated that it should be the work of our Union to organise and fight for them, rather than go ‘cap in hand’ for support to some other organisation in the event of a strike. In seconding the motion, ‘Brother Fletcher’ said that the time of mere craft Union organisation had gone by, and that they had to recognise that this was a class fight, where they needed to stand alongside the unskilled labourer or workman.

Alongside this historic move, was the important motion on women being admitted to the Union. Moved by ‘Brother C.E Gammage’ of Staffordshire, the motion didn’t evoke any great discussion, debate or opposition. It was overwhelmingly passed, with only three delegates voting against. For such an historical moment, there seemed to be an almost relaxed and general acceptance that it was happening, with not one delegate speaking against the motion, just a call for the EC to ‘get on with it’. In the space of just two years, more than two-thousand women had joined the Union, many of whom were in all-female branches. The Conference also backed plans to run a member on the books of the Labour Party, in order to be able to stand for a seat in the Westminster elections.